The Project Management Plan – Communications Management

Planning

Managing communications on a project is one of the top real-world challenges, right up there with the battle for resources. Project crises are frequently created by miscommunication or lack of communication.

Communications must be managed on many levels:

  • Communicating up to Executives and the Project Steering Committee
  • Communicating sideways to your management peers
  • Communicating down to the project team members (note the “up”, “sideways” and “down” designations refer to the typical project hierarchy chart and are not meant to be derogatory)
  • Managing the lines of communication. There are potentially n(n-1)/2 lines where n = the number of people involved in the project. For example, a project with 10 people has 45 potential lines of communication!

Knowing how to tailor your communications to each audience is an important skill. Executive communication is typically brief and bottom-line (are we on schedule and budget? Do we have critical issues? How are high-exposure risks being managed?). Communication to management peers usually will include important project metrics (schedule, budget, scope, resources, issues, risks, task plans). Communications to project team members is focused on near-term task planning and upcoming milestones.

The Communications Management Plan specifically addresses the following:

  • Identifies all of the stakeholders and determines their information and communications needs
  • Identifies how and when the information will be distributed, including status reporting, progress measurement, and forecasting
  • Identifies how stakeholders will be managed to satisfy their requirements and resolve issues. This includes defining the lines of communication and the mechanism for issue logging and visibility
  • Identifies the project document repository and the folder names

The Project Management Plan – Staff Management

Planning

Staff management planning is important to prevent or minimize the battle for resources, which is the number one problem for most Project Managers. The Staff Management section of the Project Management Plan addresses the following:

• Identifies project roles, responsibilities, and reporting relationships

• Describes how the project team will be formed, developed, and managed. This includes procedures on releasing and adding team members

Identification of roles can occur even before you know the specific names that will fill those roles. It is based on the parameters and demands of the project. Examples of roles are “Executive Sponsor”, “Project Manager”, “Business Analyst”, “Tester”, “Contract Reviewer”, etc.

Defining the responsibilities of each role is important to minimize the chance of two unwanted outcomes: (1) two or more people are duplicating effort because they all think they own it; (2) key responsibilities are not taken on by anyone because they think it is owned by someone else.

Defining the reporting relationships is important as you will need to know who to go to for permissions and escalations.

Understanding how the project team will be formed is important to make sure you will have the roles filled on time, for the time needed, and with the skill sets required to meet the schedule.

The Project Manager also has a responsibility to develop the project team members soft and hard skills so they become more valuable to the organization and increase their personal job satisfaction. This development can take many forms. It can be formal training, coaching or show by example. You can discuss who will be targeted for development with the managers of the project team members and define what form it will take.

The Project Management Plan – Cost Management

Planning

Depending on the organization you work for and the project you are working on, the Project Manager may or may not be managing the project budget and costs. If you are tasked to do this, include Cost Management as part of your Project Management Plan.

The Cost Management Plan addresses the following:

• Defines what resources (human, hardware, software, services, facilities) will be considered part of the project costs and when it will be base-lined

• Defines how costs will be reported and who will approve invoices and internal costs

• Defines the magnitude of cost changes that will be subject to formal change management

• Includes a plan for change management: How change is requested, authorized, and documented

• Reference the Project Charter for the priority of Cost in the triple constraints

If cost is the highest priority in your project triple constraints, Cost Management becomes a critical activity. You want to not only record and track costs that have already been incurred, but you also must do new cost projections on a regular basis. As more is known about a project, cost projections will become more accurate.

A former manager of mine once told me that if your costs incurred + future projected costs exactly equals your budget, then you are not doing accurate cost projections. This is based purely on the laws of probability. The probability of your actual and projected costs EXACTLY matching a budget created before the project began is very low.

The Project Management Plan – Schedule Management

Planning

Before I dive into Schedule Management I want to note the difference between the schedule and what many refer to as “the project plan”. You will often hear the Microsoft Project artifact referred to as “the project plan”. In reality, it is only the project schedule. The Project Plan is the combination of the Project Management Plan (being discussed in this series of posts),  the Project Activity Plan (or Work Breakdown), which will be discussed in future posts, and the Project Schedule.. I encourage you to use this terminology correctly.

The Schedule Management Plan addresses the following:

• Indicates how the project schedule will be created (who will be the sources of start/end dates and effort), when it will be base lined and lists any scheduling constraints

• Describes the implementation approach (phased, iterative, pilot, etc)

• Defines what level of the schedule will be subject to change management (typically these are the high level milestones and major phase start/end; all other changes can be informally negotiated)

• Defines how schedule performance is monitored and reported (e.g., variance analysis)

• Defines the project schedule software to be used

• Includes a plan for change management: How a schedule change is requested, authorized, and documented

• Reference the Project Charter for the priority of Schedule in the triple constraints

 Schedule Management is a critical part of project management and communication. In future posts I will show how to construct the schedule and monitor performance.

The Project Management Plan – Scope Management

Planning

The Project Management Plan defines how the project is executed, monitored, controlled and closed. The first component of the Project Management Plan is the Scope Management Plan.

The Scope Management Plan addresses the following:

• Defines how the Scope of Work will be created. This includes a roles/responsibilities matrix (who will create the scope, who will contribute to the scope, who will approve the scope)

• Defines what the Scope of Work will contain (Scope exclusions, process and physical scope, organizational scope, application scope, deliverables, Work Breakdown Structure aka WBS)

• Defines what constitutes the baseline Scope for change management purposes. This is not the actual Scope it is the sources of Scope (e.g. “The deliverables as listed in section x of document z and the approved WBS”)

• Includes a plan for change management: How change is requested, authorized, and documented

• Describes the process for getting approval for completed deliverables

• Reference the Project Charter for the priority of Scope in the triple constraints

The Project Management Plan – Overview

Planning

There are two main types of high level planning for a project: (1) The Project Management Plan; (2) The Project Activity Plan (aka The Project Plan). The Project Management Plan describes the approach and processes for managing the project. The Project Activity Plan describes the work to be done to achieve the project objectives. This post addresses the Project Management Plan.

The Project Management Plan defines how the project is executed, monitored, controlled and closed. It addresses the management of scope, schedule, cost, quality, staffing, communications, risk, and procurement. Whenever matters of project procedure are in question, this document shall be the first source consulted.

This is a dynamic document and reflects the current thinking regarding the project approach based on what is known at this time. It is expected to be updated with new information as the project unfolds. Original and revised versions should be distributed to the entire project team.

The components of the Project Management Plan are:

  • Scope Management
  • Schedule Management
  • Budget Management
  • Staff Management
  • Communications Management
  • Risk Management
  • Procurement Management
  • Project Close Definition
  • Post-Project Audit Plan

In subsequent posts I will elaborate on each of these sections.

For large projects I highly recommend creating a Project Management Plan and sharing it with your sponsor and key stakeholders. This plan describes the “rules of engagement” for the project and will minimize assumptions and misunderstandings regarding project process. I have also found this to be very helpful if you are new to an organization. It is a way to document your understanding of the project management practices of that organization.

In my experience I have rarely seen other PM’s create a formal Project Management Plan. I believe this is a mistake. There is a good reason the Project Management Institute (PMI) includes these plans in their best practices. Once I obtained my Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, I included a formal Project Management Plan on all of my large projects.

The Project Charter – Sign Off

 

Initiation

The Project Charter can be looked at as a contract between you and your project sponsor or you and your manager. It documents your understanding of the expectations of the sponsor and what you are expected to deliver and when. Like any contract, it should be concluded with a signature indicating agreement.

Why get a real signature? It is amazing how people will pay close attention to what is in a document when they have to sign their name to it! I have seen cases on my own projects as well as those I consulted on where misunderstandings are cleared up prior to charter sign off. This has and will save many hours of effort avoiding taking a project down the wrong path. For these reasons I highly recommend getting a real signature and posting a PDF image of the Project Charter in the project repository.

Once you have a signed-off charter, you now have one of the deliverables subject to formal Change Management. Any request that would change any component of the charter should have a formal change benefit/impact statement signed off and the Project Charter should be changed to a new version and signed off again.

In my next post we will move to the Planning Phase and begin a multi-part discussion on the Project Management Plan.