Project Communications Planning
Project teams sometimes operate in a bubble. You spend all day every day talking about your project deliverables. You know what’s going on. But does everyone else?
That’s the role of project communications. Your comms plan is a way to document how you will approach sharing the news about your project with the people who need to hear those messages. The most successful projects have a strategy for stakeholder engagement, and that often starts with making sure people know about the project through communications planning.
In this article we’ll dive into project communications planning on projects and cover what you should know.
1. Identify core stakeholders
The first thing to do is work out who is receiving the message you want to communicate. Over the life cycle of a project, you’ll be sharing messages with a lot of stakeholders and interested parties. Your communications planning will be smoother if you make a list of all those people.
Your list will contain a mix of individual names for the core stakeholders who are key to the success of the project, and also stakeholder groups. For example:
- Regulatory bodies
- Local groups.
Identify a representative from each group who can be your conduit to the others. This person can help draft and review communications to make sure your messages are effective and will be understood. They’ll also, no doubt, have other useful roles to play on the project to provide input and support from the community they represent.
You won’t be able to spend the same amount of time on every stakeholder group, so prioritize your list. That will help you focus your energy and effort on engaging the most influential and important stakeholders – the people who will help your project get delivered successfully and who will benefit the most from the end result.
2. Clarify the messages
When you’ve got your list of stakeholders, the next step is to work out what you are sharing with them.
Throughout the project there will be a set of core messages. For example:
- Requests for information
- News about upcoming training
- General briefings to raise awareness
- Specific briefings to communicate the change or deliverables resulting from a project.
Different stakeholder groups will need different types of communication. Some will need a lot of detail; others simply need to hear the headlines.
When you have something to communicate, think about how you are going to best reach that audience and what is the most effective way to get your message across.
3. Make time to communicate
Project communications take time to pull together. You might also need to go through several approval steps before you have a communication that’s ready to be circulated. Depending on the message, you may need input from your legal team, or public relations department. You may need to get sign off on any supplier quotes or case studies used. And it takes time to source images, especially if you need to take photographs to go alongside your messages.
All of this is simply to say: you can’t rush comms.
Plan the time to communicate. One approach we’ve seen that works well is to create a standard timeline for the creation and approval of any piece of communication. Work out how long you typically need to draft something, what approval steps it needs to go through and then consider the lead time for distribution.
For example, in one business we know, communications that required action were only sent out on a Monday. Business leaders then had a consolidated list of messages from all head office functions and project teams to work through. This streamlined communications to colleagues across the organization but meant project teams had to work to the timeline of submitting their briefings for issue in the Monday circular.
4. Make a plan
Project communications should be a joined up effort. You don’t want one workstream emailing out information to the stakeholders, only for them to receive a phone call from another workstream lead later that day, talking about something different. You won’t overwhelm stakeholders if you plan the communications.
A simple calendar is all you need. Write on the dates of existing communications events that you could piggyback on to. For example, many organizations have quarterly staff briefings or a corporate newsletter. Could your project comms use one of the existing methods of communication to reach a wide audience (if that’s appropriate)? If so, find out the deadline for submission to those mechanisms and get your comms created in time.
Set a regular rhythm for project communications where you can. You could create a weekly email briefing for core stakeholders, or a monthly newsletter for the wider business teams affected by your project.
The key thing to remember is that you can’t squash ‘doing communications’ into an already busy day. You’ll need to carve out time in the project schedule for creating, finalizing and distributing comms. The end result will be better if you plan the work into your To Do list so you’ve got time to focus on it.
5. Gather feedback and act on it
Finally, remember that communication is not a one-way action. Each time you send out a message – whether that’s in person, as part of a face to face briefing, or via electronic communications – someone receives it on the other end.
And they may or may not understand what you’re talking about!
Good project communications planning includes feedback loops so you can listen to the response resulting from your messages. Ask people questions at the end of a presentation. Get them to take a small action to confirm understanding, or simply to tell you that they’ve read and understood.
You can also use anecdotal evidence to pick up on whether people are receiving and acting on your project comms. Ask team leaders what they are hearing on the grapevine. Do a stakeholder survey.
When you do get feedback, take steps to act on it. It’s really important that the people affected by your project hear the right things at the right time, and in a way that says to them that their opinions are important.
Project communications planning – like many things on projects – evolve over time. You’ll need to take an agile approach to switching up what you do to get the best result. Take time to plan your communications steps and you’ll find it easier to create stakeholder buy in for the project.