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Elements of a Communication Plan: Building Communications Workflows for Informal Communication

written by: Joe Taylor Jr. • edited by: Jean Scheid • updated: 3/18/2012

Having identified the pertinent audience groups for project communications, managers and team leaders can start to craft the workflows necessary for effective collaboration and documentation.

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    Matching Formality to Importance

    Many typical challenges involved in effective project management communication arise from a mismatch between the formality of a communication and its importance in relation to the project outcome. Setting the ground rules for interpersonal communication early in the project can prevent common miscommunications that delay or destroy projects.

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    Casual Conversations

    In many organizations, some of the most productive communication happens at the water cooler or at the lunch table. Casual conversations, sometimes referred to as “hallway conversations" by veteran project managers, serve an important purpose among team members. Most times, casual conversations happen among team members of the same status or of adjacent roles. For instance, designers on a project that see each other daily may enjoy several casual conversations each week. Each designer might have one or two casual conversations with their immediate manager. However, the designer might never actually encounter other stakeholders with whom to chat informally.

    Brief conversations can help team members clarify positions, inquire about resources and seek opinions about decisions. Because of the spontaneous nature of casual conversations, most communication plans request or require that team members keep a journal of decisions made or facts gathered during these informal gatherings. This process helps managers trace both success and failure back to specific conversations.

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    E-Mail

    In the era of Blackberry devices, e-mail has become a preferred method of communication for many teams. Instead of waiting for casual conversations or formal meetings, team members can zap ideas and feedback to each other from anywhere. Although e-mail speeds up decision making, it can also fracture the decision process if the right communication does not reach appropriate team members.

    Many companies now archive copies of all e-mail communication to comply with corporate legal and ethics policies. Successful project managers often encourage team members to “carbon copy" project-related communication to a special e-mail address set up to archive ongoing communication. Team members can access messages sent to this address using distribution lists or online archives, making informal e-mail more transparent.

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    Chat and SMS

    Like e-mail, chat services offer flexibility and functionality for many team members that enjoy on-the-fly collaboration. In many workplaces, chats and instant messaging sessions have replaced hallway conversations as the primary format for social interaction. Nearly every chat format offers the ability for logging or recording, allowing chat decisions and insight to be shared with the rest of the project team. Most of the time, chats include personal information that can or should be filtered out from project records.

    Text messaging has grown in popularity over the past few years, especially among younger team members. Texting often fills the same social niche as instant messaging but differences between phone platforms may make text conversations more difficult to log. In most cases, project managers can encourage team members to journal significant decisions and learnings in the same way as a casual conversation. However, project managers must often caution frequent texters to follow up in person to make sure the intent of a communication is the same as its perception. Much can get lost in the translation of these informal tools.