Communication is one of the most difficult things a project manager has to manage within an organization. Meaningful information must be gathered and distributed among the many stakeholders on a project. Because of this, it is important to create a project communication plan at the beginning of a project. It should be updated as stakeholders and other variables change throughout the project.
Components of a project communication plan
The project manager should determine the various levels or rank of people who hold information and those who need information. Most project information flows up, starting with the project team member to the project manager. The project manager reports to a divisional manager. The PM and divisional manager then usually report to an executive team.
Project team member to Project manager:
The project manager needs to know the status of each project team member on a timely basis. This is usually done through a periodic status meeting. Some PMs like to have a weekly status with the team.
A weekly status can be effective, but issues come up throughout the week that often can’t wait until a weekly meeting. If a weekly meeting is used for team member-to-PM communication, there should be a way for team members to update the project manager on a more frequent basis if an urgent issue arises.
My preference is to hold a daily stand-up meeting. This is an approach that is used heavily in agile project management. However, it doesn’t need to be an agile project to utilize this form of communication.
As its name indicates, the daily stand-up meeting is held on a daily basis and the participants stand up during the meeting. This ensures a faster and more efficient meeting if people aren’t allowed to get too comfortable.
In a daily stand-up status meeting, each participant is expected to answer three questions: 1) What did you accomplish yesterday. 2) What do you plan to accomplish today? 3) What obstacles are you facing?
The project manager’s role is to understand how each person’s tasks interact with the rest of the team. He or she is also responsible for facilitating removal of the obstacle. This could involve doing something that removes the obstacle, assigning it to another team member, or working with someone outside the project to get the issue resolved.
This daily input also provides valuable information for the project manager to communicate to the next level.
For further reading check out How to Facilitate Project Communication
Project manager to divisional manager
The project manager needs to take the information reported in the daily updates, and determine the pertinent data to report in a weekly status report to the divisional manager.
The divisional manager most likely has several projects going. Those projects may be related to each other. They most likely all help that manager to execute the division’s strategy.
The project manager should report status updates, which provide enough information to let the divisional manager make decisions for his or her area of responsibility. This includes knowing whether the project is on track. If the project is behind, the manager may need to change dates for other dependent projects.
If there is an open issue on the project that could affect the other projects, the manager needs to be informed. This will allow the manager to make changes accordingly. A risk can also provide a heads-up that there is a possibility that something can go wrong. This allows the manager to prepare contingencies, should that risk turn into a full-fledged issue.
Project manager to executives – The steering committee
In addition to weekly status updates to a manager, the project manager may also be responsible for reporting on a less frequent basis to top executives. This is usually done through a steering committee on a monthly basis.
With a different audience comes a different set of information to report. The project manager should work with the divisional manager to prepare an executive status. They should determine the information that gives the executives confidence that the project is on track. They should also provide issues and risks that require executive level input.
For instance, if additional scope has been requested that will require more time or resources, more funding may be necessary. If the steering committee must approve the funding, this is the appropriate meeting to address the issue.
If the project has major issues or risks that could affect other divisions within the company, the project manager and the divisional manager should make the executives aware of them.
When reporting to the executive level, it is important to make sure there are no surprises. If there is a major issue or delay in a project, the executives should be notified of this type of information in advance rather than springing it on them in front or others on the steering committee. Each executive should have enough time to prepare a response to the problem in the meeting.
Other considerations for a project communication plan
Project leadership meetings
The project manager gets daily updates from team members. However, if the project is large enough, there may be other leadership positions within the project. Each sub-team may have a team lead. This could be someone in charge of business analysis, quality assurance, software development, or many other subgroups on the project.
The project manager may get significant benefit by meeting periodically with each team lead in a leadership meeting. The purpose of the project leadership meeting is to clarify status from the leadership context. Individual team members often give their status from their own constricted perspective. A team lead can provide broader perspective as it relates to the project.
When reporting to higher levels such as executive steering meetings, it may require one or more pre-meetings to prepare and have a consolidated message between the divisional manager and the project manager(s). Spending a collective hour to prepare may be worth it to avoid the appearance of disarray within a project or division.
Some status information isn’t always provided in the public arena of a daily stand up meeting. Perhaps out of embarrassment, or a desire not to publicly embarrass another teammate, people will withhold information.
Having a weekly 15-30 minute one-on-one meeting with each team member creates a forum for team members to discuss any private concerns with the project. If the team is large, it can be done in a hierarchical approach. Team leads meet with their team members. The project manager has one-on-one meetings with the team leads. This insures that private concerns are verbalized and addressed appropriately.
Meetings have become the dreaded aspect of the work world. The problem though, is not that there are too many meetings. The biggest issue is that meetings are not planned to convey information strategically. Each meeting should have a distinct communication objective. An effective project communication plan should accomplish that communication objective.
How do your project meetings conform to a project communication plan?
If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.
Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.