'I Am Not A Stakeholder, And I Don't Need Managing!'

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at markmullaly.com.

Project managers have a stakeholder management problem.

Or, to be more precise, they have a problem with a lot of stakeholders who endlessly resist being managed. The entire exercise, to put it very simply, is tantamount to attempting to herd cats. Only with more hissing and sharper claws.

Ask a project manager, and they will tell you that stakeholder management is important. Ask them what that means, and you are likely to hear statements along the lines of identifying stakeholders, understanding interests, gathering requirements and maintaining awareness through the projects.

This is all well and good, so far as it goes. When push really comes to shove, however, stakeholder management often turns into some combination of constraining requirements, making compromises, finding tradeoffs and keeping stakeholders happy. The problem is that the first three activities rarely result in the fourth.

Ask a stakeholder what stakeholder management means, on the other hand, and you will probably trigger a font of invective. Once made intelligible, you'll often hear phrases like "kept in the dark", "being coddled", "manipulated" and "not listened to." All of which, to be clear, seems to be a long way away from being kept happy.

So why the gap? Where did it come from? How did it all get this ugly? And what's to be done …

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I hope, when they die, cartoon characters have to answer for their sins.

- Jack Handey

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