Activities in the Plan Communications Process improve the project by determining what information everyone expects, who receives what information, when information will be provided, and how it will be delivered.
This preplanning eliminates confusion and makes the project experience smoother for the customer, stakeholders, and the project team.
The project manager is responsible for ensuring that project communications are effective and being carried out, and this includes making sure that the communications planning process is done satisfactorily.
But this does not mean that the project manager is sole communicator within the project.
Everyone needs to have good communication skills to be an effective team member.
Many project factors go into determining how detailed the communications planning process should be.
At a minimum, required project communications should be identified in the plan and responsibilities assigned.
But even small projects may need in-depth planning depending on the stakeholders, customer, or business priorities of the project.
Communications planning should cover both the formal and informal communication needs.
Formal needs include progress meetings, status reports, performance reports, issue disposition, and other customers, stakeholder, management, or team communication items that are expected.
Informal communications are those generally considered as social interactions or impromptu meetings --ad-hoc conferences, lunches, or hallway conversations.
These are necessary because they're a form of networking and team building, and it's often through informal communication that the first signs of project problems can be discovered.
While it isn't possible to plan for specific informal communication exchanges, it is possible to establish a basis for them in the communication plan.
Plan Communications Process Decomposition
Plan Communications Process: Inputs
- Stakeholder register
The stakeholder register identifies all project stakeholders and contains attributes such as the person's name, title, position, project interest, expectations, and influence.
The communications management plan needs to accommodate the information and project communication expectations of the stakeholders.
- Stakeholder management strategy
This document describes the approach that will be taken to maintain or increase the support of stakeholders in the project or to mitigate the risks or remove the obstacles that negative stakeholders can cause.
The communications management plan needs to incorporate that planned strategy.
- Enterprise environmental factors
Any of the many enterprise environmental factors and systems that influence the project should be considered as they relate to the communications management plan.
- Organizational process assets
Lessons learned relating to project communications from past projects are of particular interest.
Plan Communications Process: Tools and Techniques
- Communications requirements analysis
Communications requirements analysis identifies the minimum information, type, format, and frequency needed that will contribute to the project's success or where a lack of communication can lead to failure.
- Communications technology
The technologies available and applicable to the project affect planning for communications.
The size of the project, geographical disbursement of the team, overall project duration, and application area of the project have a bearing on which technologies will be most effective.
- Communication models
Communication models illustrate how information passes from the sender to the receiver(s).
They include encoding, feedback, medium, noise, and decoding.
- Communication methods
Communication methods are how information is shared.
Methods fall into three broad categories: interactive communication, push communication, and pull communication.
Plan Communications Process: Outputs
- Communications management plan
The communications management plan is a subsidiary plan of the project management plan, and it details the communications needs and requirements of the project and of the stakeholders, assigns responsibility, details the frequency and methods for communication elements, and defines the escalation paths for issues.
- Project document updates
Communications planning may result in changes to the stakeholder register, stakeholder management strategy, or provide additional information for stakeholder analysis documents.
Communications Requirements Analysis
In order to develop the project communications plan, communications requirements analysis must be done to determine the needs of the project.
This analysis looks not only at what is generally required for all projects, but what communication needs are specific to the project being undertaken and its environment.
Different projects will require somewhat different approaches, but in general, the analysis starts by determining the communication needs and expectations of the stakeholders.
The results from stakeholder analysis are very useful in communications planning because they provide the overall expectations of the stakeholders which can be turned into communications requirements and methods tailored to each stakeholder.
Another important factor to consider is the interest level of the stakeholders in different types of project communication.
Much depends upon the project, but as an example, stakeholders in the accounting department will have different information needs than will stakeholders in the manufacturing department.
If the two groups are barraged with detailed information that isn't relevant to their interests then they'll become overwhelmed with project information and begin ignoring project communications even when the information is important to them.
All project communications should be the minimum necessary to keep people informed, but not so much communication that it overwhelms them.
Other project-level factors to consider is how often specific information needs to be updated (e.g., daily, weekly, monthly), the risk level of the project, and whether the project team is co-located, disbursed across multiple locations, or is operating wholly or partially as a virtual team.
Some projects with large public exposure may also require official communication channels to be identified, designate who can officially communicate with whom and over what subject matter.
Communications Management Plan
The primary output of the communications planning process is the communications management plan.
This is a subsidiary component of the project management plan, and it details the communications needs and requirements of the project and of the stakeholders, assigns responsibility, details the frequency and methods for communication elements, and defines the escalation paths for issues.
Communication responsibilities are part of project management overhead, and communication activities need to be identified as deliverables with sufficient time allotted to them in the project schedule.
Not every single type of communication can be planned for in the communications plan, and trying to go into too much detail can needlessly bog down the communications planning process.
The point of communications planning is to identify and expend resources only on communication that contributes to the success of the project or where a lack of communication can lead to project failure --nothing more and nothing less.
The communications management plan should cover the major types of communications that will need to occur, and provide enough of a framework so that the project team knows what to do when unexpected communication needs arise.
A communications plan typically contains:
- A glossary of project-specific terminology that serves as a common lexicon
- Communications types and characteristics:
- Description of the information to be communicated (for example, schedule progress reports and budget forecasts).
- The level of detail, content, and format of the information.
- Who is responsible for creating and delivering the messages and information.
- To whom the communication should be delivered to.
- The frequency the information is to be communicated.
- Constraints or other restrictions that may be applicable to information or communication.
- The mediums and organization of the communication repository (for instance, folders that communication will be published to on a web portal).
- Escalation paths for issues.
- Methods for updating the communications management plan when needed.
- Templates or guidelines, such as agendas and meeting minutes.