By Lynda Bourne
Project stakeholders can be helpful, obstructionist and almost everything in between. The good news is that how you deal with most stakeholders is largely up to you! The only certainty is your stakeholders are not about to go away and leave you in peace.
As you’ll see below, there are three basic ways to deal with stakeholders.
1) Crisis Management
With this approach, you basically choose to ignore the stakeholder problem until something dramatic happens—and then you react to deal with what has become a crisis!
Doing nothing may seem like a good idea when confronted with all of the other demands of the project, but this is misguided. When the crisis erupts, you are reacting to someone else’s agenda. This places you in a vulnerable situation. The atmosphere is typically hostile, and the time and effort needed to recover the situation can easily exceed the time and effort needed to employ alternative options.
2) Stakeholder Management
This approach is proactive rather than reactive. By proactively managing your stakeholder community, you will eliminate most of the crises and be in a much stronger position to deal with any issues that do “blow up.”
Stakeholder management involves identifying the members of your stakeholder community, recognizing their needs and expectations, and implementing a planned communication strategy to maximize their support for the project and minimize any opposition.
Through regular, planned communication activities, you seek to identify issues and problems before they become significant. You take appropriate steps to exploit opportunities and defend against emerging threats and problems. As with any management function, the manager seeks to control and optimize the situation.
This is essentially a “push” process and includes elements such as reporting, public relations (PR) and, in larger projects and programs, may extend to customer relationship management (CRM).
3) Stakeholder Engagement
This approach requires a paradigm shift in thinking! Rather than trying to manage stakeholders to achieve the predetermined outcome your project was established to deliver, stakeholder engagement invites stakeholders to become part of the process designed to fulfill their requirements.
The solution delivered through the project evolves and adapts based on the interaction between the project team and its key stakeholders. Opening up to stakeholders and inviting them to be part of the solution requires letting go of the concept of “one correct solution.”
In place of the answer, the project team and stakeholders work together to develop an agreed-upon outcome.
The concept of stakeholder engagement is a central tenet of the Agile Manifesto. But agile approaches aren’t the only way to open up the power of stakeholder engagement. Many modern forms of project contracts, typically used on major construction and engineering contracts, recognize that collaboration between key stakeholders reduces risk and increases the value of the project for everyone.
Alliance contracts, early contractor involvement (ECI) contracts, and various forms of partnerships and supply chain arrangements all seek to replace the command-and-control management approach to delivering defined outcomes, based on inflexible contract conditions, with collaborative working arrangements focused on achieving a mutually beneficial outcome.
Breaking habits formed over decades of “hard contracting,” and the almost routine litigation that follows, is not easy. But it does seem to be worth the effort.
Numerous surveys (primarily in the U.K. construction sector) have consistently shown that the client gets a better outcome for less cost and the contractors make more profits working in a collaborative environment where everyone is pulling in the same direction. Similar results have emerged from projects employing agile approaches, where the magic trifecta of “better, cheaper and quicker” seems to be regularly achieved.
So my question to you is: Are you still operating in crisis management mode when it comes to stakeholders? Or have you moved toward effective stakeholder management? And are you willing to take the plunge and go for full-on stakeholder engagement?
Stakeholder engagement is not an easy option. It requires a range of skills quite different from traditional stakeholder management, but the results are definitely worth the effort! The beauty of stakeholder engagement is that you open up to your stakeholders and allow them to help you successfully deliver their requirements.
It’s a real win-win outcome.
The Three Levels of Success
Categories: Project Failure
By Rex M. Holmlin
As project managers, we would like our projects to be successful. Successful projects are more fun and, as a general proposition, our bosses like it better when our projects are successful. But how can we set our projects up for success?
A helpful first step is to define what success is. For many of us, that means meeting scope, cost and schedule targets. However, I will argue that there are three levels of project success we should think about:
1. Project-level success
2. User-level project success
3. Enterprise-level project success
For a project to be truly successful, we must be successful on each level.
Project-level success is the area most of us are most familiar with. Success at this level means we meet our scope, cost and schedule objectives. When we meet these objectives, many of us are looking for a ticker tape parade down the hallway. However, we are only looking at part of the success equation.
User-level success means delivering the benefits that the users desire from the project. While our users, and other stakeholders, may be interested in scope, cost and schedule objectives, the truth is we can meet project-level objectives and still have a project that does not deliver the benefits the users and stakeholders were looking for.
At the enterprise level, senior leaders in our organization are interested in having the projects that we execute make a positive contribution to key metrics at the enterprise level (profit targets are one example). We can meet project-level objectives, but not make a contribution to key enterprise-level metrics.
In a recent webinar, I asked the participants whether their organizations defined success at each of these levels. Approximately two-thirds of attendees felt their organizations had well-defined project-level objectives, but less than half of those felt their organizations set clear and well-defined user/stakeholder- and enterprise-level objectives
It is often quite challenging to meet scope, cost and schedule objectives. However, our projects will still fail if we do not deliver the benefits users and other stakeholders desire and make a contribution to key enterprise-level metrics. As project managers, we need to ask questions about the benefits users desire, and understand the key enterprise-level metrics we can contribute to. The more specific we are, the greater the chance we will have a successful project. When it comes to project success, ignorance about the other levels of project success is not bliss.
Please drop me a note and let me know if your organization defines all three levels of project success.
Transitioning from small to large projects can be daunting, but big projects are not necessarily more problematic. You are still using the same leadership skills. You should be continuing with the same oversight on details and risks. You should remain constant with communication flows—going back and forth with stakeholders.
The main area of concern for either size project is the scale you use. Here are three areas of measurement to pay particular attention to when moving to big projects.
Your workload will be different. You may choose to use fewer tools for a small project, while in a large project, the tools you choose to use will have more criteria to include. For example, you may not need a fully elaborated communications plan for a small project. For a large project, however, such items as messages to stakeholders will most likely have more approval reviews before distribution, and you will need to monitor this more closely.
Project tasks will be viewed differently. The project plan could increase from 50 items to hundreds with more responsible resources to track. Dependencies, delays, milestones and deadlines could come from directions requiring more consideration. Plan negotiations of these more carefully, because Impacts could be more detrimental in a large project.
The success of a project is worthwhile to the stakeholders no matter the size of the project. However, the budget and the planned vs. actual actions will hold more significance in a larger project. There will also be cause to celebrate a win for any size project. But in a large project, success or nonsuccess will most likely be more visible and hold a heavier weight. Be prepared to conduct more testing and verifications.
Ask yourself if less is more to be concerned about, or if more is less to be concerned about. Your answer should be in the measurement of the end result.
What do you find important to not overlook when transitioning from a small project to a large project and vice versa?
By Wanda Curlee
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) oversees the Internet’s system of domain names, which include .com, .edu, .gov and .mil, among others. More broadly, the not-for-profit organization aims to keep the Internet “secure, stable and interoperable,” while promoting competition.
Unfortunately, for several reasons ICANN is in the midst of organizational change. ICANN’s current president and CEO announced in May that he’ll be leaving the organization next March, and the search for a new CEO will start soon. More countries are voicing their desire for free or low-cost Internet access and more domain name categories, while pushing their agendas. The disruptive potential of the Internet of Things is making ICANN leadership think as well.
All this change is driving change within ICANN—and creating a wonderful opportunity for portfolio managers.
ICANN needs to focus on strategic goals, which need to tie back to its charter. A strong portfolio manager should be able to assist the new CEO in pursuing and achieving strategic alignment. The portfolio manager will focus country representatives and those that work within ICANN to ensure that projects and programs meet a strategic need.
The organization may require more than one portfolio manager. There may be one master portfolio with several sub-portfolios focusing on specific strategies or goals. Alternatively, there may be several portfolios reporting straight into the C-suite.
The new CEO and other executives will provide strategic direction, and the portfolio manager should have their ear. While executives resolve strategic issues and travel to give presentations, work with governments and testify before government agencies, the portfolio manager is focused on driving strategic initiatives to the finish line.
The portfolio manager is the person at the helm turning strategic goals into results while making course adjustments when necessary. This is accomplished with a healthy governance structure, an understanding of the industry and environmental factors, and constant communication with the C-suite sponsor and major stakeholders.
I’ve focused on ICANN here, but this scenario is largely true for many organizations operating in the dynamic IT and telecommunications industries. The CEO and other executives' suite collectively serve as the captain, while the portfolio manager provides guidance to maintain a healthy bottom line while still achieving the organization’s strategic objectives.
by Dave Wakeman
If you read this blog regularly, you may have noticed that I’ve been focusing on strategy a lot lately. The reason is simple: The alignment between projects and strategy tends to be a significant driver of organizational success.
For this post, I want to focus on a crucial figure when it comes to alignment: the sponsor. In working to align projects and strategy, the sponsor really is the key to whether or not your efforts will be successful.
For this reason, it’s essential that project managers candidly communicate with sponsors. You need to understand how the project fits into the organization and how you can position your project in a way that will deliver on your organization’s strategy.
Here are three tips for optimizing sponsor relations.
1. Keep Pushing for Answers: We’ve all dealt with projects and clients that give us some variation of the classic line from our parents: “Because I said so.” That may have worked for our parents, but it won’t work too well for our careers.
As a proactive leader in your organization, you need to work with your sponsor to understand how the project fits into the organization’s strategy. For some of you, that may seem difficult, but if you frame the questions around wanting to understand where you may be challenged for resources or time, you can usually get the conversation started.
Other questions that will help you discover how well your project aligns with the organization’s goals are:
2. Communicate Consistently: One of the big challenges of aligning strategy and projects is that you’re busy, your sponsor is busy, and your team is busy. This is no excuse for not communicating consistently. In fact, a constant stream of demands is a reason you should be communicating consistently—that way you ensure that no one’s efforts are wasted on something that is no longer relevant.
To make sure you communicate consistently with your sponsor, use the following framework:
3. Embrace Change: I’m sure that at one time or another we’ve all felt humiliated and downtrodden because our most dear project has been shut down for no discernable reason and we can’t get an explanation from anyone.
These situations are challenging. But you owe it to yourself, your team and your sponsor to embrace change. You also need to proactively address the change, positive or negative, with your sponsor. This will help you gain information that will allow you to make better decisions. But it will also encourage an open dialogue with your sponsor.
Also, proactively dealing with change can be extremely helpful in assisting your sponsor on new courses of action based upon the new information and the new realities that your projects face.
To accelerate your ability to embrace change, ask questions like:
I’m curious to find out how you handle these kind of strategic communications with your sponsors. Let me know in a comment below!
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