Driving Stakeholder Engagement

How adept are you at Stakeholder Engagement? Do you successfully build and maintain trust with your stakeholders during the project lifecycle?  How do you maintain the focus of Stakeholder Engagement as you transition from the Project over to Business-As-Usual and into the care of the Business Relationship Manager or Service Excellence Managers?  Do your customers rave about you after the project is complete? In my latest blog on "Driving Stakeholder Engagement", I offer my insights for determining the opinions and expectations of key stakeholders and how to keep them focused throughout the Project lifecycle.

Stakeholder Engagement and Stakeholder Management are arguably the most important ingredients for successful project delivery and yet are often regarded as either a fringe activity or one which can be outsourced to Account Managers or Directors – depending on the title the organisation deems most appropriate.  Engaging with stakeholders should be a critical component in any project.

Project Managers depend on people to respond to the outputs and benefits they deliver. People will only respond if they are engaged. The phrase “Stakeholder Management" implies that these people can be made to respond positively to a Project, but the truth is a Project Manager frequently has no formal power of authority and therefore has to rely on the stakeholders willingness to engage. 

WHAT IS A STAKEHOLDER?

The term “Stakeholder” defines an individual, group, or organisation that may affect, be affected by, or perceive itself to be affected by a decision, activity, or outcome of a project, program, or portfolio. (PMI PMBOK Guide 6th Edition)

The Association of Project Managers defines Stakeholder Engagement as "the practice of interacting with and influencing project stakeholders to the overall benefit of the project and its advocates. The successful completion of a project usually depends on how the stakeholders view it.  Their requirements, expectations, perceptions, personal agendas, and concerns will influence the project, shape what success looks like, and impact the outcomes that can be achieved. Successful stakeholder engagement is therefore a vital requirement for professional project management". 

STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT PLAN

A component of the project or program management plan that identifies the strategies and actions required to promote productive involvement of stakeholders in project or program decision making and execution. (PMI PMBOK Guide 6th Edition)  

Successful projects depend upon a variety of people, and it is the experienced Project Manager who actively determines who they are and what areas of the project they influence. A forgotten stakeholder often rears their head at the most inopportune time, wreaking all sorts of havoc in the project. But many project teams do a poor job of identifying project stakeholders and gaining their commitment to the project objectives from the initial kick-off.   

By identifying and engaging with stakeholders at the start of the project, even before the initiation and kick-off, will bring benefits in the long term.   Stakeholder Management Benefits include:

Fewer surprises

How many times have you been caught off guard by a stakeholder? A powerful individual, out of the blue, entered your project world and exerted his or her influence in ways which caused rework, additional cost, resulting in team morale issues. 

More valuable engagement

Work at the start of the Project with your project teams to determine when, how, and where the team would engage the stakeholders.  

Better understanding of business needs

Projects are temporary endeavours resulting in a unique product, service or result. Unique because the Project is creating something new or modifying existing products and services. Certain individuals, teams and organisations will be impacted by the Project. Each of these Stakeholders has their own needs and the best Project Managers identify and seek to understand those needs early in the Project.   

Better understanding of concerns 

Stakeholders also have concerns. Ask them and they will tell you about potential events or conditions which may hinder your progress. Other Stakeholders can explain how the Project may impact their department, or individual and team roles and their responsibilities.

Time invested in the right places 

You may be a hard-working Project Manager, working long hours, late evenings and weekends. The question is: Are you working on the right things? With the Stakeholder’s input and regular feedback, you can ensure you are working on things which have the greatest value to the Project.  

Happier Stakeholders

Any chance you will make all the Stakeholders happy? Probably not. However, you will have a much better chance of keeping stakeholders happy and satisfied if they are properly involved in your Projects. Less stress for your stakeholders translates into less stress for you as the Project Manager.  

Improved communication 

Stakeholder management includes the identification of your stakeholders and seeking to understand their needs and preferences. Armed with this information, Project Managers can develop and tailor their communications plan to this audience's needs and requirements. 

Better management of expectations 

Individuals, groups, or organisations believe certain things are going to happen in the future, based on gossip, hearsay, and a few facts. The winning Project Managers seek to understand and to shape the stakeholder’s expectations. 

Improved reputation

Project Managers with stellar reputations relate well to people in their projects. Want to advance in your career? Focus on improving your stakeholder management skills.   Projects also attract positive and negative reputations (just think of CrossRail - https://www.ft.com/content/0d020876-ffc4-11e8-aebf-99e208d3e521).  Even if a project meets all its criteria, the project may not be considered successful to some stakeholders, sometimes a major stakeholder may not feel the project was successful, particularly if they were not engaged during the project.

There are many more benefits documented for identifying and engaging with project and Business Stakeholders.

SO, HOW DO WE DRIVE AND INFLUENCE STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT IN OUR PROJECT DELIVERY AT INSENTRA?

Alignment  

The initial step is to establish the most acceptable baseline across a set of stakeholders' diverging expectations and priorities. Assess the relative importance of all stakeholders to establish a weighted hierarchy against the project requirements and agreed by the Project Sponsor.  

Seek to understand before being understood  

Before aiming to engage and influence stakeholders, it is crucial to seek to understand the people you will be working with and relying on throughout the phases of the project lifecycle. Sharing information with Stakeholders is important, but it is equally important to first gather information from your stakeholders.  

Understand what success is   

Project success means different things to different people and you need to establish what your stakeholder community perceives success to be for them in the context of project delivery.  The Project Manager key driving factor is to ensure the stakeholders are aligned to what success looks like and confirming the scope of the Project can achieve that success.   

During the project kick-off meetings, we capture and document the customer Critical Success Factors.  These Critical Success Factors need to be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-based).  My colleague (Michael Chan) has written about Critical Success Factors in Projects -https://www.insentragroup.com/au/insights/not-geek-speak/business/critical-success-factors-in-projects/

I am currently working on how best to measure user’s ‘rage-quitting’ out of applications.  If you have any ideas on this, please let me know.     

Improved communication 

Stakeholder management includes the identification of your stakeholders and seeking to understand their needs and preferences. Armed with this information, Project Managers can develop and tailor their communications plan to this audience's needs and requirements.   Use communication as a tool to constantly focus and highlight the success factors throughout the project to the project team and stakeholders

Consult, early and often  

A Project, particularly in the early initiation stages, may be unclear to its stakeholders for example, in terms of purpose, scope, risks, and approach.  Regular consultation is essential to ensure requirements are captured, documented, and agreed together with a delivery solution is negotiated that is acceptable to most of the stakeholders.  This is a critical stop because the success and failures of projects always come back to how well the stakeholders are engaged in the project.

Remember, we are only human  

Accept people (humans) do not always behave in a rational, reasonable, consistent, or predictable way, and operate with an awareness of human feelings and potential personal agendas. By understanding the root cause of stakeholder behaviour, we can assess if there is a better way to work together to maintain a productive relationship  

Plan it!   

A more conscientious and measured approach to stakeholder engagement is essential and therefore encouraged. Investment in careful planning before engaging stakeholders can bring significant benefits.  After all, Project Managers are master’s in planning (plans, schedules, and resources), so why should planning engagement be any different?

Relationships are key  

Developing relationships results in increased Trust. Where there is trust, people work together more easily and effectively. Investing effort in identifying and building stakeholder relationships can increase confidence across the project environment, minimise uncertainty, and speed problem solving and decision-making.  Trust is a core value within Insentra (#HITACES) and therefore the building of relationships is important within our organisation.

Simple, but not easy  

Over and above conventional planning, using foresight to anticipate hazards and taking simple and timely actions with stakeholders can significantly improve project delivery. Although this principle is self-evident, in practice is still only rarely done very well.  

Just part of managing risk  

Stakeholders are important influential resources and should be treated as potential sources of risk and opportunity within the project.  

Take responsibility  

Stakeholder engagement is not the job of one member of the project team. It is the responsibility of everyone to understand their role and to follow the right approach to communication and engagement. Good project governance requires providing clarity about stakeholder engagement roles and responsibilities and what is expected of people involved in the project.  

Make the engagement a key part of the project to drive Stakeholder Engagement.  People will only respond if they are engaged, so identify your stakeholders early on in the Project.  Keep them engaged by consulting and providing regular updates on the progress.  Leverage your relationship with Key Stakeholders to influence resources, risk and future opportunities.  Developing trust to work together more easily and effectively and finally Celebrate at the end of the Project.  At Insentra we love to celebrate - when we catch someone doing something right, we shout it out.  We celebrate success and celebrate the wins. Call people out when they do good things. In our organisation, when people do something right absolutely shout it out and endorse it.

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