How Important is a Project Communication Plan?

How important is communication to project success? In my opinion – it may be #1 on the list and it is certainly a major responsibility of every project manager who has ever led a project.

Whether or not your project or your customer requires a delivered Communications Plan, you should still have one … especially if you are dealing with an external customer rather than an internal organization.

Every time I’ve delivered a Communications Plan to the customer, they have been pleasantly surprised and pleased that the communications on the project have been put in writing at the earliest possible point and in sufficient detail.

Communications Plan, Checklist format
A basic Communications Plan checklist.

If you are interested, you are welcome to download and use my example Communications_Management_Plan.doc file to get started. In addition, FastTrack Schedule provides several (all are free) working templates for different types of project plans (i.e. project management schedules), which may be useful project starting points.

Communications Plan.

The high-level items that should be covered in the Communications Plan are:

  • Introduction
  • Methods for Gathering and Storing Information
  • Distribution Structure
  • Formal Project Communication Matrix
  • Sign-off Page

I’ll go into further detail on what each of these five sections should cover on a typical project:

1. Introduction

This is merely a high-level description of what the document covers. It should also identify the delivering team or organization and the customer or internal organization that the project is being performed for (and likely paid by).

2. Methods for Gathering and Storing Information

This section is for identifying both the formal and informal communication and how this information will be stored and shared across team members on both sides. Formal communication includes weekly status meetings and the dissemination of information through weekly status reports, revised project schedules and issues and risks lists. Informal project communications include email and phone ad-hoc transactions required to update, clarify and disseminate relevant project status information.

3. Distribution Structure

The distribution structure section of the Communications Plan identifies how the formal communication on the project will happen and who will be involved. The distribution structure contains sub-sections for each type of formal communication and outlines specific information for each type…Project Status Meetings, Project Status Reporting, Project Schedule, and any shared distribution or posting site such as a sharepoint site or wiki.

For each of these formal communication items, the plan identifies how each is delivered, who receives them and how often they are delivered and reviewed.

4. Formal Project Communication Matrix

The formal project communication matrix is basically a visual representation of the distribution structure for any formal project communications. This can be through the use of a graphic or table that provides the delivery team and the customer with a quick reference of the communications that happen on the project.

At a minimum, the matrix should include:

  • The type of communication
  • It’s originator
  • Who receives the communication or attends the meeting
  • The frequency that the communication or meeting occurs
  • And the source of the communication or meeting

5. Sign-off Page

Whether the Communications Plan is a formal deliverable on your project is up to you – or possibly your customer. Either way, I strongly believe that a formal sign-off is important as it sets the stage for all communications and information expectations for both project teams going forward. Therefore, the final page of the Communications Plan should be a sign-off page for the Project Manager and the customer-side project sponsor and this document should be retained, managed and modified as needed (with sign-off on any changes) as the project progresses and any necessary communication methods are added or changed.

Summary / Call for Input

For me, communication is Job One for the project manager on the project. They do lots of important work, but efficient and effective communication should begin and end with the PM.

What about our readers? Do you consider communication plans that important? Do you produce a Communication Plan on some or all projects?

Brad Egeland
Brad Egeland

Noteworthy accomplishments:
*20 year provider of successful technical project management leadership for clients across nearly every industry imaginable
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*Named most prolific provider of project management content over the past 5 years
*Noted for successful project management and financial oversight for $50 million Dept. of Education financial contract/program
*Chosen by the Dept of Defense as a subject matter expert (SME) to help select IWMS software provider for the largest IWMS implementation ever awarded

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