Project Communication 101: How You Can Implement an Effective Communication Plan for Project Management

Project Communication 101: How You Can Implement an Effective Communication Plan for Project Management

As the project manager, one of your biggest challenges is communicating effectively with all your project stakeholders – from distributors to regulators to company executives to your own project team. Given how complex this gets, having a comprehensive project management communication plan is essential to project success.

Thoroughly document your communication plan before the project starts, then manage expectations up front by letting project stakeholders know when they can expect to hear from you. Develop an internal communications management plan with the project team to coordinate team collaboration, prevent confusion, and minimize interruptions to the project workflow.

Read on to learn how to create and implement an effective communication plan for smoother project management.

Project management communication FAQs

What is a communication plan in project management? 

A project manager needs to communicate effectively not only with the project team, but also with many internal and external project stakeholders throughout the life of the project. A customized communication plan for project management maps out all expected stakeholder communications in detail to ensure you’re covering your bases.

Your project communication plan creates a clear picture for you as a project manager to know when and how to deliver information, request stakeholder feedback, or communicate to guide the work of the project team. A good communication plan strikes a balance so that people receive the information they need in a timely manner but aren’t inundated with communications that might cause them to lose interest and check out.

Why make a project management communication plan? 

Managing project communications rigorously is key to project success. You never want to operate on assumptions about who needs to know what information when. Project managers may have a good feel for communicating regularly with the client, project team, or other obvious stakeholders. But these are hardly all the communications that need to be accounted for. And even these channels can usually be further optimized by establishing clear communication standards and procedures.

A successful project management communication plan helps the project manager to:

  • streamline communication channels to eliminate redundancies
  • ensure urgent messages are answered in a reasonable timeframe
  • consolidate non-urgent messages for response at regular intervals
  • build trust with stakeholders by managing communication expectations proactively
  • improve teamwork by establishing healthy project team communication norms
  • avoid unnecessary ad hoc communications that waste time and energy 
  • eliminate lengthy communication chains by connecting people properly from the outset
  • increase project transparency so everyone feels properly looped in at all times

You don’t want anyone wondering if you disappeared, and you also don’t want to load people down with unnecessary communications. Having a robust communication strategy will free up time and bandwidth to focus on the important technical details of project management.

Who does a project manager need to communicate with? 

Until we sit down and make a list, it may not be apparent just how many stakeholders are involved in our project. The project management communications process typically includes external stakeholders such as suppliers, distributors, consultants, contractors, and regulatory agencies. Internal stakeholders you’ll likely need to communicate with include executives, other managers or administrators, and the legal and financial teams.

Each of these stakeholders affects the project or is affected by it in different ways. And each stakeholder needs different information and different levels of communication during the project. Without an intentional communication plan, you’ll almost inevitably miscommunicate with various people. You’ll also be juggling communications in reaction mode, plugging holes and writing redundant messages instead of consolidating your communications into a manageable workload.

What makes a good project communication plan?

A solid communications management plan includes:

  • the project goal (keep that front and center everywhere!)
  • a list of all stakeholders and their relationships to the project
  • what type of information exchange each stakeholder requires during the project
  • how detailed that information should be
  • the preferred communication method of each stakeholder
  • which events will trigger communication with which people
  • who will communicate with them (you or someone you delegate)
  • a detailed internal communication plan specifically for the project team

How do I make a communication plan for project management?

Follow these steps to create and implement your project communication plan.

Creating and implementing a project communication plan is no small task, and it’s worth taking a couple hours to sit down and do it right. You’ll likely need to account for dozens of stakeholders, so address each of them deliberately before the project starts. Invest the time up front to build a solid project communication schedule, and you’ll save time, energy, and unnecessary setbacks as the project progresses.

1. Determine who you need to communicate with during the project. 

To create a project communication plan, first list all your project stakeholders. To better visualize this process, use the Stakeholders Analysis template on your virtual whiteboard. On the provided sticky notes, list each person or group with a stake in the project. Include people who will:

  • work closely on the project (designers, engineers, contractors)
  • approve aspects of the project (Product Owner, execs, budget department)
  • contribute to project success (vendors, distributors, IT)
  • consult on the project (subject matter experts, legal team, insurance company)
  • be affected by the project (clients, customers, shareholders, investors)
  • act as project ambassadors (sales and marketing, influencers, customer service)

Next, group your stakeholders on the grid according to which ones you’ll need to monitor, manage closely, keep satisfied, and keep informed. This helps you break your long list down into manageable chunks and visualize stakeholders according to their different communication levels.

Stakeholders Analysis template on
Stakeholders Analysis template on

You can find more detailed instructions for the Stakeholders Analysis template and a useful stakeholder checklist in our guide to Stakeholders Analysis for Project Planning.

2. Create a project communication plan master document.

Start a spreadsheet or create a card table in Whiteboards to organize your project communication plan. Make a detailed master plan for your own reference, then create a streamlined version to share with other stakeholders later.

Label your columns to cover the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the communication plan:

  • Stakeholder: who you’ll communicate with and their project role
  • Content: what information you’ll convey and the detail level
  • Frequency: when and how often you plan to communicate with the stakeholder
  • Channel: where the communication will happen 
  • Goal: what you specifically hope to achieve through this communication
  • Contact info: how you will reach them

3. Analyze the project communication needs of each stakeholder.

Using your stakeholder analysis grid, envision the types of communication you’ll need to have with each set of stakeholders throughout the project. This will guide you to fill in the “content” column of your communication plan. 

Examples of communication types include:

  • project updates and status reports
  • scheduled check-ins
  • feedback requests
  • as-needed consultation
  • event-triggered communications
  • regular instruction or guidance

Color code each communication category to quickly visualize and group stakeholders on your communication table according to which ones need to receive similar information. For instance, who will get weekly project status reports? Do they all require the same level of detail? If not, can you create one detailed weekly report for certain stakeholders, then pare it down for those who just need a high level overview?

On your communication plan table, include any type of communication you’re responsible for, whether you’ll deliver the information personally or delegate the process. Add a column for “communication owner” if there will be a lot of communications you’re overseeing but not handling personally. This will help you remember to check in as necessary with the team member in charge of this communication.

4. Confirm preferred communication methods with a quick communication survey. 

How do different stakeholders communicate or prefer to receive information? You don’t necessarily need to ask this question about established, close work relationships. Check the rest of your stakeholder list, though, to ensure you have the following information, where it applies:

  • What days/times are they available? What time zone are they in?
  • What’s their preferred communication method (text, email, phone call, other)?
  • Do you have their best current contact information?
  • Is there a different communication channel you should use for urgent messages?

Make sure you don’t waste time sending messages on a platform that the stakeholder rarely checks. We’re all managing a lot of communication channels, so you’ll need to intentionally dial into which ones work best for which stakeholders.

5. Build your communication activities into your project management plan.

Study your communication plan and take inventory of your work communication apps. What are all the channels where you will be exchanging information during the project? Group these together on your phone or desktop, and adjust notification settings to ensure you receive urgent messages quickly. Mute notifications from non-urgent channels and plan to check them at regular intervals.

Add all regularly scheduled communications to your calendar. Set reminders to check non-urgent message channels several times a day so you won’t be constantly interrupted and pulled away from important project work. Check your communication plan frequently to account for events that trigger certain types of communication. This way, you can ensure all relevant parties receive the needed information on time.

6. Communicate your project communication plan to relevant stakeholders.

One of the benefits of a good communication plan is dealing with fewer ad hoc, energy-intensive communications. When people receive timely and consistent communication from the project manager, they feel reassured that they aren’t missing anything. Instead of random messages throughout the week saying “what’s the status of this part of the project?”, you can just field a few follow-up communications clarifying details on your weekly status report.

Share the relevant part of your communication plan with the appropriate stakeholders to assure them they will hear from you every Monday, at each project milestone, or before each new feature launch. And don’t forget to tell your stakeholders how to communicate with you. Where should they send an urgent message to get a hold of you as soon as possible? How should they contact you for less urgent communications? When can they expect to hear back? 

Manage expectations proactively, follow through on your plan to build stakeholder trust, and save yourself the time and effort of delivering scattered, impromptu reports on this and that throughout the day.

7. Assess your project communications and regularly update your communication plan.

We can’t emphasize enough the importance of having a solid communication plan at the start of your project. However, no communication plan is perfect, so be open to updating it as the project progresses. Assess the communication you receive from project stakeholders and pay attention to signs of confusion, overload, or information gaps. If the right message isn’t getting through, make adjustments to the plan and continue improving your communication strategy.

At the end of the project, use your communication plan as a template for the next project. Many of your internal stakeholders’ information will likely stay the same, and you can just copy in new external stakeholders and their communication information to avoid reinventing the wheel. 

With proper attention over time, you’ll develop a comfortable communication rhythm with your various stakeholder types. From there, you’ll only have to tweak each new plan to accommodate the individual preferences of specific stakeholders.

8. Create a more detailed communication plan with your project team.

For external stakeholders, you’ll likely be sending emails or texts. For internal stakeholders outside the project team, you may be looped into a Slack channel or other group message forum.

When it comes to your core project team, conduct a closer inspection of how they communicate with each other and with you. Without established team communication guidelines, people can feel compelled to respond to every notification immediately. This creates a pattern where team members are constantly pulled out of doing work to communicate about work, dragging down the project and team morale.

Gather the team and make a project team communication plan to streamline the team collaboration process. Avoid redundant work and chaotic communication by creating an internal document for the team establishing when, how, and where different types of communications will happen. Identify point people for each division within the project team (design, engineering, etc.) so every team member can reference a single source of truth showing who to contact about what and how to reach them.

Designate channels on Slack or Microsoft Teams to use for non-urgent asynchronous communication. Then establish how team members will contact each other when a message is urgent. Create team norms around communication response times that minimize compulsive message checking so there are fewer interruptions to team members’ deep work time.

Summing up

Schedule your regular team meetings to happen in a single location. We recommend Whiteboards, where you can video chat around templates that structure your work visually, or simply add visual elements to a shared canvas as is helpful to the meeting.

Take advantage of Whiteboards’ robust integrated communication with native two-way Jira integration as well as Github. Use Whiteboards’ Frames tool to create slide presentations, or take advantage of Loom integration to screen-record videos to share with the team or with other stakeholders.

Finally, improve team communication and address any holes in your communication plan with project team retrospectives.

Ready to test out these communication features with your team? Try Whiteboards for free today to see how a Jira-synced visual collaboration platform can complement your project communication plan and streamline your project management!