Project Communication Plan – Project Management Portmanteau Blog

I’ve been through several big organizational changes in my corporate career. Some were train wrecks, while others rolled smoothly along. I worked for one company where 90% of the finance department just disappeared overnight, without warning beforehand or announcements afterward. At another organization, during a merger, great pains were taken to let everybody know what was going on, to get people from the different sides together, to create general good feeling and to provide training where it was needed.
In both cases, productivity dropped.
The difference? In the second case, the drop was less steep and didn’t last as long as in the first case. As you’re initiating your project, assume it involves some appreciable level of disruption for people, accept that there’s going to be some productivity loss and set your sights on minimizing it.
Resistance to the change is at the heart of most productivity loss. Most people dislike change, especially at work. We’re in a steady routine, we know the processes, we have the relationships, the systems are familiar to us. Then Big Picture Change comes along and we’ve got to rejigger everything. Argh!
This resistance is similar to the “objections” you hear sales people talk aboutovercoming. You pitch, the customer objects, you counter their points of objection and—boom!—sale. CarMax, the national used-car sales company, does a great job of this. Worried a dealer will rip you off on your trade-in? CarMax will give you a decent price. Worried you might buy a lemon? CarMax lets you return your car in five days, no questions asked. Worried something might break down after the five days? CarMax gives you a 90-day warranty during which they will fix just about anything.
CarMax has thought through the possible objections ahead of time and come up with ready-made counter-measures.
You, too, can take the CarMax approach. To overcome your stakeholders’ objections, start by defining the specific impacts of the change. Look at the tools people use, the process flows they are involved in, the relationships they leverage. Where the impacts are, there also will be the objections. Then go after crafting the best solutions you can. You’ll need the help of your team and a broader group of stakeholders, including those folks likely to feel the impacts of the coming change.
Your reward? More rapid cooperation from those downstream of the change and more support from those upstream, resulting in decreased productivity loss and increased prowess for you, the forward-looking PM.
Russell Roman in “What is Change Management and how does it fit with Project Management?”
Tim Creasey in “Definition of Change Management” “Change Management Basics: Roles in Change Management“
Ah, networking. The process of walking into a roomful of strangers and making the acquaintance of some of them. Simple, right?
Simple, but not easy, at least for about 70% of the population.
According to Devora Zack, in Networking for People Who Hate Networking, 70% of people are either full-fledged introverts or centroverts—folks in between the extro- and introverted camps. It’s this 70% for whom networking is challenging at best and, at worst, just this side of pulling your own teeth with a pair of pliers.
So, if networking makes you crazy, you’re in the majority.
I am a certifiable introvert, and have plenty of challenges with networking, including the urge to stand like a jacklighted opossum, wondering what to do next. In spite of this, I made a commitment to networking about a year ago, and since then I’ve become able to not only get into the room, but to talk to people, make connections, and even have a good time.
Based on my experience, I have a few tips to share for introverts who either want or need to network:
Don’t just go to network. Go to an event you’d be interested in even if you weren’t going to network at all. That way, you’re less likely to blow it off at the last minute and if the networking doesn’t go so well, it’s not a total loss.
Look for a solitary person. That person standing alone by the wall? A kindred spirit! Sidle over there and introduce yourself.
Invade a small group. No loners in sight? Find a group of two or three people—they’ll be talking. Walk up to them, smile, and just stand there (looking at the people, not your shoes). If one of them makes eye contact but keeps talking, just nod. Sooner or later someone will speak to you, and then it’s introductions all around and you’re off to the races.
Sit at a table with people. Similar to invading a small group. Find a semi-occupied table, ask if the empty seat is free, and grab it. You’re in—your table mates will speak to you, unless they were raised by wolves.
Make with the good manners in the chow line. This is a great warm-up if you don’t have your nerve up quite yet. Get in line for coffee or whatever and be helpful. Grab somebody a cup and let them go first. Hand the person behind you the tongs for the deep-fried mystery thingies, saying something clever like, “here you go.”
Chow down (a little). A coffee or a cookie gives you something to do if you’re not talking, and that prop in your hand gives you a little something to hide behind, in a psychological kind of way. But don’t go crazy. Just fill one hand, so you can shake and exchange cards with the other.
Stand there until somebody talks to you. No, don’t. The whole look-for-a-loner thing only works if the loner’s not you, at least in my experience. I know this isn’t logical, but life’s like that.
Practice. Your networking will get better with practice, just like anything else. Go to networking events regularly, on a schedule that works for you. If once a month, or every other month, is all you can stand, stick with that until you feel like you can practice more. Even if you just show up the first few times and speak to nobody, just being in the room with all those strangers will help you build up to making that first contact.
Okay, now that I’ve gotten weddings out of my system (see the previous post), it’s back to project management communications (see the post before the previous post).
If your project communications are going to be good, you’ve got to have a plan. The plan can be fancy, with grids of stakeholders and what to send them and when, anticipated noise factors with mitigations, you name it, or it can be as simple as a few notes scribbled on the back of an envelope and thumbtacked to your cubie wall. It’s a matter of your style, your boss’s style, and your organization’s requirements.
But regardless of form, there’s one thing all communications plans should have in common: a goal.
Well, duh. The goal is to provide information about the project, right?
Of course. But there’s more to it than that. What do you hope to accomplish by disseminating that information? The answer will affect the tenor of everything you send out and can make the difference between acceptable and great communications.
Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about:
Goal: Provide information about the project. If this is all you’ve got, your various missives are likely to be full of information and as exciting as a bucket of wallpaper paste. In your zeal to “provide information,” you may also end up providing too much detail and causing your materials to trip over their own feet, meaning that nobody will read it. The result? Communications that are merely acceptable, at best.
Goal: Build relationships. With this goal in mind, your information is likely to be targeted to particular individuals, or at least particular groups. You might send a steering committee status report to each member individually, with a cover note saying something like, “Sebastian, you’ll be interested in item 3. It is yellow now but with Kham and Andy working it we should have it green in a week. I’ll keep you posted.” Who knows? You might even find yourself picking up the phone and actually talking to somebody. The result? Smoother working between the members of the team, the stakeholders and you.
Goal: Maintain or boost morale. Every project, no matter how troubled, has some positive aspects (yes, I’m an optimist—so shoot me). If you’re interested in spreading a little joy, the good stuff will probably come at the top of most communications. You might add little touches like whose birthday it is that week. The result? A more motivated team.
Goal: Get a promotion. This doesn’t mean you make everything look like it couldn’t have happened without you. Your project reports, etc. are one of the best ways you have to showcase yourself and your skills to the people who could help you move to the next level. With this goal in mind, your communications are going to be crisp, timely and suitable for executive consumption. You’ll throw in some extras that are genuinely useful and also attract attention. The result? When the opportunity for promotion comes around, you’ll be more likely to get support and consideration.
Think about your own projects and what you want to accomplish through your project communications plan. You may have one goal or several, but whatever the case, with that vision in your head, your results will improve.
If you’re going to analyze your stakeholders, or even just take them to lunch, you need to know who they are first. After deciding on the goal of your communication plan, the next step is to identify the stakeholders.
I’ve seen plenty of writers simply suggest brainstorming orasking around as the primary way of identifying stakeholders. Both of these will work to an extent, and are not to be left out, but I find myself hungering for a bit more detail. After all, we’re after Prowess, not adequacy, right?
Unknown stakeholders are unlikely to appear in brainstorming because, well, they are unknown, not in the brain to be stormed at all. Likewise, asking around can leave gaps because your knowledge of who to ask is going to be limited and those you ask are not all-knowing either.
There’s a way to identify stakeholders that’s well worth using. Take the following steps from Dr. James T. Brown, author of “The Handbook of Program Management,” quoted on (boldface is mine):
Follow the money! Whoever is paying is definitely a stakeholder. Also, if the program produces savings or additional costs for an organization then the organization is also a stakeholder
Follow the resources. Every entity that provides resources, whether internal or external, labor or facilities, and equipment, is a stakeholder. Line managers and functional managers providing resources are stakeholders
Follow the deliverables. whoever is the recipient of the product or service the program is providing is a stakeholder.
Follow the signatures. The individual who signs off on completion of the final product or service (or phases thereof) is a stakeholder. Note: this may or may not be the recipient referred to in the previous bullet. Often there may be more recipients than signatories.
Examine other programs stakeholder lists. Include active programs and completed projects.
Review the organizational chart to asses which parts of the organization may be stakeholders.
Ask team members, customers, and any other confirmed stakeholder to help you identify additional stakeholders.
Look for the “Unofficial People of Influence“. These may be people who are trusted by high-level leaders or who wield a lot of power through influence and not position.
Dr. Brown’s list mentions asking already, so once you’ve worked your way through his steps, chart your results and get your team together for a brainstorming session to see if you can identify any other stakeholders. Overkill? That depends on how thorough you need to be and you’re the best judge of that.
To communicate effectively, you’ve got to know what’s appropriate. After all, you wouldn’t screen a movie like The Evil Dead for a bunch of kindergartners, would you? A solid stakeholder analysis is the key to providing targeted project communications that will meet the needs of your customers and reach the goal of your communications plan.
Actually, I prefer the term “stakeholder segmentation,” as in market segmentation, over “analysis.” The point of the exercise is to put stakeholders into groups with similar backgrounds, needs and desires, so you can best serve them. If that’s not segmentation, I’m a warthog (no cracks from those of you who think I am a warthog in any case).
An excellent way to segment stakeholders is to use a four-quadrant matrix*. Witness the following:
The x axis (horizontal) shows you how interested a person is in the project; that is, how much they stand to gain or lose from it. The y axis (vertical) shows you how much technical or management power a person wields in the organization. It’s pretty easy to plot people using these two criteria.
One thing to remember: Be aware of any movement around the matrix. Circumstances may cause that low influence, low interest person to become just the opposite!
High Interest/High Power: Those with high stakes and lots of power of the political or geeky varieties. Target these communications; that is, provide these individuals with exactly what they want. Maintain constant contact with them on a formal and informal basis to ensure you keep up with their changing needs.
Low Interest/High Power: Those with little or no stake but plenty of technical or management power. Provide them with information at a middling level of depth and be sure they know about any roadblocks, risks, or possible unintended consequences.
Low Power/High Interest: Those with a stake, real or perceived, in the project but little ability to influence it from either a technical or management standpoint. Keep them on your side by including them in your most general communications; for example, the monthly project report that goes to everybody.
Low Power/Low Interest: Those having a tenuous connection to the project. Keep an eye on them to be sure their power/interest levels don’t change and require a different level of communications.
The power and interest axes are great; however, I wanted to include some other factors.
Jose D. is in red type. That’s because he is an opponent of the project, so I need to monitor him closely and ensure he is well-informed. In addition, there’s an arrow from Jose up to Beth Y., who is both interested and powerful. The arrow indicates that Jose has significant influence on Beth. Given Beth’s position and her relationship with an opponent, you need to do a tremendous job communicating with her.
The rectangle around Zeke indicates that he is an active person. Even though his power is relatively low, he has high interest and is going to be sticking his oar in the water whenever he can. Give him a level more attention than you would an ordinary low power/high interest person.
Circles around Janet H. and Missy W. indicate that they are passive folks. This might be a matter of personality or because of their role in the organization. They still need communications, but you might want to leave out some of the more detailed stuff, since they probably aren’t going to read it, anyway.
*Thanks to for the original matrix model.
There’s an old “Doonesbury” comic strip in which it’s Christmas and Duke, who is theU.S. ambassador to China, is at his desk opening gifts. One of them turns out to be a pistol—maybe an WWII-vintage Luger. As he’s checking it out, looking through the sites, working the action, his assistant, the ever-dour Honey, is nagging him to get to the evening’s state dinner. Finally, Duke whirls around, levels the pistol at her head and shouts, “I want to play with my presents, dammit!” I feel like that once in a while. You see, I love products. I love gadgets like my Kindle and my ancient Creative Zen Microphoto mp3 player. I love big telecomm products like the DSL services I helped develop a while back. I love working on the multiple web apps I support today. I love the tools in my workshop, the flat screen TV in my den and even the non-stick cookware in my kitchen. The trouble is, sometimes I grow so fond of the bric-a-brac around me my priorities get completely out of whack. I can get obsessed with the products I’m involved with at work, too, and that also throws life out of kilter. A few weeks ago. I was in my garage-cum-workshop, sawing away at a bookstand, and really enjoying the jigsaw I was using to cut the outlines and the mortises and the new (!) set of files I was working the rough edges out with. It was a fun job made all the more so by the cool equipment. I’d been working (well, playing) for about a half hour when my son, who’s almost 10, came in and asked me if I could play, maybe go to the park or something. Without thinking, I said something charming like, “I’m in the middle of something right now.” I turned back to the project, but not quickly enough to miss the crestfallen look on his face. He wandered back inside. I tried to start sawing again, but my finger just kind of died on the trigger. I love that saw, I thought, but it’s not going anywhere. It’s not going to change, but in a few short years my boy isn’t going to want to hang out with me so much. He is growing and metamorphosing before my very eyes. The same goes for work, I reflected. How many times had I let my boy do without me, or been only partially present for him, because I was doing something for work thatcould well have waited until the next day, or the next hour? I put the saw down and went to find my son. We spent a very happy afternoon playing tag and goofing around in the park. It’s good to work with passion and dedication, and to put in extra time. Those things can lead to excellence. It’s good to play with your toys, too, to relieve your stress and make yourself a well-rounded person. But for those of us who love both playing with and managing the “product stuff” of life, it’s easy to lose balance. We need to remember what, and who, we are working for, not just what we are workingon. We need to recall what’s more important, toys or people? You want products? Produce love, hope and charity. Produce good feelings in the people you love and even in the people you don’t. Consciously make relationship management a part of your work plans every week. After that, you can play with your new pistol.
All the gurus say communication is 90% of the project manager’s job.
Thanks, gurus. That leaves us10% for everything else, including lunch.
So what’s a PM to do? Skip lunch? Never!
Surely “everything else” takes up more than 10%. Just look at what we do all day:
Get people together for meetings and facilitate those. Okay, well, that’s communication, I guess.
Create documents such as charters, work breakdown structures, minutes and threatening emails. This isn’t communication, it’s giving people the info they need to… oh, wait. Yes it is.
Navigate the murky waters of risk, which involves meetings to identify and mitigate them, publishing risk mitigation plans, building risks into the project plan, and so on. Now, this involves an advanced set of techniquest that are, um… mostly communication.
Follow up on issues, find solutions to problems and generally keep the ball rolling. Which is Business Management! Which is communication, mostly, when you think about it.
Manage budgets! Here we go. This is a numbers exercise, not a communication exercise. Until you tell somebody about it and have to explain it, I guess. Which you always have to do. So… drat… more communication.
Well, shucks. Maybe 90% of what we do really iscommunication.
Except for lunch. I can do that without communicating with a soul. Unless I go to lunch with someone, in which case… we communicate.

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