Why it is essential to set the ground rules in a communications plan

by Edward Witchey

It is easy to see that business practices today are dominated by technology. Many people have smartphones that are used for texting, emailing, and talking. The portability of these devices means that we are always ‘connected.’ Tablets and laptops are used as mobile offices allowing people to communicate from any location. Working from home or being located in a different part of the world is no longer an issue because of video conferencing and instant messaging. Training can be done remotely using web-hosted software that collocates people in a matter of minutes. And who could forget about email? The American Management Association conducted a survey of 840 businesses and found that 22% of people who were surveyed spend 1-2 hours of a typical workday engaged in email, and 10% spend half their day managing emails (American Management Association 2004). Setting ground rules in a communication plan is vital.


Setting ground rules in communication plans

Communicating in this manner has changed the landscape of the professional world. Specifically, being ‘connected’ through the use of technology has led to a decline in business etiquette and ethics. We are now accustomed to instant gratification when it comes to information. Not being able to reach someone on their office phone usually means a follow-up call directly to the person on their mobile phone. This can often occur outside of working hours. A missed call is generally followed by an email or a text message. This constant barrage of communication is void of any consideration for the intended receiver.

This common practice has also taken us away from the basic courtesies of human interaction. It is rare that anyone takes the time to introduce themselves anymore or inquire about the well-being of the other person. Michael Aucoin briefly spoke about this idea in his book. He writes, “A high level of trust goes hand-in-hand with respect for the other members of the team. Respect can be defined simply as wishing well for the other person” (Aucoin 2007). This change towards one another comes from our expectations for timely information, and those expectations are almost impossible to achieve.

For these very reasons, it is important to implement a strong communications plan when managing projects. We learn in the PMBOK that “planning the project communications is important to the ultimate success of any project” (Project Management Institute 2013). The types of communication, the delivery methods, and the delivery frequency are three important elements of any solid communication plan.

Early in the project, it is important to identify the types of communication that will be used during the project for setting ground rules. This can include status reports, presentations, meeting minutes, and message boards, to name a few. It is also important to define the template or format for each one of these communication types. Creating uniformity helps to reduce miscommunication. If stakeholders get the same status report each week, they will be accustomed to locating the information that is important to them. When presentations are done, they should follow the same format for consistency. Delivery method and frequency are closely tied to communication type. As the project manager, you should clearly define how you will send out information and how often. For example, stakeholders should know early in the project that they will receive a status report via email each Friday by the end of the business day. This can also translate to other communication types like meeting minutes and presentations.

We live in an interesting day and age when it comes to business and communication. Certain technologies have only been in place within organizations for a short period of time. As such, companies are constantly revising policies and procedures for daily operations. Even though we sometimes struggle to find a balance in a connected world, a strong communication plan can combat a changing business environment where not everyone follows the same code for etiquette and ethics. It puts control back into the hands of the project manager.



American Management Association. 2004. Workplace email and instant messaging survey. AMA Research. URL: http://​www.​epolicyinstitute​.​com/​survey/​survey04.​pdf

Aucoin, B. (2007). Right-brain project management: A complementary approach. Vienna, VA: Management Concepts.

Project Management Institute. (2013) A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (5th edition) Newton Square, PA, USA: PMI, 2013.


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