You’ve probably read so many articles on communications that they no longer penetrate. That’s bad communications. Repetition is good until it’s not. Communications is more complex than just saying something and expecting someone to hear you.
That’s why there’s so much literature on communications floating about online and filling sagging shelves at your local library and bookstore. While reading those texts can help, as a project manager you’re already one step ahead of the crowd. That’s because you know good communications are only possible if it’s preceded with a good project communication plan.
You can use a communications template as a place to collect the objectives of your communication plan, which is a good start. That will put your communications in context, which is important, so you can then tweak it to meet your project goals.
But before you get started, let’s take a moment to go over a dozen practical tips to keep in mind as you’re working on developing a plan to get your communications across clearly and effectively in your project.
1. Know the Project Culture
Like we said, knowing the context of the communications is critical to creating an effective plan. That means understanding the culture at the organization you’re working for. How structured or casual is it? How has communications been handled in the past? Have those communications been successful? Know the environment you’re working in first.
Next you need to know the project itself. That is going to impact the way you deliver your communications. A large project is going to have a different communication plan than a smaller one, which might only need to disseminate its information over chat or some other more casual channel.
2. Who Are the Stakeholders?
You’ll be reporting to your stakeholders throughout the life cycle of the project. They’re going to need updates and you’re going to need to give them the data they require to placate whatever concerns they might harbor. So, it’s important to know how they prefer to get their communications. You want to work within their comfort level.
3. What Are Your Goals?
There is more than one way to communicate, and there is more than one thing to communicate. What are you trying to say? You must figure that out, so you can focus your communications on achieving that goal. For example, you might simply need to let your stakeholders know about the project’s progress. That’s one type of communication that will inform how you plan your communications. However, if you’re working on getting buy-in and support, that will require a different approach. Know your goals and it’s easier to reach them.
4. Define Your Approach to Communications
Once you know the goal of your communication plan, in order to create clear project communications, you can begin to figure out how you’re going to approach it. Maybe you need to have a general approach to communications, with a clear and graphic depiction of project metrics for stakeholders to see quickly and easily how you’re keeping on schedule and within budget. Perhaps you need more detailed information to deliver to your team to assist them in completing their tasks. Or it could be something else. Once the goals are defined, though, you can start to cement how you’ll be communicating over the course of the project.
5. Keep on Message
Whatever that approach proves to be, you’re going to want to make sure your communications are sharply directed to that target. That means keeping on message. You don’t want to drag down you stakeholders with unnecessary detail, which is only going to distract them from the takeaway you want them to have. It’s easy to stray off course, so be diligent. Know your message and stick to it.
6. Have a Plan
It seems obvious, a better communication plan requires having a plan, but it’s surprising how many people fly by the seat of their pants. Communications is just emailing or meetings or talking with someone. You tell them what they need to know and then they take that information and apply it.
Sure, but it doesn’t always work out that way. You need to have a process in place to make sure no messages fall through the cracks. A plan helps you reach the right people with the right information. It also means that you’re monitoring and measuring the effectiveness of the plan, so you can tweak it as needed.
7. Monitor Your Communications
Yes, communications aren’t thrown into the void with the hope that they’ll connect. If you want to know if your communications are hitting their marks, you must monitor them. You can simply ask if they’ve been received or required an acknowledgement of receipt. There is also software that can automate this process for you, but more about that later.
8. Measure Your Communications
You have metrics for everything else when managing a project, and so you need some way to measure the success of your communications. The larger your project, the more complex the communications and the less likely you can tell if they’re successful.
Therefore, you need first someone who is responsible for the communications. They are the point person for any problems. Also, the medium you’re using to send these communications often comes with a way to measure their success, such as emails, but you can do post-mortems after meetings and phone calls. Sometimes it’s as easy as asking for feedback.
9. Make Guidelines for Meeting
Meetings are a great communications tool and should be part of any project communication plan. But meetings have a bad reputation as time-wasters. They certainly can be, but they don’t have to be inefficient. That’s why you want to have guidelines to make sure your meeting is getting the right message to the right people.
Start by only having those people in a meeting who need to be there. Then make sure you have an agenda to keep you on message. Keep meeting minutes and assign action items. Not all meetings need such structure, but you want them to facilitate the work, not interrupt it.
10. Be SMART
It’s not possible to read a post on communications advice without bumping into an acronym, and here it comes: SMART. That stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-related. Following this advice helps you avoid communication mistakes.
How? It helps you set clear and quantifiable objectives in your communications. In other words, it keeps you on message. For example, it helps you define who you’re communicating with, by what metric will you measure that missive, is your communications achievable, relevant and within what timeframe. If you can frame all your communications SMART-ly, then you’re very wise.
Planning your communications needs to be a collaborative effort. You’re not communicating in a vacuum or else you’d just be talking to yourself. Bring in your stakeholders and team members as you formulate your project communication plan and get their input and insight. It’ll make things smoother once you implement it.
12. Get the Right Tools
There are lots of communications tools, from the old-fashion one-on-one talk to meetings, emails, chat apps and more. It can be a bit confusing to sift through all these options, and even more so if you’re using a few of them and are constantly jumping from channel to channel.
To make sure no important communications is lost in the shuffle, look for a communications tool that works with your plan and has features that automate email notifications, tracks effectiveness and connects teams to foster collaboration.
Communications flows into every aspect of your project, so you’re going to want a communications tool that is equally fluid. ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based project management software that gives you real-time data, so teams can communicate instantly, with relevant data. You can automate notifications and monitor and report on progress in real-time, too. It’s a win-win, and even better you can try it out for free with this 30-day trial.