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7.5 Communications Planning

Learning Objectives

  1. Describe the differences between communications in an existing organization compared with a new project.
  2. Describe how the detail of the communications plan is related to the complexity of the project.
  3. Describe a communication matrix and its function.
  4. Describe conventions for naming files to indicate their content and the version.

The flow of information between team members and stakeholders is managed by rules set forth in a communications plan.

When a person joins an existing organization, one of the early tasks is to learn the work processes of the organization, including where to find information, the meeting schedule, and what reports are required. In existing organizations, new members discover the gatekeepers of information: those persons in the organization who know how to generate or find information. Typically, the generation, flow, and storage of information reflects the organizational culture, and to effectively communicate in an organization, a person must be able to develop communication styles and processes consistent with that organization.

Projects do not have the advantage—or sometimes the disadvantage—of an existing organizational culture or communication structure. The project leadership team develops an understanding of the information needs of the various members and stakeholders of the projects and develops a communications plan that provides the right information, at the right time, to the right people.

The detail of the communications plan is related to the complexity level of the project. Highly complex projects require a detailed communications plan to assure that the information needed by the project team and stakeholders is both generated and distributed to support the project schedule and project decisions. Crucial information can be lost or delayed in a complex project if the communications plan is not functioning properly.

Communicating Priorities

During a project in Tennessee, the project management team was exploring ways to complete the project earlier to meet the changing requirements of the project’s client. The team identified a number of actions that could create an earlier completion date. The plan required an early delivery of critical equipment by a supplier, and the team visited the supplier’s senior management and agreed to pay a bonus for early delivery of the equipment.

Two weeks later, during a review of the project procurement team progress, the project manager discovered that the organization’s procurement department had delayed approvals needed by the supplier because the engineering design was not submitted in the required format. This action effectively delayed the project two weeks and reduced the possibility of the project team meeting milestone requirements for earning a bonus.

The organization’s procurement team did not understand the critical nature of this supplier’s contribution to an early completion of the project. All the information needed by the organization’s procurement team was in the meeting minutes distributed to the entire team. The procurement team did not understand the implications of their work processes, and the result was a delay to the project schedule and a reduction in client satisfaction and project profitability.

Effective communication on a project is critical to project success. The Tennessee project is a typical example of errors that can be created by the breakdown in communication flow. Highly complex projects require the communication of large amounts of data and technical information that often changes on a frequent basis. The project manager and the leadership team are responsible for developing a communications plan that provides the right information, at the right place, at the right time. The Tennessee project example demonstrates that even when the information is at the right place and at the right time, the project procurement leader must assist the procurement team in understanding the priorities of the project. On large, complex projects, that procurement lead would not be in the daily communication to subcontractors or vendors. In the Tennessee project example, the procurement leader’s unique understanding that came from participation in the project leadership meeting required a more direct involvement with those subcontractors and vendors that impacted the project goals.

Just as important, an effective project communications plan does not overload team members and project systems with information that is not useful. Some project managers will attempt to communicate everything to the entire project team. Although this assures that each team member will receive critical information, the large influx information can make the distillation of the information to the critical and relevant people more difficult for each team member.

Communication Matrix

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) describes tools and techniques for identifying project stakeholders, defining their information requirements, and determining the appropriate communication technology. The project includes developing a list of all the people impacted by the outcome of the project and people who can influence the execution of the project, including project team members. The project leadership then generates a list of information needed or requested by each stakeholder.

The project leadership team develops a list of communication methods for gathering and communicating project information. These include a list of reports, meetings, and document flowcharts. The leadership team then typically develops a communication matrixTable that displays the responsibilities and distribution for each type of document or information. that details who is included in each project meeting and the distribution of major documents in a table format.

Figure 7.13 Simple Communication Matrix

Document Control

On large, complex projects, organizing the creation, distribution, and storage of documents is a major and important activity. Organizations that execute a large number of complex projects will often have project document control systems that the project leadership team will adapt for their project. Document control systems distribute, store, and retrieve information that is needed by the project team. Documents originate from the various team members during the planning and execution of the work and then are transmitted to the document team for cataloging, distributing, and storing.

Document control systems have a systematic numbering system that allows a team member to derive information about the document through the document number.

Document Naming Provides Information about the Content

On a complex project, document names were chosen to indicate the category, location, purpose, author, and date. For example, a file named 323RFQDewateringPump_Darnall_10.08.2012 rev 3. contains five pieces of information about the content of the file. The first digit of the first number was used to indicate the category of the document. For example, all documents related to the project scope started with a 100 number and documents related to procurement started with 300. In this file name, the 3 indicates the document refers to procurement, the next two digits—23—refer to a location on the project (the south pumping station). The naming convention was distributed to team members so that when they saw this file name, they could interpret it to mean that the document refers to a procurement document, specifically a request for a quote for a dewatering pump for the south pumping station and that the document was prepared by the procurement team member (Darnall) on August 10, 2012. One of the naming conventions that was specifically described was the use of date formats in the international format of dd/mm/yyyy instead of the American format of mm/dd/yyyy, so team members know this document was created on August 10 rather than October 8.

When files are stored on a computer, the names can be sorted alphabetically. The beginning of the name is used as the primary sorting criteria. In the example above, sorting a list of document names would place all the documents together by category (e.g., scope and procurement), because all the documents related to scope would begin with a 1 and all those that are related to procurement would begin with a 3.

When a document is expected to be revised over the course of the project, version control becomes important. Version control means labeling each revision to enable the team to understand the latest activity and status of the document (or the activity behind the document). For example, on engineering and construction projects, document control tracks the development and distribution of documents. Each drawing is given a unique identification that reflects the type of drawing (electrical, civil, etc.), the location (first floor, mechanical room, etc.), and the version number. Because the design process includes several iterations of the drawings as more information is developed, document control uses an identification that indicates the version of the document.

For example, a project will use letters to indicate the version of the document until the document is approved for construction, and then it is given a number after approval. Therefore, a document with revision D will be the fourth version of the document. The same document with revision 3 means that this is third revision after the project was approved for construction.

To assure that everyone who should either review or approve the document received a copy, document control develops a distribution list for each type of documents. Each person reviews and signs the distribution list and then sends the document to the next person on the list. The design documents, distribution lists, and other project documents are archived by document control for future reference. In the example above, the document was the third revision after the design was approved for construction.

Naming conventions for files and the versions of files should be consistent with the practices of the parent organization or with the client organization so that the files may be archived with files from other projects. For example, California Road Construction Projects require a specific file naming convection.

Document Naming Convention in California

All Highway Construction Projects (Roadway) are required to be named in accordance with the following naming convention:

d12345ppXXX

  • d = District code. The district code represents the district where the project is being constructed (not the district creating the CADD drawings). Districts 1–9 use a single numeric character (1–9, respectively). Districts 10 through 12 use a single alpha character (a–c, respectively).
  • 12345 = First five characters of the project expenditure authorization.
  • pp = Print Sequence Code (two alpha characters).
  • XXX = Respective sheet numbers (numerical characters) for each Print Sequence Code used in the project.

For example,

512121ic007.dgn

  • 5 = District 05.
  • 12121 = First five characters of the project expenditure authorization.
  • ic = Print Sequence Code (Drainage Details).
  • 007 = Sheet number (seventh Drainage Detail sheet).

Key Takeaways

  • In an existing organization, there are gatekeepers of information who know how to find it, when meetings are scheduled, and what reports are required. In a new project, the project manager can create a new flow of information and reporting requirements.
  • More complex projects require more sophisticated communications plans.
  • A communication matrix is a table that shows the names of people as column or row headings and the types of documents as row or column headings. In the cells where the name and document type intersect, a symbol indicates the person’s responsibility or access with regard to that type of document.
  • File names can be used as codes to describe the contents of the file. Parts of the name can be used to identify the category, location, subject, author, and date. File name conventions should be used that match those used by the parent organization or by the client.

Exercises

  1. A table that relates types of documents, people, and their responsibilities and access is a communications ____________.
  2. How do communications on a new project differ from communications in an existing organization?
  3. How does the communications plan differ for a complex project compared to a simple project? Provide an example.
  4. What is the purpose of using a document naming convention? Describe at least three types of information that the file name could contain.

Internalize your learning experience by preparing to discuss the following.

What is the purpose of a communications plan and what is an example of a problem that might arise if the communications plan is not complete and an example of a problem that might arise if the communications plan is not followed?