Four steps to a communication matrix
A communication matrix can be a valuable tool for planning and monitoring communication in projects. There are now enough studies to show that poor or no communication can contribute to the failure of a project. One can even go so far as to say that lack of communication is in many cases the reason for the failure of a project. Therefore, it seems sensible to plan project communication like all other areas of a project. One tool for this is the project communication matrix. The aim of this article is to show four steps that lead to an effective communication matrix in order to use this method profitably.
Who, when and what?
How should project communication be structured? This may vary from project to project. However, some general rules can be established. By asking "When does who need what information?" you can define the requirements very precisely at the beginning of each project. And based on the answer, you can then plan your project communication. In general, there are four steps that will guide you in your communication planning.
The first step in the communication matrix of any project is a comprehensive stakeholder analysis. To ensure effective communication, it is important to know who you will be interacting with. Therefore, at the outset, identify all parties who are in some way connected to the project, regardless of their level of involvement or influence. Whether a person or group is only marginally or regularly involved with the project, they are a stakeholder and should be considered accordingly.
Projects typically have both internal and external communication flows. Internally, the project team members communicate with each other under the direction of the project manager. External communication includes interactions between members of the internal team and various external parties, such as steering committees, the board, advisory boards, sounding boards, work councils and other bodies. They also communicate with users and customers, decision-makers, authorities, politicians and, in some circumstances, the general public. This gives you a basic overview of potential stakeholders. However, it is important to note that this analysis needs to be done individually for each project, as no two projects are the same. Remember that each stakeholder has different needs and requires different information. Once you have a complete list of stakeholders, you can determine who should be informed about project progress and changes, when and how.
The frequency and type of communication can vary greatly. Some stakeholders may need monthly updates, while others may only need specific information at a certain point in the project's progress. Well-coordinated communication management can ultimately determine the success or failure of a project. Therefore, it is important to address the individual information needs of different stakeholders.
The next step is to choose the communication format. Do you send an email, a letter, a newsletter, make a phone call or send a complete press kit with nice pictures? Do you organise an information event, a workshop, write an article for the intranet, launch a survey or seek a personal conversation? All this is communication and you decide who receives what information. What is important in communication is that you always communicate something, not only when you send an email or make a phone call, but also when you do not pass on information. A piece of information that is not shared is also a form of communication and can be interpreted as disinterest or ill-will. So always think about how a piece of information will come across to the receiver, not just how you meant it. Sometimes you only notice how your message has been received by the recipient's reaction. You cannot anticipate everything, but with a well thought-out communication matrix you can avoid many mistakes and misunderstandings from the outset. Always record in your matrix whether your communication is actually communication or just information. A conceptual nuance, but still not the same: information is one-sided. Communication only takes place when there is a response. In your communication matrix it is also important from which partner you need an answer, feedback or a decision.
In the third step, the actual matrix is created, in which all the collected information is entered. The matrix is based on well-known questions. Who needs to be informed? What is communicated? How is it to be communicated? And when should communication take place? If you specify regular communication, always also specify the frequency: once a week, every three months or perhaps only once a year? Based on the questions and your stakeholders, create a table that you will fill in on a project-by-project basis. To do this, you as project manager can hold a workshop with your team to agree on how to fill in the matrix.
The fourth step is controlling. The communication matrix is created and edited or used throughout the project. It does not remain rigid and unchanged. You are responsible for ensuring that the matrix is effective and works. Therefore, regularly review the communication and how it is working. Have new stakeholders perhaps been added? Or have any fallen away? Have certain formats proved to be good or not so good? Don't be afraid to edit the document during the project. Nothing is set in stone and improvement is always good for the project.
Using a communication matrix in project management is not only an option, but a crucial factor for the success of a project. Identifying the stakeholders, deciding on the communication formats, creating the matrix and continuously reviewing and adapting it form a solid basis for transparent and efficient communication. Communication is crucial, so address the individual needs of stakeholders and be open to change and improvement. Communication is more than the exchange of information - it is the core of any cooperation.
Keywords: Project management, Communication, Communication matrix