How to Develop a Microsoft Project Communications Management Plan - dummies

How to Develop a Microsoft Project Communications Management Plan

By Cynthia Snyder Dionisio

When you’re planning a project in Microsoft Project 2019, consider what information you (or any other stakeholder) need to track, who has the information, how it will be delivered, and how often it needs to be updated. Frequently, this information is stored in a separate document known as the communications management plan. The following table shows a simple example.

Communications Management Plan
Stakeholder Information Method Frequency
Project manager Status report Email Weekly
Team members Project status Meeting Biweekly
Sponsor Progress report PowerPoint Monthly
Sponsor Risks, issues, and changes Logs As needed

The communications management plan can be complex — or as simple as a Word table or an Excel spreadsheet. You enter the name or position of each stakeholder in the leftmost column, and then, across the top, enter the information that’s needed, its method, and frequency of delivery.

It isn’t rocket science, but you still have to determine up front which information you might want to track, when you might want it, and in which form. You might want to check out How to Avoid Common Project Management Pitfalls.

Step 1 of your Project communications management plan: gather data

The first step in tracking progress on a project is to gather information about what’s been going on. The simpler it is to report progress on a project, the better, because people will do it. The more routine you can make the reporting — such as every Friday, on a specific form turned in to the same person — the easier it is to gather data.

You can then input that information into Project in several ways: Use various views and tables to enter information in sheets of data, enter information in the Task Information dialog box, or use the tracking tools in the Schedule group of the Task tab on the Ribbon.

The amount of data you collect is determined by the information you need to track and the level of detail. For example, some people use Project only to create a timeline for their activities. Others use resources and track their total work on tasks, just not to the level of detail that scrutinizes hourly work performed. For some people, simply marking one task 50 percent complete and another 100 percent complete — and letting Project assume that all resources completed their estimated amounts of work — is fine.

Step 2 of your Project communications management plan: apply a tracking method

You have to identify the best tracking method for you, which is determined by the amount and type of information you need to monitor. Microsoft provides four tracking methods in Project 2019:

  • Task – total
  • Task – time phased
  • Assignment – total
  • Assignment – time phased

You can begin to understand these methods by comparing task tracking and assignment tracking. You can track information by task, indicating to the present time (or a status date you select) the total work completed or costs for the task. Or you can track information by assignment, which is a more detailed tracking that shows you the total work completed or costs by each resource.

Suppose that the Test Electrical Components task is estimated to take 12 hours of work, according to the project baseline. An Engineer, Electrician, and Assistant — three human resources — are assigned at 100 percent of their time. Tracking by task – total, you can simply note that the task is 75 percent complete, which translates into nine hours of work finished.

Project assumes that the three resources split the work equally — three hours for each resource. In reality, however, the Engineer spent one hour, the Electrician spent six, and the Assistant spent two. Therefore, the time phased variable enters the picture. Time-phased tracking uses specific time increments, whether you choose to track work by task or work completed by individual resources on the task.

So, in the Test Electrical Components task, you can use the task – time phased approach to track the nine hours on a daily basis. Or you can use the assignment – time phased approach to track each resource’s work, hourly or daily.

If the project or organization doesn’t require detailed assignment or time-phased tracking, you’re better off using the task – total method. Then you can spend less time entering information into Project and more time managing the team and the stakeholders.

Step 3 of your Project communications management plan: use the tracking tools

Sometimes, it seems that Project provides a handy button for everything you need to do on a project, so why should tracking be any different? The tracking tools at the top of the Schedule group on the Task tab perform updates on selected tasks in any sheet view. The figure shows the tracking tools. The five on the left are the percent complete buttons, and the button on the right allows you to mark on track or update tasks.

Project tracking buttons
The tracking buttons.

These tools make specific updates to selected tasks:

  • Percent Complete: Click this tool to quickly mark a task’s progress using a rough calculation of the percentage of work completed in 25 percent increments.
  • Mark on Track: Selecting a task and clicking this tool records activity automatically to the status date as you scheduled it in the baseline.
  • Update Tasks: To display a dialog box that contains tracking information about the progress, duration, start, and finish dates, find this tool on the menu that opens when you click the down arrow on the Mark on Track button. For example, you can indicate whether a task’s actual start date varied from its current start date. The following figure shows the Update Tasks dialog box.
Project Update tasks
The Update Tasks dialog box.

You can use a few more tools, found elsewhere in Project, to track and illustrate progress:

  • Update Project: Mark all tasks in a project as complete to a specific status date. You can also use this tool to reschedule uncompleted work.
  • Move Task: Reschedule all or part of a selected task. You can use this tool, found in the Tasks group on the Task tab on the Ribbon, to move a task forward or backward or to reschedule parts of it by the status date.
  • Add Progress Line: Turn on a type of drawing tool. On the Format tab, in the Format group, click Gridlines. Click the down arrow and select Progress Lines. A dialog box appears so that you can, at particular dates, set up progress lines: They indicate which tasks are ahead of or behind schedule by way of a vertical line that connects in-progress tasks.

For everything, there’s a Microsoft Project view

You may already know that Project has a view for everything you want to do. For example, you can use Task Sheet view and Task Usage view to easily update either task or resource information. So many variations are available that you may believe Microsoft charges by the view.

Project tracking sheet
Task Sheet—Tracking table view.
Project Tracking table view
Task Usage—Tracking table view.
Project's Usage table view
Task Usage—Usage table view.

When tracking using the Task Sheet view, I insert a column that shows percent complete. To insert the column, simply right-click a column head and click Insert Column, then click % Complete.

Depending on the tracking method you need different views serve different purposes. The following table specifies the best view to use for each tracking method.

Tracking Views
Tracking Method Best View Best Table or Row
Task Task Sheet Tracking table
Task – time phased Task Usage Actual Work row
Assignment Task Usage Tracking table
Assignment – time phased Task Usage Usage table

When you find the appropriate view with the correct columns displayed, entering tracking information is as simple as typing a number of hours, a dollar amount for fixed costs, or a start or finish date in the appropriate column for the task you’re updating.