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No Communication Plan – Project Management Mistake # 10 (#10 in the series 15 Deadly Project Management Mistakes Government Agencies Make Which Cost Them Revenue, Time & Efficiency)
By Keith MathisPM Expert Live

Communication plans can benefit the project by detailing exactly how much interaction a project team will have with the various stakeholders of a project. We will examine how to create a communication plan as well as problem areas to where communication is lost or misunderstood on a project.
Have you ever been working on a project and feel that you do not know what is happening? Have you ever attended project meetings only to leave more confused afterward than before you came? All of this revolves around communication. Communication within a project is one of the most important tools for making sure that people get clear directives and do what they are supposed to do.

As part of a balanced approach to keeping the communication channels open, each project team should create a detailed communication plan. This plan can be defined as a pointed document clarifying how often communications and reports will be completed. Communication flow to each of these reports must be accomplished in a specified timeframe and revolve around giving particular data and updates.

Communication plan defined

A communication plan is defined as a document which spells out the process and the timing for communication in a project to all interested parties. This type of plan must be created in a matrix form indicating how often you will be communicating to the customer, sponsor, departments, or agencies which are influencing this particular project. The most important thing about a communication plan is a clear understanding as to when and how the communication will be given and what timeline it will follow.

Meetings with project customers

The project customer normally has more interaction with the project’s sponsor than anyone else. In many projects it is not uncommon for the project sponsor to interview and discusses the goals of the project and pass on that information to the project manager and team. The one monitoring technique which can be assisted by the communication plan is scheduling periodic feedback sessions with the customer. This will do several things, such as informing the customer on the progress of the project, as well as verification you are progressing properly. It is very important for communication to take place between the project team and the customer, not just during the initiation phase but throughout the entire project. If this is done correctly, there will be no surprises from the customer nor will the project team miss the desired outcome and goals.

Meetings with the project sponsor

Project sponsors normally represent management in viewing the project through that culture’s eyes. This means that the project’s sponsor normally has a great deal of input and can influence the budget or resources provided to the team. The project sponsor has a great deal of responsibility as they oversee multiple projects and multiple resource packages to complete those project plans. It is very important for project teams to maintain communication with the project sponsor. This can be done weekly, monthly, or in some extreme cases even daily. How often a project team communicates with the project sponsor is determined based on the amount of interaction desired for that particular project.

There are several items which should be detailed as part of the communication flow and plan of any project. Each of these items is considered high priority in making sure everyone is well informed and has current information.

Update and status on project

Getting a current update and status on the project is necessary in each team meeting. In is our experience, we have seen team meetings that wasted 90 minutes and yet did not detail project progress so that people would be able to make the needed decisions.

Giving an update status on the project should be the minimum each team member is prepared to do when they arrive at the team meeting. They should come prepared and knowledgeable about their area of assignment and be equipped to defend where the project is and what help they need to move the project forward.

One way to make this easier for your project team is to create a standardized status and update checklist form to be used. This form makes sure that each team member is getting the needed information back to the team and is used in organizing and documenting the needed information.

Checks on critical path updates

You can run a project extremely hard trying to meet every due date, but if you miss critical path dates your project is doomed! The critical path consists of dates which are considered hard dates and then movable. These dates, if missed, make the project late. They are different than an activity task date, which many times has contingency time built in it.

Naturally, all dates are very important, but it has been our experience that many project members will track all dates as if they are the same priority, thus missing critical path dates which sabotage their planning. Usually, this happens due to a lack of understanding of the importance of a critical path date compared to an activity or task. This is one of the items that each team member should be trained on during a team session, and the project managers should assist in monitoring to guarantee successful completion of the project.

One way to magnify the importance of critical path dates is to separate them into a different type setting or color to make them stand out from the other dates on your project plan. This calls attention to the date and reminds team members of the higher priority of its position. In addition, if you make sure part of your agenda deals with the discussion of critical path dates, your team will begin looking at these issues the same as the project manager.

Approved change orders

Troubled projects have team members which are doing work in areas that have been changed without their knowledge. Passing along change orders to the team and documenting those changes for future reference is very important to the communication plan. Change orders appear to be a strong source of frustration due to members wasting a great deal of time working on areas that have been changed but never communicated to them.

Part of our training with your staff revolves around what to do with change orders. In our experience, change orders must be communicated instantly to the project team. We do this by contacting the team member who has a direct responsibility to that area being changed. Second, we contact the entire team through e-mail notifying them of the change and how it will impact their part of the project. Finally, we point out the change orders which have been approved during the project team meeting. In this meeting, we normally have documentation and questions to clarify. This allows us to make any additional adjustments to the plan or to the team member’s priority list in order to fulfill these changes.

Bottlenecks and work stoppage

An additional area that needs to be communicated is the discussion of bottlenecks or work stoppage on the project. It is not surprising that many projects will be on time and budget until they reach a particular department or person, and then you notice a work stoppage. This needs to be discussed and brainstormed with the project team to develop ways to move the project forward. Some teams in the past never discussed bottlenecks within the organization. These forced the team members to be involved in areas of high frustration with little leverage for moving the project. By adding this discussion to your team meeting, you can leverage the knowledge base and experience of your entire team while gaining ideas for faster application.

Concerned areas

The last section which should be considered as part of the communication plan is the examination of areas of concern. People mistakenly leave this area out and anticipate the project team will handle these problems on their own without any help from others.

Concern areas allow your team to verbalize their frustration, and it keeps you knowledgeable of hurdles they are running up against over and over again. Unless the project team is able to hear these areas of concern, it is possible that they will be missed with the assumption the project is running in a more positive manner than what is true.

Transfer of information to other important parties

Transfer of information to other parties influenced by this project is very important. It is not uncommon for some projects to function in a vacuum limiting their communication outside of the project team. This type of vacuum is fine if the project is extremely confidential in nature. However, many project teams continue to limit the transfer of information to parties that are very much part of the future of the project. This means that at the last minute they are trying to get others equipped and up to speed with the needed knowledge.

Transfer of knowledge is being neglected at such a high rate that agencies are watching knowledge go out the door. Someone might question where this is happening the most. Agency after agency has reported the need to get rid of contractors when budgets become tight. Many of these contractors have worked for the agency for a long time and know a great deal about a specific area. After they have left the agency, it becomes apparent they knew something which no one else knows. The second area we are seeing a lack of knowledge transfer is in retiring employees. Men and women have worked for an agency for 15 to 25 years, and they are now leaving for retirement. However, no one puts a plan into effect to get this person to transfer some of their knowledge over to a person who is remaining behind. This gap is foolish and hurting agencies by forcing them to redo numerous processes and projects in order to educate them.

In conclusion, a communication plan is very important in the imparting of the knowledge, data, and information to the entire project. It must be examined, included, and followed.

Dr. Keith Mathis, founder and CEO of The Mathis Group, specializes in Project Management, Management Leadership, and Marketing training for private businesses and government agencies of all kinds. He offers 33 Project Management courses, is a Project Management Professional, is certified by the Project Management Institute and will customize every training session to your individual company’s needs. The Mathis Group also sponsors, which is a powerful project management resource with free reports, podcasts, videos, and a monthly newsletter. He also offers customized management training and coaching on any subject with prolific communication and professionalism.

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