How to Create a Communications Plan
Of course, nothing will happen if you don't have effective communications. You have to send the right message - to the right people - at the right time.
If you have managed projects in the past, then you will know that to succeed, you need to communicate clearly with all of your project stakeholders. Hence, you need a Communications Plan. Otherwise your staff will lack clear direction, team morale will be low and your project may deliver over schedule and exceed its budget.
So, to make sure that your projects communicate effectively, follow these steps:
Step 1: Situation Analysis
The first step to take when creating a Communications Plan is to perform a Situation or "SWOT" Analysis. This is a fancy term for researching your existing communications environment. That is to say, review the performance of all communications within your project and identify the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Then identify any lessons learned from past communications exercises, so that the same mistakes made in the past are not repeated again.
Step 2: Communications Objectives
Great. So you know what your communications strengths are and where you need to improve. You are now ready to set out your communications objectives. List the top three objectives that you want to achieve from your project communications. For instance, you might want to inform stakeholders of the project progress, boost management buy-in or improve your team productivity.
Step 3: Communications Guidelines
Then set out your communications guidelines for controlling communications within your project. For example, you may decide that:
- All messages will be distributed through pre-defined channels
- All critical communications will be pre-approved by management
- All communications will be tailored, based on stakeholder needs
Step 4: Target Audience
Now define exactly with whom it is that your team will formally communicate. Remember, formal communications are a method for controlling the messages sent out by your team. They promote a single consistent view of your project to a specified audience so that "everyone has the same version of the truth".
Step 5: Stakeholder Needs
Each target audience group will have their own needs. These stakeholders will require information that is specific to their role in the project. For instance, a Project Sponsor will need to be informed of high priority risks and issues, whereas a Quality Reviewer might need to be notified of the current status of project deliverables.
Step 6: Key Messages
Then list the key messages that need to be sent to each Stakeholder. Key messages may include project status, project issues, project risks, project deliverables or project resources. The next step is to define how you will deliver each message to them, i.e. through what delivery channel.
Step 7: Delivery Channels
There is a large variety of ways in which you can deliver your key messages to stakeholders (e.g. emails, articles, meetings, conferences). For each stakeholder, identify the channel that you will use to deliver your key messages.
Step 8: Communications Schedule
Now you are ready to create the schedule of communications events, activities and actions that are required to deliver the right messages to the right people at the right time throughout the project. Create a detailed schedule of events and for each item listed, specify the timeframes for completion and any dependencies on other events in the schedule.
Step 9: Communications Events
For each event listed in your schedule, describe it in depth. Make sure that you define the purpose of the event, how it will take place and when it should occur.
Step 10: Communications Matrix
And finally, once you have listed the events and described them in detail, you need to identify who will manage them and who will review their effectiveness. Create a Communications Matrix that for each event lists who is accountable for the event, who will take part and who will review its success. Once you have taken these 10 steps, it is up to you to get your Communications Plan approved by your manager and then execute it to deliver communications efficiently throughout your project.
And just one last tip
To improve your communications you need honest feedback on your team's performance. Implement feedback measures such as questionnaires, feedback forms and surveys to learn how to continually improve communications within your project team.