Have you ever worked on a project where information was just scattered everywhere? Everyone had different bits and pieces of the same information, but no one had all the information. The people involved kind of knew what part of they were responsible for, but they weren’t certain. As a result, there was no real sense of ownership. Though there was a project plan, something just seemed to be missing from it. If the project completed, you were so frustrated you didn’t even talk about it. If this sounds familiar to you, chances are that your project was missing a communication plan.
What Is It?
A communication plan outlines what information is being shared, how it’s shared, how often it’s shared, and who’s responsible for it. The plan details how change requests are handled, how uncertainties (risks or opportunities) are monitored, how often status updates are released, and anything else that needs to be shared regularly. It should be used for all projects – no matter what industry, or size of the project. It should be an actual document shared with all the members of the project team. The communication plan identifies the stakeholders and their roles in the project. The stakeholders include, but are not limited to the project manager, the business owner, support personnel, internal departments, and vendors. The plan lists all the contact information for everyone involved. It includes their name, organization, title, role in the project, and pertinent contact information. The plan should also list the preferred methods of communication, as well as templates and forms for information that’s distributed regularly (e.g. meeting minutes).
Why Use It?
A communication plan keeps everyone on the same page. It helps avoid conflict, and develops a sense of ownership amongst the team members. Most importantly, it sets boundaries. If you’re in IT, you may have heard horror stories about customers bypassing the project manager, talking directly to the developers, and somehow convincing them to make changes without proper approval. As you can imagine, this causes a plethora issues, such as scope creep, going over budget, and in extreme cases, job losses. These issues could have been avoided if all parties involved followed a communication plan.
Keys to an Effective Communication Plan
The key to creating an effective communication plan is flexibility. I often work with clients that complete projects in the wee hours of the morning. They are alert, excited, and are on cloud 517. They will call, text, or e-mail me at 2 a.m. with the next 18 steps or ideas! Because I am sensitive to their needs and I completely understand that the creative level they’re on and their need to exhale, I am flexible. : ) Of course, I don’t answer the 2 a.m. calls. However, I do detail in the plan that I will respond within 24 business hours.
Know your preferred communication method, and be patient and flexible with team members who prefer methods different than yours. For example, if you’re a telephone person communicating with an e-mail person, don’t repeatedly call and hang-up when they don’t answer. Leave them a message, and try not to be too irritated when they respond to your voice mail with an e-mail. Personally, I prefer e-mails because they’re less invasive and they don’t interrupt a person’s work flow. If I’m in a creative zone, I don’t want to be interrupted with a phone call or text message. In fact, I’m writing this article now with headphones on and Tchaikovsky blaring in my ears.