In general, the communications management plan is the thinnest “chapter” of any project management plan. Effective and efficient communication is crucial to the degree that we can connect any project issue to poor communication. For example, scope creep, which is unauthorized scope, stems from either not properly explaining what the work entails or not documenting (communication) a request for more work. And the same applies to issues involving stakeholders where the expectations are not clearly explained, interpreted, or completed. So why is communication management usually relegated to communication flow diagrams, meeting minutes templates, and reports required by the client? The short answer is that we assume that people know what we want and what is expected.
When I train and consult people on preparing a scope, I emphasize the importance of detailing as much of the work as possible. For example, I tell my clients never to use language, such as: “consultant will attend weekly client meetings.” Instead, I recommend language, such as: “Consultant will attend one 60-minute weekly meeting with a client between May 1 and December 1 20XX.” Defining the tasks accurately and precisely eliminates any misunderstandings. Too often, client meetings evolve into internal client team meetings or other unplanned conferences, which add up and can cause scope creep, schedule delays, and budget overruns. The same approach applies to the project activities and deliverables. An example I like to use is “cleaning the kitchen after a meal.”
In my home, the person who does not cook has to clean up. But “cleaning up” can mean different things to different people. And until that gets properly communicated, our expectations will not be met. For example, cleaning up to me entails 1) placing dishes in the dishwasher, 2) wiping down the glass top dining table with glass cleaner, 3) wiping down the counters, and 4) washing the kitchen sink out. However, for many people, “cleaning up” is limited to task 1) above, which is enough for many people, and the same applies to work projects.
When I see the deliverable “report” in the scope of services, I envision a hefty printout with graphs, photos, a detailed executive summary, appendices, glossary, etc. However, a report may be a few pages with summarized results for people in those industries in some industries. Therefore, detailing the outline, the content, or simply providing a sample of what is expected is crucial to avoiding discrepancies and ensuring expectations are met. And this is why communication I so important and should not be glossed over as a boilerplate item in the project management plan. Instead, an effective communications management plan needs to include additional templates, such as those related to prototypes and samples of deliverables; guidelines for addressing and communicating changes in the project; ground rules and instruction for internal and external communication; and clear direction for the monitoring and controlling of communication throughout the project lifecycle, as well as how to develop and implement corrective action once communications are faltering.