Establishing a communication plan is an underutilized process that reduces inefficiency and ensures peace of mind throughout any type of project. The amount of information being exchanged seems to do nothing but increase, so defining an effective approach up front can make or break the outcome of a project.

A study conducted by the Project Management Institute (PMI) revealed that ineffective communication is the primary contributor to project failure 30% of the time and had a negative impact on project success more than 50% of the time.

A plan can be formal, i.e., in the contract, or as informal as a verbal agreement. Increased transparency is a positive outcome of taking time to build and share a communication plan for a project. Stakeholders will be aware of the important who, what, when, where, and how regarding information being shared for the duration of the project and beyond. Not only will teams operate more efficiently based on a communication plan, they will have less rework and headaches due to duplicate information being shared across channels.

A few qualitative outcomes of successful project communications include:

  • Consistency from teams while working cross-functionally
  • Increased team morale and enthusiasm for collaboration
  • Achieving project objectives ahead of target

Where should your communication plan live?

Ideally the communication expectations agreed upon will be documented in a centrally located space for ease of reference later. Whether the information is buried within a large and comprehensive contractual agreement or was discussed on a phone call, carving out time in a kickoff meeting to address the expectations is essential. Documenting the details in the meeting notes to be shared with attendees after will keep the information top-of-mind, and stakeholders will be more likely to adopt the new communication-related workflows.

There is greater transparency when stakeholders know where to find information and can easily analyze or extract what they are looking for at a moment’s notice. Often in organizations with transparency or "siloed teams" issues, it is not a matter of whether the information is available, but a matter of where it lives in conjunction with people’s awareness of that. If team members and stakeholders don’t have consistency and defined processes around communications, very easily they will become impatient searching through channels before defaulting to what only works for them instead of the broader project team.

Who, What, When, Where, and How

Even on a small project there can be confusion or miscommunication due to the sheer volume of information we process each day, but there doesn’t have to! Communication modalities can be utilized by some individuals or groups while not required by others. Determining the specific people who should receive certain communications will limit time wasted across the board. For example, key stakeholders being included in a kickoff meeting instead of participants who will not be actively engaged or impacted by the project but need awareness that could be later shared in the form of meeting notes for their review.

Which brings us to the Who, What, When, and Where of information as the core of solid communication expectations for a project. Why and How can also prevent further questions and issues. Setting aside time to focus on these may seem tedious initially but ultimately puts process in place to be followed, keeping your project running smoothly.

  • Who – Identifying stakeholders' information needs, defining and sharing team members' day-to-day roles and responsibilities.
  • What – Scope details, tasks, status and budget updates, deliverables, meeting notes, and all other relevant information related to the project.
  • When – Cadence of various updates, meetings, overall project schedule and timeline, change orders, and service level agreements.
  • Where – Channels like email, design software for feedback, development collaboration software, project management tools, client portal, or meetings.
  • Why – Keeps everyone aware of progress, prevents inefficiency, reduces risk toward budget, timeline, scope, and quality of deliverables.
  • How – Similar to 'where,' but can be more specific. For example, leaving a comment on a prototype within the design software for gathering feedback, or identifying if video is or is not preferred for remote meetings.

Considerations beyond the plan

Creating and sharing the plan are necessary activities, however there are many factors that can impact the successful implementation of a communication plan. One key factor is personalities and working styles already established. Interpersonal skills must be applied carefully in order to avoid friction because inevitably some habits will need to adjust to any new processes.

Additional factors to consider for successful project communications:

  • Organizational culture
  • Regulatory compliance
  • Linguistics and terminology
  • Content tone and delivery
  • Required and approved technology
  • Financial procedures
  • Stakeholder bandwidth

Thinking about these factors and integrating them accordingly throughout project communications demonstrates comprehensive execution of a plan.

Say goodbye to duplicate sharing

Good communication is an art and a science because critical project work is typically being executed on projects by resources across departments in multiple geographies and cultures. Continuously monitoring how teams and stakeholders interact with one another can bring complications to the forefront before they get out of control and devastate project success.

Some people prefer email, some people prefer a specific software, and some prefer in-person meetings. Either way, because of personal preference or lack of communication standards for a project, duplicate or triplicate information may be shared across channels. Not only does oversharing of the same information slow down teams due to processing capacity, but it also lowers output leading to inefficiency and a lack of progress. Team members will be more engaged, productive, and positive when there is less rework and disruptions of this nature. When teams are humming along in harmony and communications are efficient, operational excellence can be accomplished.

Operational excellence at all levels

Achieving success in project communications comes with challenges that can be overcome through persistence in process, iteration, teamwork, and leadership. Tools can also play an integral role toward successful communications, so ensuring up front that stakeholders are properly trained and informed will assist in avoiding obstacles later. No one solution will fit all projects and some organizations may be more mature in their project and operational processes.

There is no lack of consensus that efficient communication is imperative to not only project, but also organizational success. As more leaders demonstrate the skills and commitment to improve their communication, then other team members begin stepping up, which leads to strategic alignment falling into place. As a result, teams then feel a sense of natural flow and satisfaction while working on their projects. Efficient communications lead to more confident and productive project teams, resulting in better quality and value for the end user.

For more on how to communicate optimally, specifically as it relates to digital products and projects, check out our 5 Steps for Conducting User Research the Right Way.