By Rex Holmlin
I teach project management to undergraduate and graduate students, and recently one of my students asked me which knowledge area was the most important.
My response: All the knowledge areas are important. Depending on the project and organizations involved, we would use more or less of the processes and tools, but most likely we would use all the knowledge areas in some way to help ensure project success.
But as I reflected on the question later, as well as my own nearly four decades of experience as a project manager, I realized my answer wasn’t great. In retrospect, I should have said Stakeholder Management is the most important knowledge area.
By training, I am an engineer. I love cost estimating and scheduling. But as important as these topics are, the source of most problems on projects is people. And the best way to avoid project problems is through the people involved in the project.
Therefore, paying attention to the four processes of stakeholder management can pay significantly more dividends to a project than a schedule or cost estimate.
When it comes to stakeholder management, I believe we shortchange our projects most often in two areas.The first is identification of stakeholders.
I am reminded of the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Early in the film, train robbers Butch and Sundance are being chased by a posse. They stop to catch their breath, hoping they have lost the posse. When the lawmen appear over the ridge still on their trail, Butch and the Kid look at each other and say, “Who are those guys?”
This is the key question with the identification of stakeholders. We as project managers need to do a very thorough job of identifying the people, groups and organizations not only involved in the project, but who might be affected by it.
The second aspect of stakeholder management where project managers often fall short is stakeholder analysis. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge(PMBOK® Guide)includes some great stakeholder analysis tools, but I recently came across an outstanding academic article(PDF link) by John Bryson of the University of Minnesota about stakeholder analysis.
It provides step-by-step instructions on 15 stakeholder analysis tools and techniques that can really take your understanding of the stakeholders in your project to the next level. I think you’ll find it both interesting and a potential source of tools to help you avoid a lot of the headaches we often encounter with project stakeholders.
Which knowledge area do you think is the most important?