How to Engage with Stakeholders While Executing the Project

In the 1930s, big corporations were thriving on the backs of their workers, and the workers had had enough.

manage stakeholder engagement

Image: Sheldon Dick/Wikimedia Commons.

They tried to form unions but were essentially dismissed. The power lay in the hands of the corporations. So, inspired by the sit-down strikes taking place throughout Europe, the workers decided to do something about the problem.

On Dec. 30, 1936, workers walked into the General Motors plant in Flint, Michigan, sat down, and stopped working, shutting down the company and forcing its heads to take notice.

They remained there through mid-February. GM tried to force an evacuation and police attempted to cut off their food supply, but the workers prevailed. Finally, GM signed an agreement recognizing the union. Workers received 5% raises and were allowed to speak in the lunchroom.

They’d won.

(ref upworthy)

Stakeholders can bring your project to a grinding halt.

They can be that powerful.

Thus it becomes crucial that the project manger not just identifies all stakeholders, but classifies them properly, and puts in place right strategies to engage them based on powser-interest grid (or other forms of analysis).

Some customers take a lot of interest in the project and want to be involved at every step of the project, on a daily basis; and some customers will talk only at the beginning of the project and then won’t be available at all.

While having former type of customer is good, she can make your life difficult as you may end up losing lot of valuable time in providing every smallest of the information she needs. Latter type of customers may spring surprises when delivery is made, which is worse.

Customer is a key stakeholder in the project and it is important to analyze needs of every member on customer’s team during the project management activity to Plan Project Communications. Sometimes you discover that people on customer’s team do not share a great rapport amongst themselves and in such cases you need to be extra careful to ensure it does not impact project.

Project managers need to share right information with stakeholders and also get their feedback in order to ensure that they do not get nasty surprises. Their expectations need to be understood and the need for information fulfilled. Their apprehensions and concerns need to be addressed before they become issues.

This activity helps you do all of this. This probably is as much of an art as it is science. Managing project stakeholders’ expectations helps you decrease project risks, increase customer satisfaction, and ensure project success.

Let’s get started

We need Stakeholder engagement plan

Tells you how the stakeholders should be engaged. Their level of influence on the project, areas of interests, their expectations out of the project, and what information they should be communicated and by what means.

We need few plans from project management plan…

Especially change management plan, risk management plan, stakeholders management plan, and communications management plan. The last one tells you how to go about sending communication to stakeholders. Specifics such as information type, language, format, content are specified in this plan. It also contains escalation procedure.

We need Change log, issues log, and lessons learned register…

The first 2 lists help us understand which stakeholders are having what kind of issues. This knowledge helps us resolve them, build rapport, and convert non-supportive stakeholders into supportive ones.

Any change that is raised as change request needs to go through change control board and is tracked here. These are stronger issues than those getting into Issue Log, and will have impact on one or more of project constraints such as cost, schedule, scope, quality and communication. This will be constantly shared with customer. Both issue log and change logs are project documents.

We can also make use of information from previous projects, organizational communication requirements and change control procedures would be useful inputs.

How’s it done?

Three things that are of importance while dealing with stakeholders –

  • Right Communication: We saw that communication management plan contains list of stakeholders and what information needs to be communicated to them using which method.
  • Interpersonal skills: This refers to the soft skills we saw in an earlier lesson. Skills such as leadership, team-building, motivation, active listening, influencing and decision making are all necessary soft skills needed for a project manager.
  • Management skills: This refers to project manager’s skills such as presentation skills, influencing people to support project, meetings, negotiation and public speaking that are necessary for the project manager.

What happens when this is done?

We update few project documents such as Issue Log, Change log

Any issues that crop up during stakeholder management are listed in this log. This is constantly updated as new issues are found and old ones are resolved.

We raise Change requests

Communications probably is the area that brings up most of the surprises on the project. When this happens and the root causes of these issues are unearthed, they may trigger changes to the product or project activities. These will then be taken via Integrated Change Control process to make necessary corrective or preventive changes.

We update Project plan

The main subsidiary plan document that can get changed in this process is the Communication management plan. As project progresses newer communication medium might be discovered, some of the set communication channels may become redundant and few new may be found. All these will require changes to the communication management plan.

Stakeholder management strategy, engagement plan, stakeholder register, issue log may get updated. If new ways of dealing with certain stakeholders have evolved then stakeholder management strategy will get updated. If new stakeholders are found or any of existing stakeholders are no more on the project then stakeholder register will be updated.

Summary

Managing project stakeholders’ expectations is not easy. The best you can do is to ensure that every one of their roles, influence levels and interests are documented (refer power-interest grid in Identify Stakeholders process) and keep them in loop with just enough information that enables them to tell you if their expectations are not met. This definitely avoids them nasty surprises that may impact project negatively.

Addressing their concerns, clearing their apprehensions and resolving issues will help you make key stakeholders your best allies as well.

A project manager cannot control stakeholders but can certainly monitor the engagement with them in order to get the best out of them for the project. Let’s see how to do just that.

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