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Enhancing Stakeholder Management Experience

There has been enough talk and debate about Stakeholder Management but we see still  60 -70 % projects fail to meet Stakeholder expectations. Are there any silver bullets to watch out to address them effectively? This article aims at providing some pragmatic pointers to approach and create a good Stakeholder Management experience.
As you are well aware, every stakeholder is different and have vested interest in the outcome of the projects.  Are we doing things right to address the expectations or continue to have gaps?
The following 8 aspects help you towards creating a good stakeholder management experience that results in successful project outcomes.
1.  Setting the Context, Objective and Expectations -Number 1 priority
               
While we religiously follow the Kick off meeting for the project assigned, it takes more than a meeting for the context, objectives and expectation to sink in. It would be worthwhile to have this as your basis for all the discussions of Project meeting.  As we reinforce them, it becomes a part of internalization and then acts as a magnetic compass to shape them to desirable behavior. Regarding expectations, some look for a learning experience, some for a challenging task and some for better networking opportunities. Listing down the aspects that people would receive as part of the project work, help gain the necessary commitment and interest among stakeholders.
2.  Understand the background, experience and attitude of stakeholders
I have seen this to be a key aspect for every PM to understand the stakeholders better.  This is by no means an easy task.  There is a huge homework and data to be collected, but at the end it is going to be worth the effort. The outcome of the exercise would enable you to deal with the respective stakeholders better with the background information and can help you frame appropriate responses.
3.  Everybody wants to be a part of the winning Team
Stakeholders play diversified roles like sponsor, project leader, team member with different projects and they have an earnest desire to be part of a winning project. So as a PM, it is the responsibility to create the mental picture of how important this project is for the organization and your customers.  Assure that the stakeholders have been hand-picked based on their expertise and experience and there is no doubt that this would create a winning combination.  This makes them feel empowered and creates a sense of true belonging to the outcome of the project.
4.   Power and Influence Matrix is only the beginning
We have been conditioned to start the Stakeholder Management exercise by developing Power vs Influence Matrix to determine the necessary people to be satisfied for project outcomes. While this is a good start, it does not address your fundamental aspect of emotional disturbance. Discounting people because they neither have power nor influence is only going to make the situation worse.  Remember, when the numbers add up – it can break the smooth functioning of the project as a silent revolt or non-cooperation.
5.  Communication is the Key
As you know, 90% of projects fail miserably due to ineffective communication among project team and stakeholders.
I have seen some stakeholders being more vocal than the rest and some prefer not to disclose anything during a meeting.  So the communication strategy should have different channels and methods to understand, what they really mean at a deeper level.  More often, the deeper understanding comes with informal coffee talks and personal rapport.  While colocation is a boon, most of the time we need to deal virtually and hence adopt 1-1 calls to personalize the connection. The tone of the communication has to be just right to convey the message without being dictatorial.
6.  Recognize stakeholder suggestions
Acknowledging the stakeholders for the valuable insights and recommendations is important to successful project outcomes.  1. It sets the tone for people to share and contribute to the success of the project 2. It brings in the concept of collective ownership as a team to make it a success.  In my experience, the biggest insights and recommendations have helped me do Risk Management effectively and be better prepared to steer projects successfully.
7.  Be Open and Solicit help
Projects irrespective of deal size and magnitude can be demanding and might need a lot of support and cooperation from stakeholders to turn the course into right direction. The best way to approach is to be open to all of them and say, we have a problem and I would need all your support and suggestions to overcome.  When you give people the freedom to voice for a cause, they participate actively and are willing to take on additional responsibilities.
8.  Trust and Commitment makes it happen!
Experience shows that the most complex projects have been successful because of the commitment of stakeholders and the trust in the project leadership. This is a sign of transcending the boundaries and making things happen against all odds. For this to happen, the whole project environment must facilitate open and honest communication with no blame-game.  If something is not working, it is recommended to condemn the act not the person and help them overcome the obstacles.  When the PM starts fostering an environment of collective team work and complement, it helps to build the trust and commitment for winning big!

Author: Suresh GP (All Rights Reserved by the author).
Source: Original Text (based upon first hand knowledge).
Image: © Yuri Arcurs – Fotolia.com
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