All knowledge areas are important but some are more important than others

From the Easy in theory, difficult in practice Blog
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My musings on project management, project portfolio management and change management. I'm a firm believer that a pragmatic approach to organizational change that addresses process & technology, but primarily, people will maximize chances for success. This blog contains articles which I've previously written and published as well as new content.

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I am occasionally asked by learners in my project management fundamental classes which is the most important knowledge area in the PMBOK® framework. My usual response is to say that each knowledge area is important but the emphasis and level of effort spent on each will be vary depending on the specific context of a given project.

But if I was forced to choose one PMBOK® knowledge area to recognize over all others, it is Project Stakeholder Management.

This choice might surprise some of my readers, especially given how much I've written about Project Risk Management. After all, Project Stakeholder Management is the newest knowledge area, and is covered in fewer pages in the PMBOK® Guide than the others. The triple constraint doesn't include stakeholders so why would I emphasize it more than scope, schedule or cost management?

One reason for this is that knowing who your key stakeholders are as well as understanding their attitudes towards and influence over your project are key inputs into many of the processes from all of the other knowledge areas. This is why Identify Stakeholders is one of only two processes in the Initiating Process Group.

If you have been involved with project work for a while, you will have been part of or at least heard from teams who ended up coming in over budget, behind schedule or delivering less than was approved, but as a result of effective stakeholder management, the project was still deemed a success. You might have experienced the opposite with a project which was completed on time, within budget, and with scope delivered within quality specifications, but the dissatisfaction of a key stakeholder resulted in everyone feeling the project had tanked.

One of the reasons that many of us entered the project management profession was that we wanted to continue to develop our skills. While we can get better at scheduling, budgeting or any other hard skills, there is much greater potential for long term learning by focusing on soft skills. Honing the multiple competencies required to manage stakeholders provides us with a career long development road map and the returns on this investment are likely to be much greater than with hard skills.

Advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence will negatively impact many current jobs. I don't worry too much about the project management profession. So long as project work is done by and for human beings, the need for effective stakeholder management will continue to be a hedge against automation-driven job losses.

They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel - Carl W. Buehner

Posted on: June 02, 2019 07:00 AM | Permalink

Comments (18)

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I completely agree with you on this... effective Stakeholder Management can save a project from disaster. Also stakeholder management can help overcome many unknown risks.

Very true. I love it. Stakeholders management is really very important for project success and time it is very difficult knowledge area too in its real implementation. Success of many knowledge area largely depends on effective implementation of stakeholders engagement as you indicated.

Thank you Kiron for sharing very interesting post.

Hi Kiron, very valuable and well said.

Super write-up. Totally agree. And you know what they say - perception is reality

Yes. it is reality. I agree with your points. thanks.

Absolutely agree with you Kiron, no project can be successful without the satisfaction and approval of key stakeholders. Thank you so much for sharing such an important contribution.

Perfect. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this

the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that is has taken place - George Bernard Shaw...….
if you can't explain is simply, you don't understand it well enough - Albert Einstein.....
however .....
when your work speaks for itself, don't interrupt - Henry Kaiser
A great piece Kiron, thank you for sharing

Great analysis. Very important to improve our soft skills. Thanks for sharing.

Kiron, thanks for sharing valued topic.

Bingo Kiron. Stakeholder management is all about identifying and cementing decision-making ownership. Without those key stakeholders agreeing to take on that responsibility, the project will be an orphan and suffer accordingly. SM is THE key success factor!

Spot on with your fifth paragraph where you linked the influence of stakeholders to the success or failure of a project. Project Management is actually an art and a science - stakeholder management is more of art. I have never seen the same profile of stakeholders in the projects I have managed which partly makes each project unique in my experience. The implication is what worked with a group of stakeholders may not work for another and this is the challenge for project managers. A project manager will need to constantly adapt to meet the needs of different stakeholders as they come. Which is why experience, more than knowledge, counts for project managers.

It almost hurts me to say so, but I have to agree. Unfortunately, people are not the rational agents we would have them be. Stakeholders can make or break your project depending on how they feel about it or about you. It seems ungrateful either way. You can be very proud of a project that would be considered succesfull on any objective metrics and have that project deemed a failure because of the negative perception of sometime only one person. This makes one feel robbed of a success. Conversely, you can have a project that did not perform so well according to the triple constraint be considered a huge success because of the way stakeholders feel about it or about you. Then you feel a little bit like a fraud. I'm not sure if this speeks more to the importance of stakeholder management or to the need for more fact/data-based decision-making and evaluation of projects. Probably both. I know I'd be glad for more rationality, that would increase my trust in humankind. One of the above comment says it all, perception is reality, and boy does that suck sometimes!

I completely agree since..... Stakeholder management is a most critical component of project management to the successful delivery of any project.

@Kiron Bondale: Thanks a million for this terrific post.
While fresh project managers tend to focus on the the Triple Constraint Knowledge Areas and on Risk, I completely agree with you that Project Stakeholder management is critical for project success. I would also add Project Communication Management, and Project Procurement Management as being close to Stakeholder in terms of importance.
I'm sure you will continue contributing your expertise for the benefit of our dynamic PM community on this platform.

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