A properly documented project communication plan is key to the success of any project.
When asked about this document, most people will give you a shortlist of items it should contain. The trouble is many people rarely document the communications plan fully, putting them at risk of forgetting some of the key elements that are needed. This can hinder the project team performance in terms of providing proper support to the overall projects’ communications.
I never realized how important and misunderstood the communications plan is to a project until I started teaching a project communications class at my local College a few years ago. I conducted thorough research to put together a class on this output and supported it with a simple exercise for my students. In the exercise, students are asked to source on-line what they believe to be a “good” communications plan. They then need to share their opinion on why it meets the criteria of a good communications plan.
For most, the result is a simple matrix showing what reports are shared with whom, including how and with what frequency. If I were to survey many of seasoned project managers out there, I anticipate that this proposed simple matrix would fit the bill of a communications plan. I do admit that before I did this research, I too was a bit adopter of the communications matrix. That matrix is what also comes up 9 out of 10 times when conducting a Google search for a communications plan template. This matrix alone is not sufficient to be considered a communications plan capable of providing project managers and their teams with the confidence that communications will be fully addressed for any project.
So, what should a communications plan contain?
Well, if we start from its definition according to the PMBOK® Guide 6th Edition “A component of the project, program or portfolio management plan that describes how, when, and by whom information about the project will be administered and disseminated” in glossary section page 701. Then our matrix does not seem too out of place until we look closer and review page 377 of the communications knowledge area section where a list of fourteen items are provided as being contained in the plan.
If we were to use these as a guideline, we would expect to find in a good communications plan, yes, a matrix that shows who receives what information. Not only when and how they receive it, but also additional information about methods or software to be used, preferred modes of communication, and the approach or process for communicating over the entire lifecycle of the project.
Imagine that we have dedicated resources assigned to specific communications components, I suspect our communications plan would also require the definition of each resource’s role and responsibility as well as a breakdown of communications elements by the individual or something similar to a communication Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed matrix (RACI).
Numerous projects involve the use of software or web-based applications that allow access to files based on security protocols. Such software and its configuration would be defined in this plan along with the process of gaining access to files as needed. Other software often included for consideration are version control applications, editing, and proofing software.
Special considerations in terms of communications would also be documented, and these can be related to applications and social media usage, the budget needed to support the communications efforts as well as the definition of how communications are linked to the schedule to support the needs of each of our particular stakeholder.
An often-forgotten section in many templates that can be found is the discussion and documentation of what happens to the data once the project is complete. How can we locate all of this information or parts of it a year or two later? Handling of the information generated during the project is in most organizations a process onto itself. This includes the cycle of “live” data, to report, to storage, and finally to archiving and ultimate disposition of the information. This process will vary among organizations dependent on the structure in place, and this might differ from project to project depending on the need to follow external dictated compliance (i.e., seven years retrieval/access for legal documents).
As you plan your projects, the communications plan should be integrated as part of the overall project management plan which allows you to execute and control specifically project tailored communications to meet the needs and requirements of stakeholders.
This provides more than a simple matrix spanning a couple of pages in a document that makes its way into the project management plan. The communications management plan needs to be just that, a plan, that defines, supports, and assists you in managing all aspects of communications as dictated by your specific project.