Pleasing Your Project Stakeholders. Pleasing stakeholders, the people with a vested interest in the outcome of a project, is no small feat. While it’s no less important than more tangible parts of the project, stakeholder management often falls by the wayside. Making each stakeholder—the project team, the sponsor, customers, clients and vendors—feel like a valued part of the process is hard. You’re busy making tough decisions, controlling the budget and keeping everyone on task. And, unfortunately, making personal connections with project stakeholders often takes a backseat. Forging that trusted relationship is challenging. But it’s not impossible.
Create a stakeholder guide and keep it current
You don’t need a stakeholder guide to figure out who cares about the work you’re doing. But creating one will free up your mind and remind you of the details that would otherwise be lost in the busyness of the work. Take time, before the project intensifies, to create this key document that will help you from start-to-finish. It will contain everything you need to know about the people that will help make, or break, your project. Details like: stakeholder name, role on the project, preferred communication style and frequency, influence and interest level and status (happy, content, angry). Let this be the guide that allows you to focus your time on other parts of the project while keeping you connected with all the people that will make it successful. It’s a document that must remain evergreen. As you progress from project initiation and definition to execution, control and closing, keep the stakeholder guide fresh. Each person wants a different level of involvement. A stakeholder guide will remind you how often to update everyone and, depending on how well each one feels the work is going, how sensitive to be. Open up the file when you start your computer each morning and keep a printed copy on your desk. It will help you remember the people that matter, whether it’s your developer, a key client contact or the project sponsor.
Communicate in a stakeholder’s preferred style
In business, there are people who like chatting while others prefer working through email, text and instant message. Some like wordy, expansive updates and others need you to give them a five-sentence summary. As you get to know each stakeholder, figure out how to get the most out of each interaction. And how do you figure that out? With most people, simply pay attention to how they talk to you. Does your project sponsor call you with questions or do you have an email waiting for you in the morning? Does your lead developer stop by your desk to talk about an issue or is your instant message window constantly blinking throughout the day? You’ll likely send weekly emails or host conference calls for the group to give everyone the high-level update. But, by altering your one-on-one communications to best fit the person you’re talking with, you’ll get your questions answered with much less back-and-forth. And you’ll avoid the messiness of mismatched communication styles.
Remember stakeholders’ project interest and influence
Everyone involved in a project has something at stake—obvious by the term stakeholder. Part of your stakeholder guide will identify each person with a different level of influence and interest. Not each stakeholder is created equal. Although a project sponsor—sometimes called an executive sponsor—helps kick start the project and holds a lot of power on its direction, he or she typically isn’t interested in the day-to-day happenings of the work. On the other end of the spectrum are people like a quality assurance tester or worksite electrician who are in the weeds of the work and hang on every result. And while it’s easy to say you know who cares about what, writing it down and reminding yourself from time-to-time, will help you put the right amount of time and attention into each relationship. It’s hard to put each stakeholder in a box but you can loosely categorize each one to help focus your attention:
- High Interest-High Influence: keep them close
- High Interest-Low Influence: keep them informed
- Low Interest- High Influence: keep them happy
- Low Interest-Low Influence: keep them in the periphery
Forge a personal connection
Whether you’re implementing a new software package, building a sparkling new, move-in ready commercial property or managing a political campaign, professionalism and practicality often stifles personal connections. A project—no matter its objective—requires a collection of people with a variety of talents and experiences to come together. It feels like you can’t afford the time it takes to relate to your internal and external stakeholders. But putting in the extra time to get to know everyone, especially during project initiation and definition, will pay off. Learn about your client contacts’ family life or where they’re headed for vacation. Take your teammates out for lunch or even a movie. Crack some jokes, talk about your kids or share a funny link—YouTube videos and gifs are free and quick to find. Even simple things like asking how conference call attendees are doing before you get down to business makes a difference. Experts talk about the art and science of project management. The best PM artists can charm a client, lift the spirits of a discouraged co-worker and turn a group of individuals into a lean, mean project team.
The extra step will put you miles ahead
You can be a good project manager without focusing much time on stakeholder management. But a personal touch, a pat on the back and a smile changes the atmosphere of a project. And the ability to not overwhelm or underwhelm stakeholders with information can make all the difference in the world. The extra step puts you in a different realm of project management excellence.