4 Steps to Effectively Engage Stakeholders in Non-profit Project Management

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By Mario Trentim

All projects and organizations struggle with getting stakeholder engagement right. Unfortunately, there are few guidelines, techniques, or case studies available to overcome this common obstacle . A successful project depends on stakeholders’ expectations and perceptions and satisfying these expectations is crucial. Most of the time, stakeholder engagement is considered synonymous with soft skills rather than methodology, which leaves engagement up to chance and the luck of having a charismatic project manager.

But stakeholder engagement does not need to be left to chance! Here are 4 steps to improve stakeholder engagement and obtain valuable support in non-profit sector projects.

Figure 1 – Four steps to engage stakeholders effectively (Trentim, 2015)

 

#1 Establish What Results Your Stakeholders Care About

The first step is to identify stakeholders, document their expectations and engage them in a collaborative effort to define project purpose and value propositions. Uncovering needs and aligning realistic expectations right from the start is paramount.

To identify stakeholders, there are different tools and techniques, such as brainstorming, organizational analysis, categories, checklists, lessons learned, historical information, benchmarking and expert opinion.

One of the most effective tools is to create and update a Stakeholder Breakdown Structure with common categories or types of stakeholders. In Figure 2, you find a suggestion of stakeholder breakdown structure for an IT project.

Figure 2 – Stakeholder breakdown structure (example)

 

#2 Develop A Plan to Deliver to those Expectations

Once you have a long list of potential stakeholders, it is possible to analyze and prioritize based on importance and influence. Sometimes, there is a large number of stakeholders and it is not possible to involve all of them in the same way.

That’s when analysis and categories are useful. Based on common interests, individual and group contributions, the project manager can decide on the best strategies to involve and engage persons, groups and organizations.

There are various tools and techniques to collect requirements and define scope. We will discuss some of them in a future article. If you’re curious, take a look at problem structuring methods, collaborative approaches to combine different perspectives into a “big picture” in problem solving.

 

#3 Work Your Plan!

     Now that you have your project plan in place with all the input and help from your stakeholders, it is time to put engagement strategies to work. Project execution is always challenging because it depends on a variety of factors.

It is not uncommon that stakeholders lose interest along the way because they engage in new ventures, raising issues in commitment, buy-in, participation and contributions that were agreed in the beginning.

Never take planning and commitment for granted. Always confirm along the way and frequently review the stakeholder register for new stakeholders and to analyze changes in attitude.

 

#4 Follow-up and get Feedback (Please Keep in Touch)!

     In daily activities of running a project, it is easy to forget the importance of keeping in touch and getting feedback. It is essential to have a process in place to review stakeholders’ satisfaction at every phase or milestone. This prevents problems from growing bigger and jeopardizing the end of your project.

What challenges have you faced in creating stakeholder engagement, and how have you managed them?? What are the main challenges of project management in nonprofit organizations? Any suggestions of tools and techniques we could add to those steps? Please leave your comments below.

 

Posted by Mario Trentim on: July 29, 2016 07:06 AM | Permalink

Comments (15)

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I appreciate reading about stakeholders in non-profit organizations, in which a have many project management opportunities.

Every project manager must have to be in a non-profit organisations project volunteerly.

Thanks, David. There are many opportunities to help NGOs (and the world) with (or through) project management.

Savas, I agree with you. Volunteering helped me in getting different perspectives through various assignments in NGOs. Besides hand-on experience, volunteering provides opportunities to mentor / coach and also to be mentored and coached along the way, and other learning opportunities. I'm thankful for that.

I am currently working with a medical nonprofit, and stakeholder management is the biggest challenge. I love that you identified "influencers" under the types of stakeholders. We have long-serving members who direct product development, technology adoption, and content.

I was brought on to save a project mid-stream, and the responsibility of managing these stakeholders was avoided like the plague!

Thanks Mario for this interesting post. In some countries with specific business culture I worked with, managing stakeholders and keeping them 'happy' is considered prime, and come even before the other standard objectives of finishing on-time and on-budget.
My main concern is keeping both the client and the team happy. If this is achieved, almost every other issue, challenge and risk can be managed by and with these allies.

Hi Saadi, I strongly agree that we have to satisfy the needs of the most important stakeholders. We know it is almost impossible to satisfy all stakeholders, but project managers have to work hard on finding a better balance among benefits and dis-benefits. Take a look at this article about satisfying stakeholders:

http://www.projectmanagement.com/blog-post/14266/Want-Satisfied-Stakeholders--Guide-Them-Through-a-Learning-Process

Hi Robert, thanks for your comments. Stakeholder management is a big challenge indeed. You might want to take a look at this webinar:

http://www.projectmanagement.com/videos/294262/Managing-Stakeholders-as-Clients

Excellent article Mario.
You mention several times "manage" expectations. Is there enough "space" for stakeholders to feed back comments ? And are those comments properly analysed to and used as input for improvements in later stages ???
Take care,

K

Hi Kris! You're right, I over used "managed"... should have thought about it in the review process. Actually, I think we cannot manage stakeholders neither their expectations. We can understand, influence and persuade. Paraphrasing Stephen Covey, you can manage assets, cash etc. You should lead people.

Feedback, keeping in touch and finding the right balance to get stakeholders involved is crucial.

Regards,
Mario

Excellent article, Mario.

Would consider some stakeholder analysis before collecting requirements, so you can select the right stakeholders top elicit requirements from.
Also, asking for requirements to a stakeholder not yet considered might open up new venues for obtaining influence and support for the project as well enhance the benefits.

I always encourage the thought of selecting the right sponsor.

Great article Mario, thanks for sharing.
We use Stakeholder Mapping with clients, as well as using mapping for a whole variety of project work - stakeholder analysis, requirements gathering, scope, work breakdown structure, problem solving, retrospectives and review, etc, etc - a hugely powerful, engaging and collaborative approach.
Interesting article also on Stakeholder Management at: http://www.barvas.com/capabilities/stakeholder-management/

Thanks again.

Hi Thomas, thanks for your comment.

I usually start stakeholder identification as soon as possible. That said, I conduct some stakeholder identification during pre-project activities, feasibility studies, etc. Then, during project initiation, I gather more information about stakeholders, identifying more stakeholders also.

I believe that engaging stakeholders properly helps us in managing the project for them.

It is not about stakeholder management or managing stakeholders so that they don't disturbe the project. On the contrary, it is about "managing for stakeholders". In other words, managing the project to suit the most important stakeholders and their needs. Project management is about involving stakeholders in joint value creation.

Sponsorship, as you mentioned, is extremely important. Organisations are adopting best practices related to governance, portfolio management and sponsorship, which is good. However, a project manager will be responsible for the project outcomes, even with poor sponsorship.

Take a look at a bad sponsor true story here: https://www.projectmanagement.com/blog-post/12918/A-True-Story-of-a-Bad-Sponsor

Mario

Hi Jamie, and thanks for your comment. Great article you mentioned. Problem structuring methods and other collaborative approaches are usually very helpful in engaging stakeholders effectively.

Great article, clear and concise. Here is the direct link to the tools and techniques for identifying stakeholders http://www.stakeholdermap.com/stakeholder-definition.html

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