Friday, December 9, 2011

Beginners Guide To Project Management
Part 11, The Project Communication Plan

Project managers communicate. A lot. And the way they do it and what they say usually has a big impact on the project end result. So this is something you should pay particular attention from the very beginning of the project till the very end. Also, the communication plan itself is bound to change during the project as you get feedback from the stakeholders - it's probably the most dynamic part of the planning.

Previously on the “Beginners Guide to Project Management”



How do you start?
The starting point are the stakeholders (the who part). You cross them with your project's schedule (the how part), namely milestones, and then decide what information is relevant for each stakeholder. Then you add the periodic information each stakeholder needs and you're all set. In the end you can have something like the following table:

StakeholderDocumentTime frameResponsibleMedium
AnyMeeting minutesUp to the day after any meetingProject ManagerEmail
Project ManagerTime registerEvery Friday until 3 PMTeam membersSoftware
SponsorStatus reportEvery Friday until 5 PMProject ManagerMeeting
Project ManagerChange requestAnytime neededAny stakeholderEmail

A couple of things to keep in mind when you build this table:
  • Is the information you intend to share both enough and sufficient to that stakeholder?
  • Is there a way to collect the information you need to build that report? Can you get the information on time to build the report upon it?

Getting feedback
Unless you already know everyone involved in the project, you will miss some of your communication objectives. But don't worry, that's how it goes.
The first thing to do when you send or present a document is to get feedback. Providing feedback is one thing, getting it is another. To get feedback on the presentation you just did, if you start by saying something like "I can't believe how good this presentation was. I managed to get the exact format and content people needed. The proof is that there were no questions", what do you think the other person will say? Probably not much except agreeing with you. But if you start with something like "I expected a lot of questions after the presentation, why do you think no one raised a question?" the odds of getting some feedback are a lot better - in general, open questions are much better to get feedback from someone. Maybe there were no questions just because you based your status on Earned Value without checking first if the people that attended the presentation knew what Earned Value Management was... ouch!

Adapt and change
So the Project Communication Plan (that in its simplest form can consist in just the previous table) is bound to change. Don't be afraid, just change it to the better, let everyone know that it has changed and go back to collecting feedback.
Sometimes changes don't impact on the type of information being shared but on its contents or format. The same applies: change it to the better, let its recipients know it has changed and ask for feedback.

Elevator speeches
An elevator speech is a communication done in a very short period of time, like the time it takes you to get to your floor using an elevator (30 seconds or something like that). This is a communication tool that you won't find in the communication plan but it can be much more useful than anything you find there. I always have some elevator speeches in my projects, being the main one a status of the project. Now, depending on the person who you are with, this status should be communicated in different forms - in fact, different elevator speeches. If you happen to bump into the project sponsor and he naturally asks "How is the project going" you can take the chance to say "Fine, but I could really use your help to talk to the Financial Director. He seems really busy and I haven't been able to reach him. Could you please let him know I really need to talk to him?" Much better than raising these issues at status meetings, don't you think? The thing is, you should have these speeches prepared before you need them. It may happen you never use them as you might never bump by chance into the necessary people, but if you do bump into them you have something relevant to say - instead of stutter and comment on the weather or the last big football match.

The Communication Plan is simple but necessary so don't neglect it. It's bound to change so get feedback and make the best changes you can. And get some elevator speeches ready, you never know when they will come in handy.
In terms of formal stuff this is what you can plan regarding Communication. But being a good communicator is another completely different topic - and mostly unrelated to this plan.

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