Communications Management Plan ~ A Step by Step Guide

One of the best ways to learn is by doing. This applies not only to everyday life, but also to project communications management. This step-by-step guide is meant to be used in conjunction with our Communications Management Plan Template. By following the steps outlined below, and using our communications management plan template you’ll find that developing the communications management plan for your project is quite easy and can be accomplished with little stress.

Step 1 Review the PMBOK®.

Read through the communications management section of the PMBOK®. Either print this section or make a copy and keep it on your desk – this way you can refer back to it often. The PMBOK® is the industry standard for project management and is extremely useful in detailing the requirements for project communication as well as other project areas. A thorough review of the applicable PMBOK® section should precede work on any project management process area.

Step 2 Determine Stakeholder Communication Requirements.

Refer to the Stakeholder Register and Stakeholder Management Strategy if you have them (these should have been created during the project initiation process). This step requires more than just creating a list of stakeholders. There are several key considerations to account for during this step of the communication management plan. First, you must ensure ALL stakeholders are identified. Many projects fail to do this only to discover it later which results in project gaps, document changes, etc.

Another key part of this step is determining all of the stakeholders’ expectations, interests, and influence within the project. If a stakeholder’s expectation is that this project should not result in any changes to his/her work but you know it will, then this is where discrepancies like this must be identified and resolved. Likewise, stakeholders will have varying degrees of interest and influence on a project. All of these characteristics should be captured and documented in the Communications Management Plan section “Stakeholder Communication Requirements”. Specific communication methods, preferences, and frequencies for each stakeholder should be documented in the project’s Stakeholder Register as an Appendix or attachment to the Communication Management Plan.

Stakeholders include: management, customers, PMO, project team, business partners, program manager, portfolio manager, project sponsor, etc.

Step 3 Determine Level of Detail for the Plan.

The Communications Management Plan can be either a stand-alone subsidiary management plan or a section contained within the project management plan. Several determining factors will help you to determine the scope and level of detail for your Communications Management Plan.

  • Size of Project – larger projects which span a longer timeframe tend to have more communication requirements.
  • Complexity of Organization – for instance, a highly political environment within the organization has very specific communication needs for the project to be successful.
  • Number and Location of Stakeholders – project’s with a high number of stakeholders and/or stakeholders from a wide geographic area may require more detailed planning of communication management.

If you have a small project and your organization isn’t very complex in its communication requirements then your communications management plan can be a section within your project plan. If you go this route be sure at a minimum to include:

  • Communications management approach
  • Stakeholder communication requirements
  • Stakeholder register (from project initiation)
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Project team directory
  • Communication matrix
  • Guidelines for meetings

Most large and complex projects will require that the communications management plan be developed as a subsidiary management plan which can stand on its own. Because of the size and complexity, these communications management plans often require more detailed planning and documentation. If you require a more detailed subsidiary communications management plan, you should include the following at a minimum:

  • Communications management approach
  • Communication constraints
  • Stakeholder communication requirements
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Project team directory
  • Communication matrix
  • Communication flowchart
  • Guidelines for meetings
  • Standardization of communication
  • Communication escalation process
  • Glossary of communication terminology
  • Sponsor acceptance of the plan as a subsidiary/stand-alone plan

The level of detail for the communications management plan can be discussed or summarized in the “Introduction” section. Information pertaining to the level of detail will also be present in the “Stakeholder Communication Requirements” section of the plan as well as the Stakeholder Register.

Step 4 Determine Communication Constraints.

All projects are subject to various constraints which must be identified and managed effectively to ensure project success. The communication management plan is no exception as often times a project’s communications are subject to various constraints. These constraints may be financial (i.e. project’s budget allocated for communication), time-dependent (i.e. adhering to schedule regarding project communications), or deal with other factors. Other communication constraints may include what types of technology are available for communications, any internal or external regulations and policies, or legislation that may require communications to be handled in a certain manner.

Communication constraints should be identified during the project’s planning phase and every effort must be taken to ensure all constraints are identified and documented. If any constraints are missed then it is likely that they will become evident later in the project’s lifecycle and impact the project’s triple constraint (time, cost, and scope). All identified communication constraints should be contained in the “Communication Constraints” section of the Communication Management Plan.

Step 5 Determine Information to be Communicated.

This step may seem simple and self-explanatory, but on many projects, there are either significant gaps or overlaps in information being communicated. There are many questions that need to be answered such as, “who needs the information?”; “how often do they need it?”; and “what information do they need?”. Small projects allow for more simplified communication without having to provide extreme detail in the planning. However, large and complex projects, which usually have many stakeholders with differing interests and influences, require very thorough and detailed planning.

For large and complex projects it is usually helpful for an organization to provide standard documents and templates for use in formal communications because it simplifies the communication process and provides a level playing field and promotes understanding of what is being communicated. There may be standard status reports, meeting agendas, meeting minutes, gate reviews, or other documents which provide consistent format and content. Depending on the complexity of the project and the stakeholder communication requirements the standard documents may need slight modification and a determination of the level of detail communicated must be made. However, the organizational standards should contain most of the key information that needs to be communicated for the project.

Determining the information that needs to be communicated is the result of determining stakeholder communications requirements as well as what the organization’s internal communications requirements are. This should provide what needs to be communicated, to whom, and how often. This information is then documented and presented in the “Communication Matrix” and “Standardization of Communication” sections of the Communication Management Plan.

Step 6 Determine Methodology for Communications.

Now that we know what needs to be communicated, to whom, and how often, we must determine how we are going to communicate the project information. Much like the other steps in completing the communications management plan, this step largely depends on the size and complexity of the project. Small project communications with few stakeholders may only require periodic meetings, emails, and phone calls. Large and complex projects again require much more detailed planning. Different types of communications may also require different methods of communication. For instance, project status meetings may be most effective in a face-to-face environment. However, some stakeholders may be located in different geographic regions so the result may be a face-to-face meeting with a video-teleconference capability where distant stakeholders have the capability of seeing briefing charts and participating in the conversation. Communication methodology is dependent on the technology available to stakeholders as well.

There are many means for communicating project information. Some of these include email, phone calls, face to face meetings, data bases, web/internet portals, video-teleconferences, organizational shared drives, or various other technologies and applications. The project team must consider what methods are available to all stakeholders and plan appropriately so pertinent project information can be communicated to everyone involved.

Communication methodology is included in the “Communications Management Approach”, “Stakeholder Communication Requirements”, and Communication Matrix” sections of the Communications Management Plan. Additional detail may be included in the project’s Stakeholder Register.

Step 7 Develop Flow Charts for Information Flow.

It should be clear by now that large and complex projects require detailed planning to avoid communication gaps and overlaps and to ensure that project information is distributed in a timely and effective manner. A common tool which helps illustrate and describe how project communications should work is the flow chart.

The communication flowchart should describe the paths of both formal and informal communications. These paths should include any necessary reviews or authorizations which must occur prior to information being distributed (i.e. sensitive or classified information). The flowchart should also include any events which may trigger or result in communications. For example, a monthly project status meeting may trigger and agenda or presentation to be distributed beforehand and meeting minutes or changes in documentation to be communicated afterward. As projects grow larger and more complex, the flowchart helps manage communication by providing a visual diagram of communication flows.

The flowchart should be included in the “Communication Flowchart” section of the Communications Management Plan.