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Plan Communications

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Plan communications – getting your act together!

The main output from plan communications is the communications management plan, and the PMBOK structure of such a plan is no different to all those have come before it:

  • Who are the stakeholders
  • What are their interest areas
  • What information is a value to them
  • How often will communications be distributed and updated
  • In what format the communications will be distributed

Depending upon the complexity and importance of the project, then plan communications and hence communication management may be done formally or informally. Like many of the planning processes, plan communications is performed early in the project and it is revised and refined as the project progresses.

There are just four inputs to the plan communications process:

Stakeholder register.

This is a list of all other relevant stakeholders are and their interest areas. The communications management plan will describe how communication will occur with these individuals.

Stakeholder management strategy.

Since the communications management plan describes how it is to occur, then this input is important as it describes how stakeholder management strategy will be managed on the project, and this is obviously a key input to the plan communications process, and defines how communications are to occur.

Enterprise environmental factors.

The environment within which a project operates will determine how communications are to occur, and examples of this input would include the organisational structure, the characteristics of the projects stakeholders along with their expectations, and your organizations infrastructure which will give clues to the lines of communication required.

Organisational process assets.

Examples here are any communication lessons learned from previous similar projects, along with any policy procedures or guidelines that must be adhered to when communicating. There may also be information on the structure of internal or external groups, departments or organisations which shall be helpful in creating the communications management plan.

Despite the many tools, there are only one output from the plan communications process:

plan communications – The communications management plan.

This forms part of the project management plan, and will define the following information:

  • Who should receive project communication
  • What communication they should receive
  • Who should sends the communication
  • How the communication will be sent
  • How often it will be updated
  • Definitions of commonly understood terms
  • Project document updates.

Since communication will affect many aspects of the project, then this process may cause updates to any of the parts of the project management plan, particularly time and cost management since the investment of both gathering information and giving it will need resources.

Plan Communication Tools.

There are 10 tools which are used as part of the plan communications process:

Communication requirements analysis.

This covers the communication channels required within a project.

This analysis determines which stakeholders should receive communications, what communications they should receive, how they should receive this communication, and how often they should receive them.

Communication channels.

The communication channels or parts of communication that occur within a project needs to be determined, since the project manager will want to manage and be in control of all project communication aspects.

It is counter-intuitive; however adding a single extra person on a project can have a significant increase on the number of paths or channels of communication that exist.

There is a simple formula here which is:

Channels = n times (n -1) divided by two

(n equals the number of people that need to be communicated with)

What is important here is that adding one extra person will have a large increase in communication partners, and a simple example will make this point:

Suppose that there are four people on a project. Applying the above formula:

4 times (4 – 1) divided by two = 6 lines of communication

Suppose an extra team member was added bringing the total to five:

5 times (5 – 1) divided by two = 10 lines of communication.

By adding just one more team member, then you can see from above that the lines of communication has increased by two-thirds!

Official channels of communication.

By this we mean, how many lines of communication must be carried out by official channels, and determining how many lines of communication can be met naturally in an informal manner.

Another key point here, is that everybody does not need to communicate with everyone, indeed by establishing roles and responsibilities, then it may only be appropriate for a small number of the project team to communicate with certain individuals (such as the customers for example).

By determining the official channels of communication, then communication across a project can be both simplified and made more effective and efficient.

Communication technology.

Technology is nothing more than a tool, and depending upon the project need, it might be the use of the email, teleconferencing, blog, website, forums etc.

All communication tools should be tailored to suit the requirements of each project; however some may only require face to face meetings.

Verbal and non verbal communication

Messages can be given in verbal and nonverbal ways, here are some of them:

Active listening.

This is done by the receiver taking action to ensure that the sender was understood.

Effective listening.

This requires that the listener gives full thoughts and attention to what is being communicated, and that they are watching for non verbal and physical communication to determine whether or not the message has been clearly understood.

Feedback.

This is used by a speaker using verbal and non verbal cues to determine whether the message has been clearly understood. The listener may nod and smile to give feedback that the message is understood and received, whereas a blank stare may suggest that the message needs to be decoded in order for it to be better understood. Interaction from the audience by asking questions or repeating back to the speaker can be an effective way to give feedback. HOw feedback is to occur should be understood as part of plan communications.

Non verbal.

This refers to communication via body language, and is usually in the form of hand motions and facial expressions. Studies have shown that most communication between the sender and receiver is in fact non-verbal, showing that a good listener must keep a careful eye on non-verbal communication.

Para-lingual.

This refers to vocal communication – but not verbal. Examples are the volume of what is being said, or its pitch, or voice tone. Any sounds or vocal mannerisms (‘ahah!) may give clues here.

Communication blockers.

Blocking is anything that disrupts the sender encoding the message or the receiver decoding it and is therefore anything that disrupts the communication channels.

plan communications – The communications model.

This consists of the following steps:

  • Encoder the messages clearly
  • Selected communication methods
  • Sends the message
  • Confirm that the message was understood by the receiver
  • The receiver is responsible for:
  • Decoding a message
  • Confirming that the message was understood
  • Dealing with ‘noise’

In communication terms, this refers to anything that interferes with the receiver’s ability to understand a message. This can refer to the method used for transmission, the distance, language and cultural issues, or simply individual bias.

plan communications – Communication methods.

There are four basic methods that frame the message and the medium:

plan communications – Informal written.

These normally include e-mail messages or memos.
Formal written. Examples would be project documentation or contracts.
Informal verbal. Examples are conversations and general discussions, phone calls, or meetings.
Formal verbal. Examples are formal presentations, speeches, or any mass communication.

 

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David spent 25 years as a senior project manager for US multinationals and now develops a wide range of project-related downloadable video training products under the Primer brand. In addition, David runs training seminars across the world, and is a prolific writer on the many topics of project management. He currently lives in Spain with his wife Jude.

I hope you found my plan communications article useful!