Supercharge Software Projects With a Communication Plan
Project management communication plans lay the groundwork for interactions and cover everything from who will give the information, to who will receive it, and when.
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So, you’ve got a new software project in the pipeline. What do you do first? We all know that successful team communication is key to group projects of any kind. But how can we transform communication from a hypothetical ideal into a reality?
Well, that’s what we’re going to be talking about today. Effective communication needs a foundation. So, what do we do first? We make a plan. Project management communication plans lay the groundwork for interactions between teams, managers, and stakeholders and cover everything from who will give the information, to who will receive it, and when.
Keen to find out more? Let’s dive in.
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What Is a Project Communication Plan?
A project communication plan is a formal document that lays out a series of pre-planned decisions regarding how important information will be communicated throughout the duration of a project. This helps project managers stay on top of their communication responsibilities (of which there are many) and successfully manage relationships and knowledge sharing with their teams, clients, and stakeholders.
An architect wouldn’t build a house without drawing up detailed plans. So why would you start working on a software project without designing a suitable communications framework?
Software development is big business these days. The global SaaS (or Software as a Service) industry is expected to be worth up to $60.36 billion by 2023. SaaS examples include any software service made available via a third-party over the internet.
A detailed and comprehensive communications plan is a reference document that every member of a team can refer to and find the standard operating procedure for their software development communications.
Who's responsible for what? Who needs to be told what? Which information can be shared with stakeholders? When can this information be made available? All of these questions should find clear answers in your communications plan.
A well-written and well-strategized communication plan will keep everyone updated and equipped with the information they need to keep projects running smoothly. Uncertainties can be eradicated quickly and communication is given an ecosystem in which to thrive.
Here’s a shocking workplace statistic for you. In today’s organizations, only 14% of people rate their business’ project management efficiency as excellent, with 15% believing their organization is poor. Clearly, something is going very wrong. If your team projects are a little lackluster, a communication plan is definitely in order.
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What Should a Communication Plan Include?
Key Considerations for Your Software Project Communication Plan
Communicate first, act later. Your communication plan needs to cover all information that needs to be communicated, how it should be communicated, to whom it should be communicated, and when it should be communicated. Let’s consider this in a bit more detail.
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WHAT needs communicating? In other words, what types of information do you need to disseminate throughout the project. Consider factors such as scheduling, milestones, priority tasks, risk management, and project processes. There will be a lot of information, so avoid lumping it on all at once and risking team burnout.
Don’t forget to factor in any communication tasks that need delegating as part of the project itself. When it comes to sales and marketing, for example, you may want some of your team members to communicate with prospective clients via cold calls.
So include some training sessions in your communications plan to help the necessary individuals brush up on their cold calling techniques. And don’t forget to implement a call queue (definition) system to reduce call wait times for incoming callers.
WHO do you need to communicate with? In other words, who needs to receive this information. Which team members or stakeholders will be impacted directly by a particular set of information and/or who should be kept peripherally in the loop. As part of a software project, for example, you’ll want to share information with your developers, product owners, team lead, testers, etc.
HOW will you communicate this information? It’s important to choose an effective communication method that works clearly and efficiently. Of course, your method of choice will depend on the topic at hand. Most often it’s best to have a few different methods up your sleeve.
WHEN will you communicate and when will you hold back? This is more important than you might think. Lumping your team with a huge amount of information at the start of a project is not going to support the best results. Instead, share information at strategic moments throughout the project to keep everyone on their toes. Try to schedule regular, consistent moments.
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Benefits of A Software Project Communication Plan
Even if you think of yourself as somewhat of a project management pro, there are still so many benefits to starting with a robust project communication plan. Especially when it comes to software projects.
Software development is, by nature, complex from initial idea to software testing. And the bigger the project, the more important it is to get organized - communications included.
So what are some of the many benefits associated with communication planning?
1. A Go-To Reference
Your communication plan will become a go-to reference document for you and your team. This document (and the discourse that develops around it) will set clear expectations for everybody in terms of what and when they should receive updates. The communication plan itself also helps the project manager lay out their expectations clearly, and establish leadership authority that is built on precision planning.
2. Communication Flows
When you already know which communication methods you plan to use and when communication becomes a whole lot simpler. By planning project communications in advance, you’ll be doing your future self a favor. Think of it this way. You won’t have to send out ten separate emails to employees who can’t find a particular data file, because they’ll already know where it is!
3. Meetings Get a Whole Lot Better
Meetings have a habit of going off on tangents. In a survey of 182 senior managers, it was found that 71% of them feel that their meetings are unproductive. A communication plan will help you replace wasted meetings with productive, efficient debriefs that start on time and don’t wile away the hours. That’s an A+ for employee satisfaction and serves to perfectly define teamwork and collaboration.
4. Communication Is the Essence of Development
A communication plan could actually make your software products better. Communication is the foundation of so many other processes. And development is one of them. Only when communication is flowing, will collaborative relationships blossom. And that’s the magic elixir for innovation.
5. It’ll Keep Your Stakeholders Smiling
It’s incredibly important to manage your client and stakeholder communications. These relationships, in particular, require a careful balance. By keeping your clients updated with information regularly (but on your own terms), you’ll feel satisfied and less inclined to interfere in the development process - and thus cause annoying delays.
Community engagement is key. Mobilizing remote support software is a great way to ensure clients and stakeholders get the communication support they need.
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9 Steps to Supercharging Your Software Projects With a Communication Plan
So, communication is great, yada, yada, yada. But we all know that deep down. What we really need is a way to successfully plan project communications that will give us the best chance of success.
Luckily, we’ve got just the thing. We’ve whittled communication planning down into nine digestible steps to help you get started. Ready. Set. Plan.
Step 1: Format Your Plan
It's up to you how you choose to write up your communication plan. But it is important to write it up. Keeping everything up there in the noggin isn’t going to help anyone. Pick a platform that’s easily accessible for yourself, your teams, and your stakeholders. That could be a written document, a spreadsheet, or even a presentation or flowchart. It’s the content that counts.
Step 2: Identify Your Needs
Next, think about what your team needs, communication-wise, in order to function at peak performance. You’ll need to know what milestones to expect throughout the entire project lifestyle, and facilitate communication channels appropriately. In other words, make sure your communication plan can clearly answer the following essential questions:
- What tasks will need to be completed (from start to finish)?
- What resources will we need to complete these tasks?
- What communications channels do my stakeholders prefer?
- Do we need to communicate with any external (e.g., regulatory) bodies?
Step 3: Have a Key Goal
Any plan needs a clear objective. What’s your communication goal? What purpose will effective communication serve in your software project? What needs to be achieved? Write that down. This is an important reminder that you and your teams can refer back to when the project is in full swing. Every time communication occurs (whether that be a face-to-face meeting or a presentation) make sure this key goal remains foundationally present.
Step 4: Identify Your Stakeholders
Know each and every one of your stakeholders and make sure you plan in times to communicate with them throughout the developmental process. It's extremely important to keep your stakeholders in the loop, so we recommend pre-planning a few formal catch-ups with them.
Step 5: Choose Your Methods of Communication
Which communication method is going to get the message across in the shortest time and most convenient manner possible? Choosing the right communication tools for your team ensures that the right people get the right information at the right time.
Here’s a few options to choose from:
- Informal weekly briefings.
- Formal meetings.
- Status reports.
- Official to-do lists.
- Project dashboards.
- Web collaboration tools.
Try to make use of varied communication channels (but not so many that discussions become overly dispersed). Two or three should suffice. Keep more formalized communication methods like videoconferencing and presentations for your stakeholders and reserve more informal discussions for your internal teams.
Another great option is to mobilize an online communication tool. Tools like RingCentral Glip and Microsoft Teams are designed to streamline communications in one easy-to-use online platform. Ideal for facilitating team members who may be working from anywhere.
When it comes to Glip vs. Microsoft Teams, consider what your team really needs. For a comprehensive communications tool, Glip provides integrated video, messaging, chat, and more.
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Step 6: Calculate Communication Frequency
Layout a communications schedule that ensures that everyone receives the necessary information in a timely, organized manner. Start by listing each type of communication you will use throughout the project and then timetable them to ensure consistent delivery.
For example, you might want to have a weekly briefing every Monday at 10 am, a monthly status report sent out on the final Friday of each month, and a stakeholder presentation set for the 12th of April.
Step 7: Delegate Someone to Provide Updates
As well as deciding when communication will occur, you’re going to need to state who will be in charge of dispensing said information. Usually, that will be the project manager but not necessarily. Just make sure that it’s clearly indicated in your communications plan.
Step 8: Put Your Plan Into Action
Planning complete. It’s time to put that hard work into action. Don’t keep it to yourself. Distribute your plan to everyone involved in the project (team members and stakeholders alike). This will ensure that everyone has the information they need for the project to run without any of those ever so annoying (but oh-so avoidable) everyday communication roadblocks.
Step 9: Restock and Update Regularly
Last but not least. Just because you wrote up an awesome communications plan at the start of a project doesn’t mean that it won’t need tweaking from time to time. Especially if you’re working on a long-term project spread out over months or even years.
Things change. It’s just a fact of life. Projects won’t always be planned to perfection. Sometimes changes will need to be made to project timelines, team members, tools, designs, you name it. Referring back to your communication plan regularly and making any necessary amendments will keep you on track.
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When it comes to planning a software project (or any project for that matter), communication is the all-important magic ingredient. As software developers, we need to be world-class communicators. It’s the oil that keeps the machine running. Without it, projects decline into inefficiency and discrepancy. But it’s easily avoided. When faced with a new project, before doing anything else, write up a communication plan that will sail you to success.
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