We use a communications plan to consciously direct the flow of information about a project. The plan covers:

  • Who we communicate with.
  • What is communicated.
  • When we communicate.

What is a Communications Plan?

A communications plan can be as simple as a spreadsheet. It contains all the communications that you’re planning to make about a project.

It includes the following information:

  • Medium: The medium that you’ll be using to communicate. This might be an email, a face-to-face meeting, a video, or a written report.
  • Audience: Who needs the information. For example, you might present the results of a project to the company’s upper management, but give weekly updates to the project manager only.
  • Reason: What you’re trying to achieve. For instance, a kick-off meeting typically introduces the key aims of a project to stakeholders and sets expectations. On the other hand, a ‘lessons learned’ meeting is aimed at codifying information obtained during a project, for later action.
  • Timing: When the communication will be made. This might be a specific date, a milestone, or a contingency. For example, “If project is delayed more than one week” could be a contingency timing option.
  • Method: Go into more detail about the type of communication. For example, you might require a presentation, a time-boxed stand-up, or a visual dashboard.
  • Responsible party: The person ultimately responsible for organizing and/or presenting the information.

Medium

There are lots of different communication types. Which of these you choose will depend on:

  • The audience.
  • The information you’re presenting.
  • What you want to achieve from the communication.

Some of your options are:

  • In-person meeting
  • Online teleconference
  • Email
  • Video.

Audience

Your audience will depend on the purpose of the communication, and what you’re trying to achieve. For example, if you’re trying to convince your company to try a new project strategy, your first port of call probably won’t be your existing team members. Instead, you’ll want to talk to the CXOs and other influential people in the company.

Reason

Having a clear objective for each communication is vital. Ensure that you know:

  • What you’re trying to achieve.
  • The information that you want to impart.

For example, your primary objective might be to convince your audience of a project’s suitability. So your communication will be centered on the company’s business objectives, and how the project will meet them.

Timing

The timing of a communication will depend on the medium and the method you’ve chosen. For example, kick-off meetings are typically held before a project actually begins. Stand-up meetings are held at regular intervals – often daily – during a project. Milestone reviews, on the other hand, are held at the end of each stage of a project.

Method

Once you’ve selected the medium for your communication, the next step is to decide on the method. Here are just a few:

  • Visual: Good for reporting progress and presenting snippets of objective data in quick succession.
  • Presentation: Often combines the afore-mentioned visual method with talking. They’re typically used for kick-off meetings and often product launches.
  • Written report: Best for complex information.
  • Webinar: Useful in disseminating education. For example, if you want to teach other teams how to follow a new procedure.
  • Stand-up: A quick meeting, typically face-to-face, and often with all participants standing. These are handy for quick progress reports within a team.
  • Milestone review: These meetings look at the progress to date. See also DMAIC tollgates.

Responsible party

Setting a responsible party for each communication ensures that someone takes personal responsibility for making it happen. This person doesn’t have to do the whole thing by themselves; they’re just the catalyst. They ensure that the information is transferred and objectives are met.

Why is Communication Important?

There are a few reasons that communication, in general, is so important in Six Sigma projects:

  • Communicating regularly and effectively helps to keep stakeholders engaged and supportive.
  • Your team needs quality information so that it can understand and deploy the project successfully.
  • Inter-team communication helps to ensure that your team keeps the big, company-wide picture in mind.
  • You build confidence in your project when you’re transparent about its goals and progress.

Why Use a Communications Plan?

Use a communications plan to ensure that you’re talking to the right people at every stage of your project. It’s easy to lapse on this, because communication isn’t typically considered part of the project itself. But your quality of information can make or break your project. For example, if you fail to clearly communicate your project’s progress and your current game plan, you can disappoint key stakeholders and lose their support. Lost support tends to equal cancelled or downgraded projects. On the other hand, clear progress reports and contingency planning can improve support for a project as stakeholders gain confidence. If your plan is public, it also gives stakeholders a sense of surety – they know when they’ll receive updates and what they’ll look like.

Raising Stakeholder Commitment

One of the key purposes of a communications plan is to build commitment to a project. Your project’s stakeholders will be more engaged and confident if they understand what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how everything is going.

There are a few different tools that you can use to analyse and boost the support that you’re getting from your stakeholders.

Stakeholder map

A stakeholder map is a way to group and prioritize people who have a stake in your project. It’s based on:

  • How much power they have.
  • How much interest they have.

A person with power can affect the direction of the project.

A person with interest cares about the outcomes of the project.

Stakeholder matrix. It consists of a square divided into four. An arrow pointing up on the left side of the matrix is labelled 'Power'. An arrow pointing right on the bottom of the matrix is labelled Interest.Upper left quadrant: Latents; keep satisfied. Upper right quadrant: Promoters; manage closely. Lower left quadrant: Apathetics; monitor. Lower right quadrant: Defenders; keep informed.

See Stakeholder Analysis for more information.

Stakeholder commitment scale

The stakeholder commitment scale is a useful tool. Using it, you can record the base commitment level of each stakeholder in your project.

The stakeholder commitment scale goes from Hostile at the far left, through Opposed, Uncooperative, Indifferent, Hesitant, Compliant, Engaged, to Enthusiastic on the far right.
Image: The Stakeholder Commitment Scale

The scale has eight commitment levels:

  • Hostile: I don’t like it. This project won’t work. I want someone else in charge.
  • Opposed: We’re going to lose money on this. I can’t see how it’s useful.
  • Uncooperative: What was wrong with the old way? Why do we have to have a new project for this?
  • Indifferent: Well, you’ve clearly decided this is the way you want to go. Fine. On your own head be it.
  • Hesitant: I can see some merit in this project. I’m just not sure that we’re going about it the right way. What will this mean for my workload?
  • Compliant: OK, I guess we can see what happens. Alright, I’m in – I suppose.
  • Engaged: Right, I can see where we’re going with this. This seems like a good project.
  • Enthusiastic: Woohoo! Let’s get into it! I’m convinced and I’m ready to work!

Stakeholder commitment matrix

A stakeholder commitment matrix uses the scale mentioned above and maps it to each stakeholder.

Commitment levelCEOCTOManagersTeam leadsDevs
Enthusiastic*X**
Engaged*X*
Compliant
HesitantXX
IndifferentX
Uncooperative
Opposed
Hostile
Table: Example stakeholder commitment matrix

In the example table above, the asterisks (*) represent the commitment level that the project needs from each stakeholder. The Xs represent the current commitment levels.

Say you’ve mapped the current commitment levels vs what you need for each key player. Your next step is to tweak your communications plan. You need to come up with a strategy to build the commitment level of each stakeholder who isn’t sufficiently on board.

Responsibility Assignment Chart

RACI stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed. These are four levels of stakeholders who might be involved in your projects.

  • Responsible: Performing a task.
  • Accountable: Overseeing the task.
  • Consulted: On hand to provide assistance or information for the task.
  • Informed: Wants to keep up to date on progress of the task.

Unlike a commitment matrix, the RACI chart tells you the type of stakeholders that you’re working with. It helps you to figure out what sort of information they need. (Also see stakeholder analysis)

The RACI chart also breaks down stakeholders per task within a project. Here’s a simplified example:

TaskTeam leadDevelopersArchitectProduct owner
Collect feature requestsRCIA
Write requirementsICRA
Prioritize requirementsAICR
Plan workARCI
Develop new featureARCI
Release new featureRCIA
Table: Simplified RACI chart example

Use a RACI chart with a commitment matrix to decide the type of information that each stakeholder needs in order to boost their commitment level.

Example of a Communications Plan

MethodAudienceReasonTimingMediumResponsible party
Kick-off meetingCXOs
Project owners
Team
Introduce the project
Introduce the team
Review objectives
Link to business objectives
Week 0
Once only
Face to face meetingProduct owner
Planning meetingProject owner
Team leader
Team
Map features of the project
Discuss strategy
Create milestones
Week 1
Once or as needed
TeleconferenceTeam leader
Stand-upTeam leader
Team
Report progress
Portion out tasks
DailyFace to face meetingTeam leader
Team meetingTeam leader
Team
Review new featuresFortnightlyFace to face meetingTeam leader
Feature showcaseProduct owner
Team leader
Team
Display new features
Milestone review
FortnightlyTeleconferenceProduct owner
Table: Example Communications Plan

You can also download a sample communications checklist in Excel spreadsheet format.

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