Planning Project Communications

Communication is one of the great keys to success in life in general. Whether you are talking about communication personally or professionally, being able to deal with other people in a productive, efficient and empathetic manner is essential to your well-being. As a project manager, the need to be an effective communicator is fundamental to the role.

Purpose of Project Communications Management

With a variety of interested parties related to the project, and a team to lead, there is no doubt that good communication should be near the very top of your priority list. Project communications management is the process of putting a plan in place to help you properly communicate with everyone that has a stake in the project.

Just as with anything else related to project management, it is important that you build this plan ahead of time so it can be followed as carefully as possible throughout the work. It will form a strong integral component of the HR management and stakeholder management plans.

The communications management plan is the corner stone of how you plan to manage the different working relationships within your project. A project manager has to communicate on two broad levels: The high-level or strategic considerations' between the project manager, sponsor, senior management, the media and other influential stakeholders and low-level and practical communications between project teams and team members.

This requires project managers to have a clear perspective of each of their different audiences and to intuitively know the most effective way to accomplish the 3R's of project communications (show in diagram below). To achieve this with such diverse recipients of his or her communication they must adapt the message to suit that recipient's situation and environment where the exchange is taking place - i.e. team meeting, contract negotiation, executive meeting etc.

Project communications

The project manager's interpersonal skills need to be highly developed so that they are able to read an individual's response to their communication. This enables he or she to alter their next communication to ensure that the recipient is behind the content of the exchange and willing to play their part in the action required. Adaptability and flexibility are essential skills for all project managers.

The aim of all project communications is to keep everyone on board with and supporting the project schedule as they work towards the end product or service. Every project communication he or she gives must reassure, retain an individual's support for the project and avoid the unexpected derailing the attainment of key project milestones. Bridging this gap and ensuring that information is flowing properly in both directions is the challenge that you need to meet.

Remember, effective communication means that the information is provided in the right format, at the right time, and with the right impact. Efficient communication means providing only the information that is needed. This process is performed early in the project and it is revised and refined as the project progresses. You can check out the complete range of project management pdf eBooks free from this website.

Efficient communication

Projects generate a great deal of data and a key component of planning the project's actual communications requirements is to limit both the quantity of information being circulated and the communication paths that are used. Those who take a casual approach to their project communications will have a confused and frustration team failing to achieve the project objectives.

To determine the types and frequencies of communication needed for each of the project audiences and to be written down in its own project management plan the project manager will conduct a communication requirements analysis. This consists of holding several meetings with different parties to understand their communication needs.

Once these have been documented then an assessment can be made of the 'best' models, methods and technologies to be used during the project to satisfy these different needs. These findings will constitute the basis of the communications plan for the project.

Who are the stakeholders?

The functional management plan for project communications is an essential part of the project plan. Therefore, during the planning phase sufficient time should be allocated to it so that the following information can be well documented and presented to the project team.

Information to be communicated, including language, format, content, and level of detail
Reason for the distribution
Time frame and frequency for the distribution
Person responsible for it
Person responsible for authorizing release of confidential information
Person or groups who will receive the information
Escalation procedure for issues requiring addition authority
Methods or technologies used to convey it
Resources allocated for communication activities
Glossary of common terminology

Within any project there is one particular audience that requires special attention in terms of how, when and what is communicated to it and that is the stakeholders. This group of individuals or bodies must all be clearly identified and their level of interest, influence and impact they can have on the project recorded meticulously in the stakeholder register, another key document that inputs into the project management plan.

Passing along information that is needed to each audience in a timely manner reflects your organizational skills as a leader and portrays a confident image for the project as a whole. While all projects share the need to communicate project information, the informational needs and methods of distribution vary widely.

The importance of identifying the information needs of the stakeholders and determining a suitable means of meeting those needs is reflected in the stakeholder management plan, which is a major component of the project plan. This process will often require its own management plan the larger and more complex the project is. It is critical that a project manager understands the level of interest, influence and impact each stakeholder can have on the project.

Communications Management Plan

Once armed with this information a stakeholder management plan can be created that enables he or she to appropriately manage these individual relationships. This functional plan avoids delays in people receiving essential information and guarantees that sensitive or confidential data is handled correctly.

This shows that being a good project manager and being a good communicator go hand in hand. In order to disseminate information effectively throughout a project, having an established schedule and mode of communication right from the start is necessary. Those initial plans will likely morph along the way, so be prepared to adapt to changes in the project and make sure they are reflected with appropriate changes in your communication plan.

There are three concerns the communications management plan and its supporting functional plans for stakeholder and human resources address and they are:

1) Who needs information?
2) What information do they need?
3) When do they need it?

Who Needs Information?
One of the first steps toward successful project communications management is deciding who needs to receive information. These are often referred to as stakeholders, because they have a stake in the final outcome of the project. They may initiate or sponsor the project and will be most interested in its progress and outcome.

Going beyond these obvious individuals other stakeholders will typically be board directors, external groups and regulatory bodies who also need to receive appropriate information to retain their support of the project
Project managers want any issues or changes that come up along the way to be dealt with at that time. They do not want them to appear at the end when the work is already completed and any alterations will be costly in both resources and money. Getting input throughout the process should help prevent from work having to be re-done when management or ownership decides to change course.

Communications Requirements

What Information Do They Need?
Each information group will have their own information needs, which will be outlined within these management plans and summarized in the communications plan. The project sponsor will require a high level of detail and description on project progress, whilst the board of directors are happy to receive an overview that highlights any key issues.

It is vital that you get the level of information right for each group because too much information can be just as harmful as too little. This level will be assessed and documented in the stakeholder interest template so that each one receives the correct level of detail.

When Do They Need It?
This might just be the most difficult point of all related to project communications management. Passing along information at the right time is important to keeping everybody informed - but not overwhelmed.

You are likely working on the project with your team every day, but the people you are reporting to may not want information that often. Also, it takes time to create communications to pass along, so sending updates too frequently can waste time that could be better spent making progress on the project itself.

To get this point just right, it is important to create a schedule at the start of the project and stick to it as closely as possible, unless something changes. For example,
Project sponsor/ your direct supervisor receives updates every Friday.
Board of directors receives updates on the first Friday of every month.

A significant danger of projects is to over communicate with people, it's a natural tendency, no one wants to hear the words from other members of the project team:

'But you didn't tell us!' or 'We didn't know about that!'

Consequently, people usually act to protect themselves from these accusations by sending what they believe is important information to everyone they feel might possibly have an interest in it.


This has become a more frequent occurrence with the universal adoption of email. You are a mere click away from sending a message to everyone connected to the project! But project managers must refrain from this tendency by taking the time to think and plan who really needs to know about the matter.

This over-communication issue becomes more of a problem the bigger the project. On large projects, people having to read emails and then decide whether or not the information contained is pertinent to them can waste a great deal of time.

To make matters worse, any significant information is often not read or understood properly because team members are snowed under with largely irrelevant emails and end up scanning them rather than reading them.
In practical terms, the time spent by the project manager to address this problem will usually more than pay for itself in time saved by project team members in their day-to-day work.

The information typically used to determine project communication requirements includes:
• Organization charts and the Organizational Breakdown Structure (OBS)
Stakeholder register: responsibility relationships, logistical considerations & stakeholder information
• Stakeholder management strategy.

You may also be interested in:
Managing a Project Team | Developing the Project HR Plan | Building an Effective Project Team | Developing the Project Team | Dealing with Conflict in the Project Team | Planning Project Communications | Optimizing Project Communications | Managing Project Communications | Identifying Project Stakeholders | Keeping Project Stakeholders Informed.

Key Points

  • Identifying the information needs of all those involved in the project with specific focus on stakeholders.
  • Determine a suitable means of meeting those needs are important factors for project success.
  • This tendency leads to project people being swamped by too much information most of which is irrelevant to them.
  • Effective communication means that the information is provided in the right format, at the right time, and with the right impact.
  • Efficient communication means providing only the information that is needed.
  • Most people will tend to over-communicate in order to protect themselves from accusations of not sharing important information.

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