Project Communications Plan – The Secret Sauce

Within the aerospace firm that I work, there are dozens of projects being completed on any given day and time.  We have a matrix organization in which PM’s lead projects by utilizing members whom have their own functional manager and have multiple project responsibilities.  Our company, which is small relative to other aerospace divisions whom manufacture similar systems, has made great strides in developing PM tools to be successful; our PM’s are now trained in and utilize MS Project and its toolset, they have developed WBS tools that are utilized across each project being utilized, and most importantly, all tools are standardized so that each PM and project team have a repeatable game plan and tool set for projects which change ALL the time.  However, our company has continued to see wide variation in project success in terms of timeliness, cost and performance.  Even with the added tools, we have only seen marginal improvement.  What could possibly be missing?  Enter the Project Communications Plan!

A Project Communications Plan, as described in the text in Chapter 4, highlights the importance of internal planning for communications.  Projects see all types of variance against original plans.  This communication tool ensures a constant cadence in which all functional units of a matrix organization understand their responsibilities and accountabilities as the project progresses and changes.  I felt that this piece of project management was the missing link for our company’s projects; project charters, WBS baselines, RACI charts (responsible, accountable, consult, inform), and weekly project meetings were simply not enough for our team to meet the mega trifecta of project success – on time, at cost and meeting performance requirements.  After doing some searching, multiple sources identified that a formal PCP was the most vital form of team collaboration.  An excellent explanation can be found on TechRepublic’s website: blog 1\Communication plans are key to project success – TechRepublic.html.  The PMI Institute also further quantified the importance of communication via a white paper, and PMI identified that 80% of highly effective communicating project teams met original goals: blog 1\Communications_whitepaper_v2.ashx.

The text highlights (5) important segments of a PCP that ensure a team that is aligned with its internal and external expectations; of which (2) I feel provide singular value above the Project Charter.  I felt that the (1) Information Needs and (2) Sources of Information piece to the PCP offer an excellent way of ensuring team success.  By identifying the “When/Who” a team member receives its information, positive project pressures are applied to each individual.  I feel that positive project pressure is an excellent way to ensure team cohesion and “buy in”.  I feel the best way to implement PCP is to have the team get together right after the WBS and milestones for the project have been defined.  Then, each member can understand upfront, how they are impacting each phase of the project, at a task level, and more importantly, how each individual relies on the other to ensure tasks remains on schedule, on cost and meet performance.

A PM can act as the guide for the PCP and also better understand the flow of information between functional departments (especially when the PM is not the resident expert for any of those functional departments) in order to make sure each task is implemented on time.  Does the class feel that this is true of projects worked in past?  Are other similar applications of a PCP utilized in PM efforts?

3 thoughts on “Project Communications Plan – The Secret Sauce

  1. I agree with you that a project communication plan is key to successful projects. I found the TechRepublic article particularly interesting, specifically around status reports as an opportunity to raise red flags, “the ability to take the emotion out of communication, while still imparting the unpleasant facts and their implications, is one of the central traits of a mature and effective consultant or team member.” I find that it is easy and tempting to try to explain away or hide problems as if you have them under control so that you look like a good project manager, when that may be what prevents you from really being a good project manager. We use standard communication tools as well, but they only work as well as the information put into them. I have found that successful projects use these tools to communicate candidly with the audience, while projects that fail either don’t use these tools at all or use them ineffectively. This was a good read, thanks for posting.

  2. I also work in the defense industry in a matrix organization. I too have noticed a lot of issues and concerns around the different functions on a project and how we work and communicate together. Unfortunately, the link did not work for me so I didn’t get to see what a formal PCP is…but I wonder how a group that is working under a PCP would address uncharted project issues that may arise. I work on an $800M contract that ranges from development scope to production to sustainment of hardware. Everyday presents itself with a new set of challenges. While a PCP seems like a great way to address concerns that have been navigated before, how would it address any new risks, challenges or pop up items that may not have a function carved out to handle the concern? I find that these items are usually the hardest for the team to address because it doesn’t necessarily fall under a particular function.

    Thanks for the post.

  3. This is a great article and I have been part of a matrix project management structure with the automotive market.
    Some of the issues I have I have seen with the this structure point to the direct issues of people who do not recognize their “boss”. Generally you have a boss and a project manager you report to, but sometimes their responsibilities conflict. There also runs the risk of excessive overhead which would rive a higher cost associated with the matrix. This would make sense, because you are essentially doubling the amount of management in the corporation. Finally upper management has a difficulty with utilizing matrix organization due to allocation and resource management. If you have more ideas or thoughts please let me know.

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