A good communication plan for a project is often used for purposes that it was not intended to deliver. These can sometimes become the project plan itself or the community engagement plan. This is a dangerous space, as a project plan and a community engagement plan should be higher level strategies to the communication plan. They should cover a range of other issues and plan for these in ways that a communication plan can’t or shouldn’t. A reason for this disconnection is because some organisations don’t employ project management or community engagement specialists.
I respect greatly the skills and abilities of effective project managers. I have been privileged to have worked with some crackers. People who know not only on how to arrange the Lego bricks but who are also able to enlist the commitment and support of others to ensure that these are laid in the right places at the right time. They are people who understand clearly what only may be possible but what also is practical.
Good communication practitioners will have to work closely with project managers, which is why I have made sure that I have got myself trained in their world and why I have made sure that communication team members I have managed have also done project management training. This has a two-fold benefit: it makes it easier to understand and work with qualified project managers; and it gives you a range of skills to help you better manage those projects that are your responsibility.
Returning to the Cunning Plan™. Edmund Blackadder’s loyal and faithful manservant Baldrick invented the Cunning Plan. “My Lord, I have a plan so cunning you could brush your teeth with it.”
What makes a great communication plan is its ability to not only focus on and plan for success but also on failure. As well as charting a clear and measurable path that should get the right boxes ticked, permissions granted and resources secured, it will also have thought about all of the things that could go wrong and potentially derail that strategy’s success.
An effective communication practitioner is one who is both optimist and pessimist. Equal parts of “glass half full” and “glass half empty”. A strategist and an implementer. A person whose opinions are trusted and relied on by senior managers because they are pragmatic and honest.
Their plans are straightforward and easily understood. These are built in a way that makes them easy to update or refocus, should the world change. They have just enough detail. They are regularly referred to over the project’s life. In short they are more than a “tick the box” deliverable. They are living documents. Good communication practitioners understand this and that it is their job to keep such plans alive.
It is important that a communication plan is realistic and grounded. After all, the last thing a comms practitioner wants to hear from their boss is “Am I jumping the gun, Baldrick, or are the words ‘I have a cunning plan’ marching with ill-deserved confidence in the direction of this conversation?”