Communication Plans – passé or avant-garde

Why don’t most of us use communication plans? I know that most project managers I talk with don’t use them. Why is that? Are we in such a hurry to jump into our projects that we assume email will work – and why not cc everyone we can think of that must want to know what we’re doing?

In my previous blog my friend learned this lesson a bit too late.

The project he is leading is very high profile with lots of folks wanting recognition for having had influence over the outcome. An email was sent asking a simple question about a process with the appropriate parties copied. By the time the email returned, 3 days later, with of course other folks copied along the way, there was now an escalation because a different question had been answered, which of course had already been handled.

Remember the game telephone? You probably played it as a kid. This was exactly what had happened. The original question was never answered, but now a fire had to be put out, wasting even more time. So a new plan was put in place was to simply pick up the phone. And voila – two minutes later, the questions were resolved and everyone was happy.

Why are we so reluctant to pick up a phone? Are we so attached to our technology that we think it is our only form of communication? Or are we afraid of getting stuck in the voice mail black hole that never gets answered? Regardless, I suggest you try it sometime but I digress…

This blog started out by talking about using communication plans in your projects. This process is usually started when you’re out talking to all the stakeholders you may be impacting during the initiation phase of the project. Hopefully, you’re gathering enough information when determining who your stakeholders are so you’ll know exactly the types of communication they are looking for.

Are they an executive, so they are only looking for a high level list of bulleted updates? Do they only want information on the part of the project that impacts them? Make sure you know what part of the process they really own, otherwise what happened to my friend can happen to you – a bunch of fingers pointing back at each other blaming the other person for all the things that are not going right with your project.

And don’t forget to tailor your communications by how best each stakeholder receives information. I’m sure most of you have taken an assessment at some point in your career – either a Myers Briggs (MBTI), the Enneagram, or a DiSC assessment. Those assessments help us better understand how individuals differ in their thinking and communication preferences. Are they detail oriented, do they need face to face, do they need you to bottom line it, or need very little at all? As part of your communication plan I’d recommend that you not only capture the how/how often they want to be communicated with, but also the what type of communication works best – via telephone, email, and the type of email – bulleted, or less formal. This can seem like a tedious process to plan at the beginning of your projects and, from what I’ve observed go wrong in projects, could save days of clean up time later.

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1 thought on “Communication Plans – passé or avant-garde”

  1. Communication is such a critical part of any project! I think the worst problems I’ve seen are when senior management aren’t formally written into the communication plan. They see parts of the plan at certain points and think it’s okay to give their input late when a project is nearly complete. Team members think – it’s a manager so we have to implement what they’ve “suggested”, no matter that the project has long since passed that point. Better to include the role and timeline of feedback from all (including managers) in the original communication plan. Get buy-in early.

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