The Project Management Institute offers some sobering news: Most projects fail to meet their business objectives. Numerous factors contribute to project failure, but one of the most common explanations is ineffective stakeholder management. Too often, project managers fail to include essential stakeholders, don’t take a strategic approach to stakeholder management or communicate ideas ineffectively with stakeholders. Change management experts emphasize the importance of engaging stakeholders appropriately (i.e., in a way that maximizes stakeholders contribution, while minimizing the time commitment) throughout a project’s life cycle.
“Somebody at the higher levels of the organization needs to own the project from start to finish and be personally vested in its success. When [a project] has no clear head, things tend to fall apart,” says Casey Halloran, Co-founder and CMO, Costa Rican Vacations and Panama Luxury Vacations. Stakeholders should be considered an essential part of a project’s success and a valuable resource. They can provide ideas, information, focus, creativity, strategy, solutions, and opinions vital to a project’s success. More than that, stakeholders can provide direction and resources that will be critical throughout your project.
Stakeholder management should be a priority throughout a project so key players have the information and resources they need to help the project along. In addition, working successfully with stakeholders gains their respect and opens opportunities to collaborate with them in the future.
Getting Buy-in from Stakeholders
How do you gain stakeholder support and successfully manage stakeholder involvement? We recommend a simple 3-step process.
Step 1: Identify Your Stakeholders & Champions
Step 1 starts before the project begins. It’s critical to know who the project impacts. Ask yourself, “Who has an interest in the outcome of this training?” Your answer could include the CEO, company executives, business partners, consumers and customers, suppliers, your team, employees, your boss, SMEs, IT, marketing, etc. Be sure to consider people who will deliver the training, people the training will affect and others who have an interest in the training.
A careful analysis of your stakeholders will allow you to detect and avoid potential misunderstandings and potential opposition. One benefit of identifying stakeholders is that you will also identify potential project champions. According to smallbiztrends.com, the project champion is a project protector who generates the organizational support and resources necessary for success.
Champions are stakeholders who can work with the project team to ensure the vision is translated successfully, advocate for the project with upper management when concerns are raised, think of different approaches to problems, and allocate internal resources for the project.
Step 2: Make a Stakeholder Priority Map
Step 2 of this three-step process deals with priority maps. Knowing who your stakeholders and champions are is not enough. You now need to prioritize the contribution of each stakeholder. The goal is to identify your allies and potential opposition so you can create effective strategies for working with both. Identify the relationships, coalitions, conflicts, and priorities that will help or impede your project.
Martin Webster at Leadership Thoughts recommends the following ideas for prioritizing your stakeholders:
Arrange them based on similar needs. Rebecca Merrett at CIO.com warns that grouping stakeholders into broad categories could indicate you don’t understand your stakeholders’ needs and priorities, making it difficult to engage with them effectively.
Rank stakeholders based on importance to the project. This step helps you identify how important each stakeholder segment is to the success of the project. Questions to consider when ranking stakeholders include the following:
- What is their interest in the project (financial, educational, organization, etc.)?
- What do they see as the project’s advantages and disadvantages?
- How can they influence project success?
- What is the ideal role for each stakeholder? How could they best contribute to the project?
- Here is a table that identifies potential roles of various training project stakeholders.
To gather this information, spend time talking to your stakeholders. Ask them directly about their interest in your project, the level of involvement they’d like to have, and the advantages and disadvantages they see with the project. Start thinking how their reasoning could begin to create project breakthroughs for the company. Then use this information to create a map that provides a clear visual overview of your stakeholders. This creates a level of self-awareness and understanding on the part of the stakeholders because the map will explain each of their customized project related roles.
The stakeholder map below, developed by John Glover at Kahootz, provides a simple framework to categorize stakeholders based on their influence over the project’s outcomes and interest in the project.
Step 3: Develop a Strategy for Collaboration and Communication with Stakeholders
Step 3 is all about resolving conflict, creating impact, working under pressure, and communicating with stakeholders with meaning. Different stakeholders require different levels of involvement in the project. You can meet these differing needs with a strategic and consistent engagement approach. This includes conducting a cost-benefit analysis to determine which resources to engage with and how much time to spend on that engagement.
To create consistency, embed engagement and communication into everyday business activities, such as management meetings and performance reviews. This means developing a communication framework and communicating consistent messages.
For example, Glover recommends tying your communication and collaboration framework with the stakeholder influence and interest map you created in Step 2.
Glover provides the following matrix for classifying stakeholders:
Here are the strategies he recommends for each stakeholder influence/interest combination:
- High Influence, Low Interest: Document reviews, links to articles, project blogs and targeted alerts
- High Influence, High Interest: Task assignments, wikis, document co-authoring, team management
- Low Influence, Low Interest: Tweets, information updates, YouTube channel
- Low Influence, High Interest: Discussion forums, online surveys, ideation, formal consultations, analysis and reporting
You may want to expand this framework with a more comprehensive collaboration and communication plan. For example, NERRA, a national science organization, recommends developing a Stakeholder Communication Plan (you can find examples of plan templates here.) First NERRA recommends that one creates a conceptual overview of their stakeholders and their stakeholders’ project involvement, then create stakeholder profiles. After the profiles are made, they walk people through the planning and development stages. They also have editable templates for every step of the process. NERRA focuses on the management of coastal environments, but their plan templates can apply across a variety of industries..
By following these three steps, you will have a strategic and manageable plan for turning project allies into champions and for keeping detractors from derailing your project.
Change management experts have discovered people are much more likely to accept or advocate for a project if they feel involved in decision making. Maintain ongoing dialogue with stakeholders throughout the project. Don’t aim only for buy-in—encourage your stakeholders’ active involvement in the training project. Make the outcome matter as much to them as it does to you. Also, be sure to include them in the celebrations when the project succeeds!
A last word: Trust is essential to stakeholder management, particularly when your project involves a significant change for your organization. But be warned, putting an overly positive spin on a project can backfire because it diminishes stakeholder trust. Instead, the project team should be clear about benefits and risks and identify clearly stakeholders’ role in mitigating these risks and enhancing benefits.
By delivering honest, transparent communication throughout a project, you develop credibility and a positive reputation with your stakeholders. This legacy will serve you now and in future projects.