Whether or not your project or your customer requires a delivered Communications Plan, you should still have one…especially if you are dealing with an external customer rather than an internal organization. Every time I've delivered a project plan to the customer, they have been pleasantly surprised and pleased that the communications on the project have been put in writing at the earliest possible point and in sufficient detail.
The high-level items that should be covered in the Communications Plan are:
- Methods for Gathering and Storing Information
- Distribution Structure
- Formal Project Communication Matrix
- Signoff Page
I'll go into further detail on what each of these five sections should cover on a typical project:
This is merely a high-level description of what the document covers. It should also identify the delivering team or organization and the customer or internal organization that the project is being performed for (and likely paid by).
Methods for Gathering and Storing Information
This section is for identifying both formal and informal communication and how this information will be stored and shared across team members on both sides. Formal communication includes weekly status meetings and the dissemination of information through weekly status reports, revised project schedules and issues and risks lists. Informal project communications include email and phone ad-hoc transactions required to update, clarify and disseminate relevant project status information.
The distribution structure section of the Communications Plan identifies how the formal communication on the project will happen and who will be involved. The distribution structure contains sub-sections for each type of formal communication and outlines specific information for each type…Project Status Meetings, Project Status Reporting, Project Schedule, and any shared distribution or posting site such as a SharePoint site or wiki.
For each of these formal communication items, the plan identifies how each is delivered, who receives them and how often they are delivered and reviewed.
Formal Project Communication Matrix
The formal project communication matrix is basically a visual representation of the distribution structure for any formal project communications. This can be through the use of a graphic or table that provides the delivery team and the customer with a quick reference of the communications that happen on the project.
At a minimum, the matrix should include:
- The type of communication
- It's originator
- Who receives the communication or attends the meeting
- The frequency that the communication or meeting occurs
- And the source of the communication or meeting
Whether the Communications Plan is a formal deliverable on your project is up to you - or possibly your customer. Either way, I strongly believe that a formal signoff is important as it sets the stage for all communications and information expectations for both project teams going forward. Therefore, the final page of the Communications Plan should be a signoff page for the Project Manager and the customer-side project sponsor and this document should be retained, managed and modified as needed (with sign off on any changes) as the project progresses and any necessary communication methods are added or changed.