Maybe you’ve played this game before: A group of friends decide to see if they can effectively pass a phrase from one person to another without changing the original content. This game, telephone, is a great example of how easy it is for a simple message to transform from “Tim eats bananas every morning” to “Tim’s mother died eating a banana, and now he’s in mourning.”
This tendency to miscommunicate is why crafting an effective project communication plan should be a constant goal for creative agencies. What you’re saying might not be what your clients, teammates, or contractors are hearing.
Teams are often held up by poor project management that fails to deliver the signal in the noise. At the root of these costly delays is a project manager struggling to create an effective project communication plan.
What Is a Project Communication Plan?
In the spirit of eating my own dog food, I want to define what I mean when I say “project communication plan” before moving into how to craft one. Because what I might consider a project communication plan, you might consider a lengthy email with too many bullet points.
This plan sets expectations while defining how you intend to communicate key information to project stakeholders and participants when they need to know it.
So how should you go about creating one that works for your project?
Understand Your Project
This might seem obvious, but it’s important to understand the context of your project in order to create an effective project communication plan.
For example, depending on the size of your client, your project might be one of many that your stakeholders are responsible for overseeing. You’ll have to incorporate their available attention and mindspace into your communication plan to ensure you’re delivering the right amount and type of information when they need it most.
Consider what your project is trying to accomplish. What’s at the end of your SMART goals (and your client’s)? Is it change management, a go-to-market strategy, a new blog design? This is all important information to consider before you start drafting your plan.
Each of these examples might require a different communication approach, so don’t assume too much about your project before moving on to the next step. Do a sanity check with colleagues to make sure how you’re perceiving the project is how others are. We cover a few examples:
Identify Project Stakeholders and Their Communication Expectations
At the end of any project, stakeholder opinion will determine whether or not your project is considered a success—sometimes, regardless of the results. It’s important to maintain regular communication with stakeholders...but on their terms. The key part of an effective project communication plan is understanding perception’s role.
Never assume you know what’s important to a stakeholder—ask! The stakeholder will appreciate you catering to his or her expectations, and you’ll be able to run a smoother project and deliver the right kind of results. Set expectations as soon as possible or you run the risk of chasing a moving target throughout the project.
Because many projects can incorporate leaders from different teams, it might help to identify the common terms you’ll be using and define what they mean in the context of the project. For instance, if you’re working on creative assets, the term “content” might mean one thing to a sales leader and an entirely different thing to a marketing leader.
Identifying the Project Team and Its Communication Expectations
What you communicate to stakeholders will be the sum of the parts you’re communicating with your project team on a day-to-day basis. If your daily communications are scrambled, you won’t be able to deliver a coherent report to leadership.
Communication is a two-way street at this level, as your project team will be producing a lot of data that you need to analyze and synthesize into consumable portions for your stakeholders. When you identify the members of your project team, you need to not only set expectations for how you’ll communicate with them but also how they’ll communicate with you.
Be generous to yourself. Set communication timelines that account for delays and allow you an appropriate time for analysis and reflection. You and your client will both be happier if you give yourself the space to do more with the information you’re receiving daily.
Determine What Needs to Be Communicated
What’s a communication plan without information to communicate? Projects can produce an overwhelming amount of data. As the project manager, it’s your job to identify what needs to be shared with whom.
You’ll want to consider all the different moving pieces propelling your project along and the types of information each piece will produce. Then map that information against who needs to know about it—there’ll be those producing information (e.g., researchers) and those executing on information (e.g., writers), but how and when they receive it will be up to you. This will all feed up to the macro data of your project such as budget and deadlines. When is an appropriate time to flag problems or successes for your stakeholders? All this should be understood and defined in your project communication plan.
Decide What Tools You’ll Use to Distribute Project Updates (and How Often)
There are many ways to communicate with one another these days: text message, email, phone call (God forbid), or carrier pigeon with typewritten note for the trendier set. This is an easy step to overlook, but it’s important to define how you’ll be communicating with your project team. That way, your team will know where to expect updates and can set itself up accordingly.
You should also let your team and stakeholders know how often to expect updates. To determine the best cadence, it’s important to consider the overall timeline of your project. If it’s a two-week sprint, you’ll want to have daily, if not hourly, touchpoints with project members. If it’s six months, maybe a weekly meeting will be enough for team members involved at the execution level, and monthly for stakeholders. Reflect on how much time you think it might take for something to go off track and try to schedule check-ins within that gap.
Measure the Effectiveness of Your Project Communication Plan
Remember the SMART goals method. M stands for Measurable, and your plan should definitely be so.
As you craft your project communication plan, identify points in the timeline when it would make sense to reflect on your project. Take time to see what’s working, what isn’t and how you can adjust moving forward.
Accept feedback and incorporate it into the next project—the best part of project management is that you always have an opportunity to improve. But you have to track your process and what works if you hope to do better in the future. This is where a template can help. It sets a baseline so that you better understand where you’re coming from and where you hope to go with your next project communication plan.