5 Ways to Better Manage Project Communications

Throughout my project management career, one of the areas I consistently strive for excellence in is communications. I feel it is critical to the success of any project—big or small—so I wanted to share five ways that I effectively manage communications for my projects.

1. Map Out A Project Organization

Never underestimate the communication power of diagrams. Before you get started, it’s crucial to set a project structure and map it out for the team.

You can organize your program or project structure in a couple different ways: by function (e.g. requirements, development, training/communication), or by domain (e.g. departments, products, or services impacted). Any way you slice it, defining the engagement and workstreams will help everyone remain on the same page once the project gets moving and becomes more complex.

Communicate this program structure to business and technology groups affected by the project, and then leverage the structure to develop a communications plan and a work breakdown structure (WBS) that can convert into a project plan. Some useful tools to help define your project organization are Enterprise Data, Business Process and/or IT Architecture Documents. Use these tools to identify inter-connections between data, business process and technology—they enable visualization of potentially impacted areas. Leverage your technical SMEs for explanations and details.

2. Identify Your Stakeholders

This step is all about asking questions and talking to people. Investigate within the organization and set your scope by finding out:

    • What groups of customers and/or employees does the project impact? (i.e. who will experience change)?
    • What business processes are impacted? What departments own or touch those processes?
    • What technology is impacted? Hardware and/or applications? What departments own or touch the technology?
    • What other projects are in the pipeline or active that could be impacted or that may be a dependency for your project or that your project may depend on?

Once you’ve identified all the impacted areas, request representation on the project team from them, using the level of impact to guide time commitment expectations.

3. Make Sure the Team Gets R&R

Although rest and relaxation are important, I’m referring to “Roles and Responsibilities” here. Managing role and responsibility expectations may be the secret to any successful business relationship. Once you’ve established the roles and responsibilities of the executive sponsor, business owner, the project manager, and other members of the project team, designate specific times for team meetings and/or working sessions. Determine the need and establish, if necessary, a Steering Committee.

The most useful tool for defining R&R’s is the RACI, a matrix defining the roles and responsibilities of each individual involved in a process along four dimensions:

    • Responsible: Those who handle or support the work required to complete the activity, deliverable or function.
    • Accountable: Those who ultimately own the activity, deliverable or function and are responsible for ensuring it has been completed.
    • Consulted: Those whose inputs are sought and with whom there is two-way communication.
    • Informed: Those who are kept up-to-date on progress of the activity, deliverable or task and with whom there is generally one-way communication.

To see how my team uses RACI charts, check out our most recent work designing custom project lifecycle processes.

4. Create Communication Plans

Depending on the type and size of project you are running, you may need to develop and execute several different communication plans. For the overall Project Communications, think about who needs to know what, when, and how about the project. This plan should include communications to all key stakeholders (usually by group), throughout the project lifecycle (i.e. project status reports, stakeholder or steering committee meetings, etc.).

Your Launch Communications plan should look a little different: think about who needs to know what, when and how about the product, process, service, etc. that the project will implement. This plan is typically customer and/or employee focused, and includes training and other forms of communication to prepare those impacted by the project for its launch.

The System Deployment Communications should be more specialized: who needs to know everything about the physical deployment of the application code? This typically includes a timeline of activities, notifications/communications related to deployment errors, roll back requirements and deployment completions.

For each of these plans, you need to spell out the following: Audience, Key Message, Forum/Method, Development Owner, Delivery Owner, Delivery Date, Frequency, and Feedback Mechanism.

5. Prepare Project Status Reports: Just Do It!

This is a key communication vehicle for any project or program, even if it’s not required. There are various formats you can try, but if possible, leverage your PPM tool (MS ProjectServer, HP PPM, Planview, etc.).

For project status reporting, conciseness is key. Avoid unnecessary detail by using short phrases and bullet points. Clearly articulate issues, followed by plans to resolve and return the project to “green” status. Spell out acronyms (unless widely known across the company), and avoid jargon (technical or non-technical). And lastly, avoid calling out people by name; using departments or roles instead.

So, there you have it—based on my experiences, these are five ways you can effectively manage communications for your programs or projects. What tools and techniques have you found to be helpful in managing your projects? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.