Wednesday, 18 September 2013 10:01

Project Communications Plan - Who, What, Where, How, When…etc.

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dow Sept18Back in 2008 when Bruce Taylor and I were writing our book the “Project Management Communications Bible” we found that a certain number of project managers were struggling with their project communications. Back then, we found surveys on the Internet that showed that project communications were the biggest reason for project failure and we talked to project managers and saw firsthand the problems they were having trying to deliver a successful project. Over and again we saw that project managers were consistently ignoring project communications on their projects. For example, we saw that many project managers were not building effective communication plans. We saw that most were not treating communications seriously at all. At a minimum, they would send out a status report and feel like that was all they needed to do from a communication perspective. Frankly, it was bad, and it was something that needed fixing right away.

Update our timeline to today (2013), and I am sorry to say the trend is not getting better. Project managers who put out a status report each week, each month, or even quarterly, and consider that their communications for their projects are kidding themselves. Often the project manager believes that if I send my customer a status report and if they are not getting what they need, they will ask me for something different. What happens in that case is the onus is on the customer to seek out the information, not on the project manager to provide it.

Remember the old saying that 90% of a project manager’s job is communicating? That’s well-known across the industry and rarely disputed. Most people in project management have seen several project failure survey’s and the one clear reason that comes up continually on why project fail, because of poor project communications. Take a second now, and search the Internet yourself and let’s look at the results. Well, what did you find? Did you find multiple survey’s on why projects fail? Sad isn’t it? What were some of the top reasons? Did you see project communications mentioned? Or did you see reasons mentioned ally communication problems but disguised as something else? (For Example, Poor Requirements)? I bet you did. Back to that old saying if project managers are not spending their 90% of their time communicating, then what are they doing? Why do we see so many project failures? Why do project managers not focus and drive their projects with communications being that important? Why do project managers not use the Project Communications Plans more effectively on their projects? Why do project managers consider creating a communication plan just a check box activity? Why, Why, Why….

Maybe the reason that project managers don’t create the communications plan or don’t spend any time on it is that they don’t know how to do it effectively. Oh sure, they can take the company’s template and fill in all the required fields and sections and call it complete. Sadly, many project managers do just that, which does not benefit anyone, especially not the customer. One reason that project managers simply fill in the template is because they don’t value communications or don’t believe communications is important to the success of the project. Remember the survey’s you found after searching the Internet? What did they say again? How often did communications come up? If you are filling out a document just for the sake of filling in a document, then of course there is not going to be any value to it.

Instead of filling in a communications plan, just to have a communication plan, I recommend that you embrace the process and do it right the first time. Remember, it is 90% of your job!

If you decide to, then consider the following during this process:

Developing a Project Communications Plan:

  1. Get a template. Use the company’s, grab one off the web…etc. But get a template.
  2. Put on your reporter’s hat and start filling in the template with these 5 critical questions in mind:
    • Who – Are you going to communicate the project information to?
    • What – Are you going to communicate?
    • When – When are you going to communicate?
    • Where – Where are you going to send or store your project communication reports? Are you going to use tools, send it to an email address?
    • How – How are you going to communicate? In person, email, Newsletter, Social Media
    • **Bonus Question – Why? It is a good idea is to understand why your producing the specific communication deliverable and what value does it bring. For example, why create a project schedule? What value is there to have a project schedule for your customer or project team?
  3. Once you complete the template and answer the 5 questions, the next step is to ensure the document is signed off and agreed by all parties. Customers, team members, and management all should sign off on the communication plan.
  4. Store the communication plan in a place that everyone can get to and regularly look at the document throughout the life of the project.

Completing this process will give you a huge start on your project communications plan. In our Project Management Communications Bible, we added two tools specifically called the “Communications Requirement Matrix” and the “Role Report Matrix” and that helps you document some of those 5 critical questions. I would encourage you to check out these tools and the other tools in the book to help you communicate more effectively. But even if you just document the 5 critical questions you will have a huge head start over most project managers.

Finally, one of the last best practices I would recommend for project managers that I have not seen occur that often is to document the project’s color conditions with the project management communications plan. What does it mean to document the color conditions into the communication plan? Well, it starts by working with your customers and team members and getting an understanding of what and how you should communicate when a projects goes into red, yellow, or green status. By documenting these Red, Yellow, or Green status conditions it prepares you, your customer, and your project team ahead of time on what to do when your project goes into that color. For example, if a project goes into Red (your customer may want twice a day meetings) and so you would document that requirement (two meetings a day) in the communication plan under the Red status. You would then document the Yellow status and the Green status conditions. Then, as you start executing your project and one of these event occurs (projects goes to Red, Yellow, or Green), you can turn to what was agreed to in the communication plan and perform the actions.

What do you think?

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Bill Dow, PMP

Bill Dow has been in IT for the last 23 years with 21 of those years focusing on Project Management. He has built 2 Project Management Offices from the ground up using the best practices and core principals of PMI and lead countless projects. He has worked both in Canada and the US and has worked in a variety of industries.

Bill is the co-author of the "Project Management Communication Bible", an
801 page reference manual, published in 2008 for Wiley publishing. This book has been listed in the Top 100 for Project Management books.

His second book, "The Tactical Guide for Building a PMO", takes his personal experience in building and implementing PMO's over a 10 year period and puts it into a format that is easy to read and use for any PMO Manager. 

Bill currently works for Microsoft IT as the Project Management Discipline Owner as well an Adjunct Professor at Bellevue College, Bellevue WA, USA.

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