The communication plan

Download templates for the communication plan. The project’s communication must create and maintain knowledge and support for the project. Communication to the target groups affected by the project’s changes must ensure acceptance and create security. The tool describes various communication models, e.g. the actant model which ensures an appropriate structure of the narrative. In change communication, active listening and involvement is important in your stakeholder approach.

Full description

Purpose and yield

Communication is always supposed to support the project. Overall, communication must create and maintain knowledge and support for the project. The communication plan must therefore ensure that:

  • We obtain the desired impact of the communication in question.
  • Communication reaches and touches the relevant people.
  • There is a connection between the various messages, the media and those who are to convey the messages.
  • Ensure that the right media is used, which can create the desired impact.
  • The timing is right for the various actions. Knowledge of the problem must be created before communication can be made to achieve a changed attitude and changed behavior.
  • The right combination of messages, media, messengers and timing is implemented cost-effectively in the target groups.

When is the communication plan used in the project?

  • The communication plan is developed relatively early in the project and is continuously adjusted.
  • The plan is used throughout the project.

Pitfalls and restrictions

  • The communication plan is prepared without considering what impacts the individual parts can contribute.
  • There is a traditional way of focusing on written communication and too little on oral communication and involvement.
  • It is underestimated how important the right messenger is concerning impact.
  • There is no focus on timing where one first creates knowledge, then acceptance and later behavior changes.
  • You use informal communication via colleagues and networks too little
  • People underestimate that those you communicate to must have confidence in the messenger in order to listen. If there is no confidence, no one is listening.
  • Often people forget to incorporate the communication plan into the milestone plan.

Who should participate?

  • The communication plan is developed in the project team, preferably with professional help from communication professionals.
  • Involve the right messengers to develop the plan and convey the messages.


  • Start by defining the target groups based on the deliveries and impacts the project create.
  • Assess the impact the communication should have for each target group in order to implement the project as desired.
  • Compile the right combination of messages, media, messengers and timing for each target group.
  • Create a specific “package solution” for each individual target group over time avoiding the use of scattergun technique.

Target group: Find the main target groups. It can be those with great influence, great knowledge that we need, or those who are most affected by the changes. The stakeholders who have to pay the biggest “price” for the change. The target groups must be defined with fairly homogeneous interests and issues so that we can use the same messages within the target group. (See the tools:  Stakeholder analysis or the Change Resistance Mapping)

The message: The messages must be adapted to the individual target groups and the impact you want to achieve at that time. It is important that these messages are sent in the proper “language” (discourse). For example, management wanted the project to bring savings, so the trade-off between project and management can be described with the theme: Cost-benefit. The situation is different with the employees, here the theme may be: Possibility of influence on your own work situation. (See the three pages: Building messages and arguments, change communication and building the story using the actant model)

The media: Choose from a cost-benefit assessment. Mass media is cheap per. contact, but the effect is small. Personal dialogue has great effect but is resource intensive. Mass media are well-suited for creating knowledge and for simple information, but they cannot change stakeholder behavior. (See page: Different media and their impact)

The Messenger: The message is better heard when it is conveyed by a person trusted by the stakeholder, a person who is credible in the recipient’s eye. It can also be a matter of power and influence. There is a huge difference between whether a young project manager employed in another department asks you to change behavior, or it is your boss who asks you the same.

Timing: Timing is crucial – so crucial that sometime you need to move forward, because the timing is right. It is now that there is responsiveness to the problem. Normally, the timing will be part of the plan. In what sequence should the individual messages be conveyed? As a rule, knowledge of the problem must be created before we can get acceptance. There must be acceptance before people change behavior etc.

Building messages and arguments

  • The communication plan can be illustrated using the star.
  • Based on the desired impact, we must select the right combination of messages, media, messenger and timing for each individual target group.
  • The messages and arguments can be constructed in several ways as described the PowerPoint tool.

Aristotle’s three forms of appeal

Aristotle refers to three forms of appeal; the factual logos, the credible ethos and the emotional pathos. In our day, we say that you must communicate to both the brain and the heart. We must both understand and accept. The credibility is the most important thing. If you are not considered credible, all arguments will be wasted.

The factual – logos

Use facts, concrete information, surveys and stick to the matter. Use words that emphasize relationships and overview. Use a clear, neutral and sober language. Focus on the core message from start to finish. Prioritize the most important from the individual target group’s point of view and build the presentation logically. There must be a common thread in the presentation and you should refer to it continuously.

The credible – ethos

Show that you know something about the case, preferably with personal experience. Appear empathetic and explain your background and relationship to the topic. Demonstrate common values with the target group and show that you can see a case from multiple sides, show that you understand the target group. Use a low voice and a controlled language. Praise the target group, pay them respect and show your goodwill towards them. Refer to authorities that support your point of view.

The emotional – pathos

Describe things in a lively manner and apply a creative and thriving language. Appeal to people’s here and now feelings e.g. fear or hope. Mobilize the anger in people. Talk about the things that make people angry: “It can’t be true that we can’t give customers the best solution”. Use mitigation after the wrath: “But we haven’t had this knowledge before.” Shame is also a strong driving force: “If we don’t, colleagues at other departments will not understand us.” Friendship: “It is for your own sake.” Pity: “It will be tough right now, but I am sure you will get through.” Envy: “At other hospitals they have been doing this for a long time and have gained great recognition. ”

Building the story using the actant model

The actant model describes the roles of most fairy tales and stories. There is usually a hero fighting for the victim. There is rarely a victim without a villain. The hero has to go through so much to save the victim. Often the hero has a helper. When we hear a story, we unconsciously distribute the four roles: hero, victim, helper and villain. When you tell stories, make sure the roles are appropriately distributed. The role distribution is different for each story, but in change communication there are some role distributions you should aim at and others you must try to avoid.

Different media and their impact

Different media have an impact on the recipients, ranging from knowledge creation, acceptance of changes and attitude toward changed behavior. The media is selected on the basis of a cost-benefit assessment. Mass media is cheap per contact, but the impact is small. Personal dialogue has great impact but is resource intensive.

  • Mass media are well-suited for creating knowledge and for simple information, but they cannot change stakeholder behavior.
  • The different media can have different strength and focus. An article in the staff magazine or video can give a uniform picture of the project but it will not have the same appeal to people with different learning styles.
  • The Q&A allows the individual to clarify questions that may not worry others. Therefore, it is important to have a mix so that communication can meet different needs.
  • The figure depicts some examples of different media and their possible impact. However, one must be aware that the impact may vary according to how large the “price” the change entails for the stakeholder in question.

See the detailed description of the procedure in the PowerPoint tool.

The Word tool contains only the templates. The tool is so general that it can be used even if you work according to the principles of IPMA, Prince2, PMI or agile methods such as Scrum or Half Double.





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John Ryding Olsson Founder & author John Ryding Olsson

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