Are you looking to understand how to create a project communication plan? Or, are you searching for project management communication plan examples? Then, you've come to the right place.
Even the most well-planned project can fall apart without good communication. Project teams know this, which is why project methodologies invented the communications plan.
If you are new to project management, writing a project plan will probably be on your to-do list. But a communications plan might be something you haven't heard of before.
In this comprehensive guide, you'll find out everything you need to know about project communication plans, including three project management communication plan examples that you can use as templates.
Below is everything we will cover. Feel free to skip ahead.
- What is a project communication plan?
- Why use a communication plan?
- How to create a project communication plan
- What to include in a project management communication plan
- Project management communication plan examples
- How to use the project communication plan
What is a project communication plan?
A project communication plan is a formal, written document that exists on medium and large projects. Sometimes it's also helpful on small projects, depending on the size of the team.
Communication plans outline in detail how all the communication is going to happen during a project. It summarizes who will write and receive the correspondence and what type of communication the team will use.
The communications plan is there to make sure the project team has an organized communication strategy. It helps keep the team aligned with their communication efforts.
Why use a communication plan?
If you have a great team relationship on your project, you might be wondering whether you need to write down how you will handle communications.
However, even in high-performing teams, communication plans can positively impact a project's success. Here are some of the benefits.
Everything is written down
There is a noticeable emphasis on documentation when it comes to project management. A big reason for this is to avoid anyone making assumptions that can quickly derail a project.
Project communications are just like any other aspect of a project, and by writing it down, you clear up any misconceptions about how people will communicate with one another.
Provides an audit trail
Once you have something documented in a project, you've got an audit trail.
It isn't about a blame game. An audit trail is useful for checking a project's history. It's also useful during a handover of personnel during a project.
Better visibility across the project
A communications plan gives everyone on the team visibility about what is happening and why. You'll cut down on avoidable questions, such as when you will send a project update to stakeholders.
Keeping the team aligned
You want your team to work towards the same goal and walk in the same direction. When everyone agrees to the same communications plan, it's going to help you achieve that.
Making communication central to a project
A communications plan shows your team members and project stakeholders that you take communication seriously. It will reassure them that they are getting all the information they should expect during the project.
Feedback is the best way to improve your project approach. Writing out a communications plan allows others to spot gaps and omissions. That will ultimately help you improve how you manage the project.
How to create a project communication plan
Writing a project communications plan doesn't have to be complicated.
The most important aspect of the plan is that it can be used by the team and project stakeholders as a reference point when they have questions about project communication.
Here is a guide on how to write an effective project communication plan.
Who is responsible?
The project manager is responsible for the project communications plan. If you have a large project team, you can delegate some of the write-up to a junior project manager or project coordinator.
When to write it
Write the communications plan during the project initiation phase of a new project. It sits alongside the project scope and project plan.
Plan with a purpose
No two communication plans will be identical because no two projects are identical. An excellent project communication plan begins with a clear purpose.
You must explain why you are writing it and how you intend to use it on the project.
Begin by talking to your team and stakeholders about what communication your project will need. That should be a core part of your project planning phase.
Timing is another question to ask because communication is only effective when it is timely. Find out if there are key dates that you need to plan your communication around.
Getting it agreed
As with other formal project documentation, take the time to get a sign-off on your communications plan.
The plan must be agreed upon by the main project stakeholder. That is typically the project sponsor or another senior stakeholder.
Some projects are going to be easier than others when it comes to communicating effectively.
A project with multiple groups or different organizations will have more communication challenges than a small, internal project.
Likewise, geographically distant teams come with their challenge, as you'll need to work around the limitations of meeting up in person. However, advancements in technology make remote teamwork more straightforward.
What to include in a project management communication plan
Communication plans don't need to be lengthy. Brevity is your ally when it comes to getting people to read and understand it.
The information you hold in the plan is vital, however. Here is a comprehensive list of some of the mandatory and optional content of a typical communications plan.
Outline overall communication aims
Start with a summary of your communication goals for the project. That is a helpful overview for your senior stakeholders. It will also help your team to understand the rationale behind your communications plan.
It is worth listing your communication goals out and making some of them measurable. It will be helpful later on during the final project audit once the project is complete.
Identify the key stakeholders
Different people within the project (and outside of the project) will need different types of communication.
Start your communication plan with a brainstorming session. Talk to anyone involved in the project who might need information. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Project Director
- Project Sponsor
- Finance Director
- Team leaders and managers
- Resource or HR manager
- Executives and senior management
- Investors and shareholders
- Third-party suppliers
- Team members
- Other internal departments
- Government bodies (if there are regulatory aspects to your project)
This list is not exhaustive but should give you an idea of how broad your project communications might need to be.
Ideally, list out the person and their role, and when their project role is different from their usual job title, list both.
If in doubt, include someone you think is a stakeholder. It is always better to be overcautious with your project communications than leave out someone who might need to know some relevant information.
As a general rule of thumb, the bigger the project, the more people you will need to add to your communications list.
Preferred communication: format and frequency
Later in the process of creating your communications plan, you'll be listing out the types of communication you'll issue as part of the project.
However, before you get to this stage, it's worth speaking to some of your project stakeholders first and asking them what they want and expect from the project.
Here are some prompts to help you ask the right questions to your stakeholders:
- What is your preferred format? Email, report, video call?
- What frequency of communication do you need?
- Will summary communications suffice, or do you need specific detail?
It seems like much work. But think of this as part of your overall planning of the project.
You can resolve most of these questions in a quick informal discussion with the individual, and it doesn't need to be overly complicated.
Establish the definitive list of project communications
Now it's time to put pen to paper. List the types of communications that you or another team member will be producing during the project.
The conversations you've already had with stakeholders are going to help you at this stage. However, you also need to add your input.
As a project manager, you will have a good understanding of the type and format of communication your project will need.
Even if a stakeholder requests a specific format, you may believe a different method will be more effective. Don't be afraid to make this decision as it is part of your responsibilities.
To help you put this list together, here are some examples of what information to include. We've also outlined the most common format and frequency.
Project status update
Project status updates, also known as a project check-in, give stakeholders a chance to update the project; these are best done in person or by phone/video call. On short projects, do these daily. On longer projects, weekly will suffice.
Email updates are helpful when distributing communications to a large group. Ideally, stick to weekly, as emails with higher frequency risk getting filed instead of reading.
Written reports have the benefit of acting as an audit trail for the project.
Though reports take time to write, sending these to your stakeholders is an effective way to communicate decisions, issues, and actions on a project.
Avoid creating reports more than once a week. On larger projects, you can produce reports fortnightly or monthly.
Finally, part of your communications plan is going to involve face-to-face meetings. These are best for communications that will need discussion and debate, such as critical product issues.
Set a schedule for meetings. Check the availability of your stakeholders before adding these dates to your communications plan.
Aligning your communications with your project goals
Every communication should serve a purpose in your project. Avoid adding meetings, reports, or emails simply because you have seen it done on other projects and assume it has to be there.
Once you know your types of communications and frequency, create a specific goal for each project communication. Here are some prompts to help you:
- Is the communication there to capture new project issues from team members?
- Is the communication there to ensure the project is on track against the plan?
- Is the communication to inform senior stakeholders of progress?
- Is the communication designed to get 3rd parties talking together to resolve issues on the project?
These are just some ideas. But you will need to look at your specific project to get an understanding of the goals.
If you can, make these goals measurable. It isn't mandatory. But if you can measure how effective your project communications were, that information will help when you run a project review.
Creating clear ownership
If a project task doesn't have an owner, then it belongs to no-one. And that is a dangerous mistake to make on a project.
To get the most out of your communications plan, make it clear who owns that communication and what their responsibilities are.
It may be that the person responsible for the communication isn't the same as the person overseeing it. For example, you might put one person in charge of organizing a meeting and a different person chairing that meeting.
In these circumstances, make it clear who is responsible for organizing the communication. Separately, write down who will be responsible for chairing a meeting, report writing, or hosting a call.
Presenting your project communications plan
In the next section, we'll showcase some examples of communications plans. Before that, here is some general advice you can adhere to when presenting your communications plan.
First, make it easy to read your communications plan at a glance.
A communications plan is about what information you're going to be sending out, how, and when. So that shouldn't be wordy. Most of the time, you'll present the content in a matrix format.
Second, make it clear about who is going to be doing what. That is where many projects fail. The communications plan will reference meetings but forgets to mention who is responsible for arranging the meeting.
Finally, be flexible in the plan. If you present a communications plan with rigid rules, it will make it harder for the team to follow along.
Offer options such as delegating a communications task to another team member, for example, if someone isn't available because they are busy or on vacation.
Project management communication plan examples
Before writing your first communication plan, it's good to see an example of a project communication plan to understand how other project teams have handled this task.
Here are some of the most common formats to give you some ideas for a communication plan for a project management example.
Simple communication plan example
This is one of the most common project management communication plan examples and it presents the complete list of planned communications in one matrix table.
You can either create this type of communications plan in a spreadsheet or a table in a Word document.
Typically, this style of communications plan will include the following column headings:
- General communication type (e.g., report, email, call, meeting)
- Communication name (e.g. 'weekly report', 'status call', 'daily update')
- Frequency (daily, weekly, fortnightly, monthly, or longer)
- Aim or goal of each communication
- Communication owner
- Communication audience
Once you've created this table, you can send it to the project team members and stakeholders. Alternatively, you can include it as part of the project planning documentation at the start of a project.
Method-style communications plan example
Sometimes a different communications structure helps make your plan easier to read and understand, particularly on large, complex projects.
If you have a high number of communications, think of sorting the list into sub-groups.
Another one of the more common project management communication plan examples is called the method-style plan. It sorts the communications based on the type of communication.
In this plan, you will start by listing the communication types, such as meeting, call, report, or email. These will form your sub-headings.
Underneath each heading, you will list each communication in a table format, with the following column headings:
- Communication name
- Aim or goal of each communication
- Communication owner
- Communication audience
As you can see, this example communication plan for project management is similar to a simple communications plan.
The main difference is for readability, and by splitting the plan by method, stakeholders can see very quickly what types of communications will be happening across a project.
Audience focused communications plan example
The third communication plan example for project management is split by audience or project group.
There is a benefit to this. When you send the communications plan out, you aren't asking everyone to read the entire document. They only need to read the section that is going to be relevant to them.
You'll start by listing out the headings that will outline the different audience types. Here are some common ones:
- Project team members
- Project team leads
- Project sponsor
- Heads of department
- 3rd party supplier A
- 3rd party supplier B
Once you have these headings, you can start listing out the communications for each group. Again, this is mainly in a table format, with the following columns:
- Communication type
- Communication name
- Aim or goal of the communication
If using this approach, you will find you'll need to repeat information in each section of the plan, as some communications will fall under more than one group.
For example, you might be sending out a weekly project summary to team members, the project sponsor, and 3rd parties.
If you use this approach, make sure you check thoroughly that each group has the correct communications within that section.
How to use the project communication plan
It is tempting to write a communications plan at the start of a project, send it out, and then file it away, never to be seeing again. However, this would be a mistake.
Project communication plans are living documents. You need to manage them throughout the lifecycle of a project. Here is how to effectively use your communications plan throughout the project:
Upload your communications plan to a centralized area
Make your project communications accessible to everyone involved in the project.
Once you have distributed the plan to your team and stakeholders, upload it to the central data area you have set up for your project.
Track your progress against the plan
Recheck your communications plan when you carry out key review points in your project. See how your communications fared against your planning. Check whether any communications have gone off course.
If they have, revise the plan to make it more realistic and achievable, send it out to the project team and stakeholders, and keep checking it regularly as the project progresses.
Review the plan as part of your lessons learned processes
Once your project is complete, you will often run a project review session. These sessions help you talk through the positive and negative aspects of your project.
That is an opportunity to get some feedback on the communications plan.
Check how well the team followed the plan. Ask for feedback. Are there areas of communication that could have been better with a different format or a different frequency?
Many of us involved in projects are natural communicators, so it can often seem overkill to plan for communications on new projects.
However, project communication plans are like safety nets. You put them in place, and they will help your project stay together and on the right track, even when things on the project go wrong.
Taking the time at the start to outline your communications, even if it is just one a piece of paper, is going to help your project in the long run. And if you are committed to good planning, use these project management communication plan examples to help you.
Of course, communications isn't the only area on a project where you need to commit to best practices.