What they are
Communication plans ensure there is adequate, appropriate and timely communication about a project or initiative before, during and once changes from that project/initiative go into effect. These plans are comprised of several tools and communication forms: stakeholder analyses, project charters, meeting minutes, project updates, and/or presentations. Keep in mind that depending on the scope of the project, not all of these communication forms may be necessary. However, effective communication plans will help lead to the likelihood of a successful change.
How to do them
Two tools will help you identify those with whom you need to communicate: project charters and stakeholder analyses. Charters push you to consider who will be impacted by recommended changes and how they will be impacted, while stakeholder analyses help to determine the level of influence and interest individuals or groups will have on the project. This directly influences the communication plan. Using the list resulting from the stakeholder analysis, answer the following questions about each:
- How frequently should this individual/group be communicated with about the project (e.g., monthly, quarterly)?
- What needs to be communicated (e.g., details, high level progress)?
- What is the best type(s) of communication (e.g., presentations, regular updates, meeting minutes)?
- When should these communications occur (i.e., before, during and/or at implementation)?
- Emphasize the importance of well-conceived and executed communication plans with those involved with the project. This may seem like busy work to some people, but it is absolutely essential to the success of projects and initiatives. With some stakeholders, you will need their input and feedback, others will need to be advocates for the change. If you have not effectively communicated, you will run the risk of an unsuccessful implementation because you did not get input, or just angering people because they were not made aware of the plan. This typically leads to distrust, which is not easy to repair.
- Effective communication does not just happen. It is important to consider the audience (e.g., advising staff, teaching faculty), what they need to know (e.g., details vs. high level information), when they need to know it (e.g., during planning, prior to implementation), and determining the right communication form (e.g., email, presentation).
- Do not overcomplicate communication plans. If you do, the likelihood of sticking with them is greatly diminished. You will need to determine how much is enough; the scope of the project will dictate how much is necessary. For instance, if you are changing a process in one unit, several emails at different points in time may suffice. If a change will impact, for example, everyone in an academic unit, all faculty, all staff, all students, several types of information with consistent messaging at different points in time will be necessary.
- Try to identify a point-person who will be in charge of ensuring that communications are written and disseminated. This does not mean this one person has to write and push everything out, but this individual does need to stay on top of this.
- Decide on the frequency of your communication types but allow yourself to be flexible. For instance, you might find that a monthly update is too frequent because you do not have enough to report. Allow yourself to adjust when necessary.
- There is no one way to do this. If you were to search templates for all of the tools mentioned, you will find many different examples. This may be useful to get a sense of what is typically contained in, for instance, meeting minutes. But what is more important is that you develop processes and templates that enable you to get this done.