Communications Plan - The Missing Link in Project Planing

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Basking Ridge, NJ, May 3 – Of all the pieces that organizations put into a project to make it successful one of the most neglected items is the communications plan. Rarely is a portion of the plan devoted to how the project team will communicate. In effect each resource working on the plan communicates at his or hers own discretion and methodology.

The American Heritage ® Dictionary of the English Language defines Project n. as an undertaking requiring concerted effort. Concerted effort is essential in a well-run project and the cornerstone of concerted effort is communications. Although begun with the best intentions it is presumptuous to assume that everyone will communicate in the most effective manner.

Regardless of the technology available project managers continually allow the communication portion of the project to get away from them. Some of the symptoms are:

1. Infrequent face-to-face meetings with the project team (or at least voice-to-voice).

Frequent face-to-face meetings with the project team are the most important aspect of communicating amongst the team. Too many nuances are lost in written documents unless each of the people on the team are talented authors. Frequent (almost daily) reviews to touch base on yesterday's progress and review today's tasks helps to keep everyone up-to-date and small issues can be brought up and addressed before they become big issues.

2. Lengthy meetings without leadership

Scheduling meetings is fine but then they need to be led. A single leader must keep the meeting short, permit everyone to be updated on recent progress, provide a forum to voice concerns, and confirm the next steps. Issues that require additional discussion should always be taken up after the meeting concludes and the majority of the team is back to work. Morale and teamwork suffer when resources have work to do but must sit through lengthy discussions on peripheral topics.

3. Excessive email communications

Email communications must be managed. Large project teams can generate more email than the normal person can read in a reasonable workday. A network knowledge base should be established. The documents in that knowledge base should be defined and responsibilities for updating and managing the documents should be assigned to team members. Questions needing a timely response should be limited to voice communications, and email should be reserved for communications to smaller groups with very focused subject matter. For email to be productive it has to contain “take away” items. I define “take away” items as things people need to react to.

In the era of email it has become too easy for people to drop an email to someone in an effort to “clear their desk”. This “CYA” mentality has the effect of slowing the project down. Team members loaded down with email correspondence have a difficult time reading all the inbound mail not to mention the attachments that have become so commonplace.

Although there is definitely a place for email, it should never be allowed to replace face-to-face or at least voice-to-voice contact and discussion. Email has become the scapegoat for low productivity and loss of focus.

Managers must hold the team members accountable for production. Following up on email is just as important as sending it.

The old days of “I didn't see that memo” were to quickly replaced by blanket e-mail cc's to anyone remotely associated with a project. It's time to change again. Knowledge needs to go into the knowledge base, and questions need to be followed up until decisions are obtained.

Communication is essential and nothing fosters a team spirit and mutual professional respect than person-to-person interaction in short meaningful segments that foster progress and a personal sense of accomplishment.