Why a Rock Solid Project Communication Plan is Important

By Aaron Mandelbaum / April 2, 2020

What Is A Project Communication Plan?

A project communication plan should outline how your team will communicate with one another as well as with project stakeholders. It should detail how often stakeholders need to be updated on the progress of the project, who in the team is responsible for communicating to stakeholders, when team members need to communicate with one another, and what methods and tools they should use to communicate.

Importance Of A Project Communication Plan

Business people meeting for budget definitionStarting a new project requires a lot of planning to put together the right team, make the right resources available to your team, and to ensure that the project is completed on time and on budget. There is, however, one part of the planning stage that’s often overlooked, and that is how everyone involved in the project will communicate. Poor communication and/or a lack of communication can cause significant delays to the project, which can not only cause the project to fall behind schedule, but to go over budget as well. In fact, serious mistakes can occur as a result of poor communication, and in a worst-case scenario, can ruin the project completely.

Because of how important good communication is to the success of a project, creating a project communication plan during the planning stages of any new project is critical.

What Is A Project Communication Plan?

A project communication plan should outline how your team will communicate with one another as well as with project stakeholders. It should detail how often stakeholders need to be updated on the progress of the project, who in the team is responsible for communicating to stakeholders, when team members need to communicate with one another, and what methods and tools they should use to communicate.

With a project communication plan, everyone on your team will understand their roles and responsibilities regarding all communication over the course of the project. They’ll also have something that they can reference in case they’re unsure, which will reduce the risk of miscommunication or lack of communication.

Why Is A Project Communication Plan Important?

At first glance, you might assume that everyone on your team is familiar with the communication tools at their disposal and that a communication plan isn’t necessary if they know their individual roles and responsibilities. However, a communication plan is essential to a successful project for the following reasons:

Critical Information Is Delivered

Without a comprehensive project communication plan in place, team members may not always deliver critical information needed by the rest of their team, their project manager, or the project stakeholders, which can slow down the project.

A communication plan will outline what kind of information is deemed critical to both stakeholders and team members. It is important to establish milestones and objectives that your team must meet which will need to be reported on. Also important is identifying the different types of problems or challenges that team members may run into that will need to be reported to managers or stakeholders.

Employees are often hesitant to report issues, either because they fear the consequences of their mistakes or because they’re not sure that the issues they are experiencing are big enough to report. Encourage them to report any problems they experience and explain how to differentiate an issue that doesn’t need to be reported from one that does.

The project communication plan should also define how that critical information needs to be delivered. Sometimes the issue may be that the information is being delivered to the necessary individual, but that they aren’t receiving it because it’s not a method of communication that they are using frequently. For example, sending a stakeholder critical information via a messaging application that they don’t check very often.

Keeps A Good Relationship With Clients And Stakeholders

Keep stakeholders and clients informed about the project’s progress because you want their continued trust and support. If you don’t keep them up-to-date, they may feel like they’re not important to the project’s completion and that you don’t care about their opinions or input. By keeping them in the loop, they’ll also have a more clear understanding of the benefits of the project. Without that understanding, they may want to pull the plug the moment the project faces any unforeseen challenges.

Shared Understanding

With a project communication plan, all involved parties won’t just know what their individual communication roles and responsibilities are, but they’ll know what everyone else’s is as well. This shared understanding amongst team members, managers, stakeholders, and clients helps ensure that everyone remains in step with the project’s status. It will also help to significantly reduce (or even eliminate) instances of miscommunication.

Everyone Understands The Metrics of Success

A project communication plan should enable your team to be fully aligned with its goals and objectives and everyone should understand the metrics of success. Without such alignment, team members may end up working towards different objectives without realizing it, which can cause miscommunication and friction among team members, making it more difficult for your team to collaborate successfully.

Team Members Are Motivated

When a team member has no idea what’s going on around them and hasn’t been informed as to what it is they need to communicate, who they need to communicate to, or when they need to deliver certain messages, it can feel like they’re stumbling around in the dark. This can hurt their motivation and productivity.

With a clear communication plan, they will be more confident in their role on the team as well as in their team itself, which can help to drive their motivation. With a clear communication plan, everyone can easily identify achievements and milestones that are met by individual team members, which will result in more individual praise and recognition when it’s warranted. This can provide a real boost of confidence, making your team more motivated to do high-quality work and to meet their deadlines.

Potential Bottlenecks Are Identified

Bottlenecks within your processes can hinder your team’s ability to complete work or move on to the next stages of your project. Without clear lines of communication or instructions on how to report certain issues and who they should be reported to, these bottlenecks may take much longer to be identified and solved, resulting in an inefficient process that could delay the project’s schedule.

Example of A Project Communication Plan

A project communication plan can be created using a number of different formats. The plan shown below is an example of a communication plan by the method. It lists the different methods of communication to be used throughout the course of the project (such as email, meetings, and project management software). The plan outlines the following:

  • How the communication method will be used
  • How often the communication method should be used
  • What the goal of using the communication method is
  • Who the owner is
  • Who the audience of the communication method is

So using the example below, the project communication plan details how email should be used to communicate a project status report on a weekly basis to the project team and sponsor with the goal of reviewing the status of the project and discussing any issues or delays. As you can see, the plan is very detailed, but it’s also incredibly easy for anyone to read and understand.

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Stakeholders Communication Preference

Because keeping stakeholders informed is important if you want their continued support (which you might need to lean on in the event that there’s a need for more resources or more time), create a detailed plan that identifies key stakeholders, how to communicate with them, when to communicate with them, and what information needs to be delivered to them. 

The chart below outlines all of this in an easy-to-understand manner:

  • The name of the stakeholder
  • The stakeholder’s position in the company
  • When the stakeholder needs to be updated about the project (such as weekly or based on certain milestones that are reached)
  • What channel should be used (such as via email or meetings) to communicate with the stakeholder
  • Any notes about informing the stakeholder (such as their preferences on what to be informed on or why they need to be informed about the project in the first place)
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Project Communication Goal

Be upfront about what the goal of your project communication plan is. This way, everyone (from your team to your stakeholders) will understand what it is you want to achieve with your project communication plan. The main goal can depend on what it is the project itself is meant to accomplish; however, the project communication goal should be focused on educating and updating those involved with the project. Of course, you can have more than one communication goal as well. 


For example, the communication goal could be to provide knowledge about the project and its importance to stakeholders, to provide opportunities for feedback from your stakeholders, or to open lines of dialogue between stakeholders and team members as a way to gain support for the project. It could also be all three of these goals.

The example below is an effective way to outline your communication goals. First, provide a summary of what the goal of the actual project is. Then, outline your communication goals in a bullet form so that it’s easy for everyone to read.

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Different Types of Project Communication

When crafting your project communication plan, provide details about the major types of communication that will be required over the course of the project. Identifying these types of communication will also allow you to determine what the best methods of communication will be. Here are a few of the types of project communication you may want to include in your project communication plan:

Brainstorming Sessions

Scheduling periodic brainstorming sessions is a good way to improve your processes and to solve any challenges that have arisen over the course of the project. You should schedule a brainstorming session before the project begins to give your team members a chance to share any ideas or insights that could improve the project or make it easier to complete. If you run into issues, such as technical issues, budgetary issues, or scheduling issues, brainstorming sessions could help you solve them as well.

Kick-Off Meeting

The kick-off meeting is the meeting of the team and the stakeholders right before the project officially begins. The meeting gives everyone a chance to meet each other and also allows you to provide a summary to everyone about the project and the project’s goals. You’ll want to briefly go over the scope of the project and the deliverables before identifying who will be responsible for what on the project (in a more broad sense -- you won’t have the time to go over specific task deadlines and assignments).

Status Report

Status reports can be done as weekly check-ins over the phone or via weekly reports sent through email. A typical status report will include what’s being worked on, what was completed in the previous week, what deliverables need to be approved, whether there are questions about those deliverables, whether the project is still on budget and on schedule, and more.

Major Milestone Meeting

Meetings should be set up to present and deliver your project’s major milestones. Schedule the meeting three to four days in advance and provide an agenda for the meeting along with a summary of the deliverables that are being presented. The meeting should consist of a presentation, questions and answers, discussions about the deliverables, and an outline of what the next steps are. Afterward,  send out an email with notes about the meeting to everyone that attended.

Post-Mortem Meeting

Once your project is completed, it is time for a post-mortem meeting. A post-mortem meeting allows you and your team to discuss what the favorable outcomes of the project are, how successful the project was, what the challenges of completing the project were, and more. The idea is to debrief what worked and what could be improved on future projects. It’s a chance for your team to reflect on their work and to provide input so that you can learn from the mistakes that were made and the challenges that presented themselves.

Task Progress Update

Different team members will be given different tasks to complete. Make it as easy as possible to track your team’s progress, by having them provide you with daily progress updates. The most efficient way to do this is through email or a collaboration app so that it takes up as little time as possible.

Methods Of Project Communication

The project will run much more smoothly if you take a poll of all participants to find what the communication needs of your team members, project managers, stakeholders, and clients are and adapting to them. This helps to ensure that the communication methods you outline are the most efficient and effective choices. Consider these common communication methods used during most projects:

Formal Presentation

Formal presentations are a good way to keep stakeholders involved. They will feel like a bigger part of the project’s process if they have a chance to speak to the presenter, whether it’s the project manager providing basic updates or a team member detailing the completion of a major milestone.

Email

Email is likely going to be the most common way for team members to communicate with each other. It’s also a good way to track conversations and project decisions; however, make sure your team doesn’t overly rely on email. Emails can be easy to miss and ignore if they begin to fill up inboxes. Encourage team members to speak directly with each other whenever possible.

Collaboration Apps

Collaboration apps make communication between team members much easier and more efficient. Instead of having to email one another and wait for responses on basic questions or updates, they can just use a collaboration app, such as Slack or Flock. Some collaboration apps, such as Asana, make it easier to track project deadlines and responsibilities while also communicating with one another using the app. Not only does this make communication faster than email (and prevent inboxes from filling up), but it makes it easier to keep track of the communication between your team.

Meetings

Meetings are often looked down upon because they often take up a lot of your team’s time without getting anything accomplished. However, as long as you have an agenda to follow and a clear objective for holding a meeting, they can be very effective, especially for bringing your team together and addressing and solving challenges that your project may be facing.

Discussion Boards

Discussion boards are a great way to encourage your team to collaborate with each other, to help each other, and to share knowledge. A discussion board that’s open to your entire team will give team members a place to turn for general advice and is particularly helpful for anyone that may be working remotely and that can’t just seek out a colleague in the office for help.

Surveys

Surveys can be a very useful way to identify how the project is going, whether your team members find your communication plan to be effective and efficient, and to obtain feedback once your project is completed.

A Successful Project Communication Plan

(including team members, project managers, stakeholders, and clients) has to be clear and efficient. Poor communication, miscommunication, or a lack of communication can hurt your ability to finish the project on time and on budget as well as result in diminished support from stakeholders. If you put together an effective project communication plan during the initial stages of planning a project, you’ll help to ensure the flow of communication is both effective and efficient.

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