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March 1, 2023

Easy Guide to Creating a Stakeholder Communication Plan

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Creating a stakeholder communication plan is an essential part of managing your project effectively. For stakeholders, communication plans focused on project progress, issues, and decisions help to build trust and strengthen communication pathways.

Speechwriter James Humes has been attributed to saying "The art of communication is the language of leadership." Poor communication can cause project confusion, or even failure.

We all probably agree on the importance, then, of having a communication plan in place. However, If you’re feeling stuck regarding how to create one, don’t worry! Read on for a simple guide to creating a solid communication plan, along with a few nuggets of wisdom from experts sprinkled in along the way.

The Plan for the Plan

Step 1. Map goals and objectives

All communication efforts should be tied to the objectives of the organization, the project, and stakeholder needs. For example, what value is the project providing? This deliberate focus to connect goals to communication provides cohesiveness and reduces the risk that information will be missing, miscommunicated, off-target, or unclear.

In addition, identify the objectives of the communication plan itself. What are you trying to accomplish?  What are the metrics that might be associated with the implementation of a solid communication plan? How will you know when you are successful? 

Step 2. Identify stakeholders

According Harvard Business School professor Joseph L. Badaracco, “The first rule of effective management is to identify the stakeholders and the interests they represent.” This includes team members, external partners, and customers. But there might be a few more stakeholders you need to recognize.  Take the time to examine your stakeholder list. You might need to refine the list or modify it. 

Here are some examples of some well-known companies that considered their list of stakeholders, adjusted their focus based on their interests, and reaped the rewards:

Dropbox expanded its stakeholder focus in 2013 to include developers and third-party app makers. That year, the company launched the Dropbox Platform, which allows developers to integrate Dropbox into their own apps. The platform has since become a key part of the company’s business strategy, with Dropbox connecting with developers and app makers through events, online forums and support channels.

Hubspot included small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) in their stakeholder group. The company’s products are designed to help SMBs automate and optimize their marketing and sales processes. To engage with these stakeholders, HubSpot offers a variety of resources, including webinars, training courses, and an online community.

Squarespace counted creatives and small business owners as stakeholders. The company’s products are designed to help these stakeholders create and manage their own websites, and Squarespace communicates with them through a variety of channels, including social media, email newsletters, and online tutorials.

In each case, these companies identified stakeholders others had overlooked and incorporated them into their communication plans in order to better serve their needs and build stronger relationships with them. 

As you identify stakeholder groups, revisit the objectives you outlined, making sure the goals of each of these groups are considered in your overall plan.

Step 3. Determine communications needs

After identifying stakeholders, determine their specific needs. This includes:

  • the type of information they need
  • the frequency of communication
  • the preferred method of communication

Different stakeholders will prefer specific styles and types of communication. For example, your internal team members need more detailed information about project progress and decisions, while external partners are more interested in the overall impact on their business. Customers want to be informed about changes that will affect their experience with your product or service. Tailor your communication plan to each stakeholder group’s specific needs.

Step 4. Detail the communication plan

Based on your objectives and the needs of each group of stakeholders, you can develop a detailed communication plan that outlines communication activities, such as regular progress updates, status reports, formal meetings, and press releases. 

When creating the plan, use simple and clear language, choose the right communication channels, and involve stakeholders in the process. Work to break down silos, be open to feedback, and be willing to make adjustments as needed. 

In addition, identify how you plan to address communication challenges. What if you experience product delays? Require bug fixes? Uncover new or conflicting requirements? Experience a change in direction? Having a plan to deal with communication challenges provides a roadmap when the journey gets rough.

Andrew Thompson, CEO of Proteus, a communication platform for remote teams suggests, “The plan should be comprehensive and provide structure, while also being flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances and requirements.” This approach will help ensure all stakeholders are informed and involved, and that they have the information they need to make informed decisions, especially as changes take place. 

Step 5: Choose the right communication channels

There are many ways to inform customers: email newsletters, blog posts, webinars, help centers, documentation and tutorials, and community forums where users can ask questions and share tips and advice. Each of these provides a significant channel of communication.

Each stakeholder group will have their own preferences for communication channels. For example, your internal team members might prefer information in one centralized workspace, while external partners may wish to participate in video conferences. Customers might want updates through a product update page, in-product messaging, or email.

It's essential to choose the right communication channels for each type of message to ensure that it reaches stakeholders in the most effective and efficient way possible.

We see this as users ourselves all the time. Take Slack, for example. The popular team communication solution provider keeps its end users informed with regular updates and new feature announcements. They also have a comprehensive help center with documentation and tutorials, and they offer live chat support to help users with any issues or questions. They focus their communication to align with the ways their users prefer to be communicated to, in channels that are most effective for the way they work.

Companies that communicate most successfully take a multi-channel approach to stakeholder communication, using a variety of methods to keep users informed and involved. They also offer resources and support to help users get the most out of their products. And they actively seek out feedback and input from their stakeholders to inform future approaches.

Step 6: Set a communication schedule

Once you've developed a communication plan, set a communication schedule. This schedule should outline when each type of communication will take place, including cadence and dates where possible, and ensure that stakeholders are aware of the schedule.

Step 7: Establish a feedback mechanism

Communication out to your stakeholders also sets up expectations that they should be able to communicate back. Establishing a feedback mechanism is critical to ensuring that stakeholders can provide adequate input and feedback on the project. This can include setting up a dedicated email address for feedback, setting up regular feedback meetings, or whichever method is most appropriate to a given feedback group.

As noted by Dennis Mortensen, founder of x.ai, "Feedback from stakeholders is a critical part of ensuring that the project is on track and meeting their needs." A focus on feedback will help ensure that everyone knows they will, in fact, have the opportunity to provide feedback or ask questions. Identifying and implementing a reliable channel for feedback is essential to trust-building and developing rapport in general with your stakeholders.

Step 8: Assign roles and responsibilities

Assigning specific responsibilities for communication activities to team members is essential to ensure that the plan is executed effectively. This includes assigning individuals who are responsible for scheduling and coordinating meetings, sending out regular updates, and responding to feedback.

Step 9: Review and revise best laid plans

Regularly reviewing and revising the communication plan helps confirm that it remains effective and relevant to the stakeholders and project's needs. Updating the plan should include incorporating feedback from stakeholders and making changes to the communication schedule or channels as needed.

Even the best communications plans sometimes require adjustment. In 2015, Apple’s Tim Cook commented on the importance of developing a communication plan: "Clear communication across all levels of the organization is key to success. That's why we have a comprehensive communication plan that ensures our employees, customers, and shareholders understand our mission, our values, and our goals. By keeping everyone informed and aligned, we can work together to achieve great things."

You know what they say about the best laid plans... In 2017, Apple faced significant backlash over its handling of a software update that slowed down older iPhones.  Forbes writer Gordon Kelly highlighted the problem with a series of articles. The company had released the update without explicitly informing users that it would affect the performance of their devices, leading many to accuse Apple of intentionally slowing down older iPhones to encourage users to upgrade to newer models.

The controversy quickly gained attention and criticism with users taking to social media to express their frustration with the company. Apple initially responded to the criticism by issuing a statement that explained the rationale behind the software update. The company then followed with an adjusted communications plan to address the situation. Apple announced a series of measures to tackle the issue, including a discounted battery replacement program and a software update that allowed users to disable the performance-throttling feature.

Apple also improved its communication with stakeholders by providing more detailed information on the battery issue and the steps it was taking to solve it. It launched a dedicated support page that provided clear instructions on how to check the battery health of older iPhones and other devices. The successful execution of Apple's communications plan helped to demonstrate its commitment to transparency and customer satisfaction.

Every company is going to face communication challenges. And you will need to continually work at improving your communications plan as well. By regularly reviewing and revising your communication plan, you can ensure that stakeholders remain informed and involved. Carol Leaman, CEO of Axonify, a micro-learning platform, put it this way, "A communications plan isn't a static document. It should be flexible and adaptable to changes in the project.”

Get started with the plan

Creating a stakeholder communications plan is a critical part of managing projects effectively. It can help ensure that all stakeholders are informed and involved. Implementing a well-conceived communications plan absolutely supports successful project outcomes. So get started, create you plan, and communicate.

DevStride can help

Project management tools can help track project work, goals and objectives, documentation, roadmaps, milestones, requirements, tasks, assignments, and more. How well they do this can create clear communication or confusion.

DevStride is a modern project and portfolio management tool purpose-built to promote collaboration, communication, and cohesion, reducing the stress factor and making managing projects - successful. A refreshingly easy-to-use tool, DevStride provides the robustness and insight project leaders need and support that teams love.

Here are just a few ways you can use DevStride to drive clear communication:

Workstream mapping to strategic goals and objectives - ensures work is focused on the right projects and is aligned with goals.

Smart Stream AI automation - allows users to generate custom workstreams while providing AI-suggested descriptions and tasks. This super-smart feature helps eliminate the “blank page syndrome” and provides helpful ways to ensure all the basics are covered.

Dynamic roadmapping - provides a visual way to manage story and epics for release tracking.

Task and assignment tracking - tracks requirements, tasks, and assignments in an easy-to-use and responsive interface, including Kanban boards and Scrum sprint cycles.

Collaborative workspaces - promote communication through unified workspaces, breaking silos and promoting cohesion. Create and collaborate, keeping all your project documentation and activities up-to-date for everyone.

Stack ranking - makes priorities clear and easy to manage.

PERT (Program Evaluation and Review Technique) and WIP limiter features - for sizing and controlling project work.

Workflow automations - make use of customizable, event and criteria-based triggers to notify owners, promote task management, and stay informed.

Notifications - keep work moving, information available, relevant, and up-to-the second regarding changes, communications, and issue management.

Filters - provide real time visibility on all projects, teams, and portfolios, organization-wide.

Visual indicators - displayed throughout the tool for easy information at-a-glance, including priorities, completion rates, and status.

Rich Analytics - deliver a powerful and effective way to identify and communicate potential issues before they become problems. Beyond raw data, DevStride provides teams and leaders with insights to make informed decisions.

Reach out today - we are here for you

If you need access to a modern project and portfolio management tool that can help you plan and control projects, then schedule an introductory call with us today. Our integrated work management platform provides teams with superior visibility and alignment. Understand the true state of the work, even as priorities shift. 

By using DevStride’s platform, you can gain a holistic view of your projects and initiatives, enabling you to deliver successful projects and improve the overall performance of your organization.

We’ll show you exactly how DevStride can help your teams manage exceptional project and product delivery. For projects big and small, DevStride is here for you!

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