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Project Management: Dressing Your Communication Plan for Success

By Demetrios Gianniris,
Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

According to Forbes, the most basic mistake employees make at the workplace is underdressing. Your dress code not only says a lot about you as an individual, but in many ways provides the very platform upon which your work is branded and showcased.

Similarly in the field of project management, experienced project managers know that communication is at the core of the successful completion of any project undertaking. Make no mistake – communication is not the only measure of project success any more than dress code is in the workplace. But the fact remains, an amazingly thorough presentation can be overshadowed by a presenter's inappropriate attire, and a project can likewise be won or lost through the channels of its own communication.

Officially speaking, project communication is the exchange of project-specific information amongst stakeholders through defined channels with an emphasis on creating understanding between the sender and receiver. As a project manager, your project success will very much hinge on your ability to dress your project communication plan for success. "Dressing" your project for success is associated with the development of a communication plan that is thoroughly discussed at project initiation and meticulously followed throughout the planning, execution and close-out phases.

Begin formulating your communication plan by developing the baseline criteria via the use of a technique called the Six Ws (also referred to as the Five Ws and One H). Set up a simple six-column matrix and ask yourself these six questions:

  1. Who needs to know?

  2. What do they need to know?

  3. Where do they need to know?

  4. When do they need to know?

  5. Why do they need to know?

  6. How do they need to know?

You will quickly realize there are many different people who need to know different things about a project in different ways at different times via different communication vehicles. How do you possibly keep everyone informed while maintaining project effectiveness and staying focused on milestones and goals?

The answer is to form something called Project Communication Channels.

Generally speaking, all project communication can be broken into three main channels (or avenues) as illustrated in the image below.

project communication plan channels

Upward Communication

Upward Channel Communication focuses on communication to corporate executives by highlighting risks, issues, exceptions and expectations. The goal of this channel is to get critical buy-in from the top of the organization. Upward communication is generally achieved through status reports, project charts, email updates, face-to-face meetings and a comprehensive communication plan.

Lateral Communication

Lateral Channel Communication focuses on communication to clients, vendors and functional managers by highlighting scope, resources, budgets and time allocations. The goal of this channel is to ensure the client will be satisfied with end results and the project will be deemed successful. Lateral communication is generally achieved through communication plans, statements of work, contracts, emails, meetings and projects status reports.

Downward Communication

Downward Channel Communication focuses on project manager communication within the team members. This is the most common form of communication and aims at directing the team members, assigning and coordinating tasks and accounting for project progress as well as change and conflict management. Downward communication is generally achieved through verbal interactions, emails, agendas, schedules, team meetings, project charts, briefings and plans.

Based on the above criteria, you can proceed to develop the communication plan using the following five-part template:

  • Part I: Introduction - The introduction is a brief description of the purpose of the communication plan. It also contains the names of team members, the company name and the customer or department for which the project is being developed.

  • Part II: How Information Was Gathered and Stored - In part two of your document, the methods you employed in the gathering and storing of information should be identified, including both formal and informal communication. Generally, formal communication includes status retinas, status reports and any formal lists discussing potential risks or issues. Informal communication includes email, telephone or visits among team members.

  • Part III: Communication Structure - This section of the document deals strictly with the formal communication involved in the project. Here you will outline the schedule of any formal communication that will or has taken place, including the communication vehicle, names and titles of the people involved and the dates and times for each of these communication sessions.

  • Part IV: Communication Matrix - While part three of the document is essentially a written outline of all formal communication, part four is a visual representation. This is performed using a matrix which includes, at minimum, the following:

    • category of each type of communication (meetings, status reports, etc.);

    • the communication’s instigator;

    • names and titles of those receiving the communication;

    • the frequency at which these communications took place; and

    • sources used in delivering the communication .

  • Part V: Conclusion - Summarize the communication involved in the project. This includes formal and informal communication, the source(s) of the information, the originator of the communication session, the names of those who received the information and the dates those communications took place.

Developing a comprehensive project communication plan, assuring stakeholder understanding of this plan, and following it closely throughout the project is very much a dress-for-success strategy which will have a tremendous impact on the outcome your project.

project and technology managementFor more on project management, check out these other recent articles by Demetrios Gianniris:

Demetrios Gianniris is Director of Project & Technology Management (PTM) at Eze Castle Integration. He is responsible for overseeing the daily administration and operations of the Project Management team, including project design development, construction management, professional services and information technology consulting. Follow Demetrios on Twitter at www.twitter.com/dgianniris.

*Image Credit: TechRepublic

Categorized under: Project Management  Hedge Fund Operations 

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