Project Management

How do you handle unresponsive key project stakeholders?

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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It is a common challenge for anyone who has managed projects for a meaningful amount of time. One or more of your key stakeholders who are integral to the successful completion of the project appears unwilling to engage as expected. It could be the project sponsor who ignores your pleas for assistance with a project issue, the functional manager who turns a blind eye to your requests for staffing support or the executive who never seems to have the time to review and sign off on a key deliverable.

How should we handle this situation? As usual, "It depends!" is the correct, yet, most unhelpful answer!

While the response varies depending on the scenario, we need to understand the root cause for the behavior and then assess the range of options available to us within the specific context we are facing.

Four causes for unresponsiveness are:

  1. The stakeholder has insufficient capacity to do what we are asking of them
  2. The stakeholder doesn't appreciate the importance or urgency of the request
  3. The stakeholder has a hidden or visible agenda which is counter to the request
  4. The stakeholder is being influenced or compelled by something else within the system in which they are working to not meet our needs

If the stakeholder isn't being responsive to an urgent request they are rarely going to tell you the real reason why. You will have to do some digging to determine the truth. It is fairly easy for someone to say they are too busy or they don't see why your request is important when their real reason is they actually don't want your project to succeed. Or, they might take the easy route and pass the buck ("I don't have the authority") when it could be one of the other reasons.

Even still, once you've identified the root cause, it may not be easy or even possible to implement an effective countermeasure. For example, if you are delayed on the sign off from a key stakeholder, there is no way to proceed without that key stakeholder's approval and they are unable or unwilling to appoint a proxy, your project will be delayed. You might have done a great job of informing all other stakeholders in a timely manner about the cause and impact of the issue, but if schedule performance is one of your project's success criteria, it won't be met.

This is why the scope of risk management is so critical. Identifying critical dependencies, failure points in decision processes and stakeholder unresponsiveness issues from past projects can help us to be better prepared. It can also be helpful to identify common decisions over the life of a project and define the decision processes and exception paths up front before we find ourselves in trouble.

You can't control other people. But you can proactively plan your reactions to them.

Posted on: January 12, 2020 07:00 AM | Permalink

Comments (15)

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Dear Kiron
Interesting perspective on the topic: How do you handle unresponsive key project stakeholders? "

Thanks for sharing

This is one of the situations where critical thinking is important to help determine the root cause of the problem.

In any case, your suggestion should always be taken into consideration:
"Identifying critical dependencies, failure points in decision processes and stakeholder unresponsiveness issues from past projects can help us to be better prepared. It can also be helpful to identify common decisions over the life of a project and define the decision processes and exception paths up front before we find ourselves in trouble "

Dear Kiron
It really is a big challenge dealing with managers and other stakeholders who have hidden agendas.

Thanks Luis! Getting stakeholders to surface or share their hidden agendas is one of the tricky talents which good PMs develop over time.

The fun part. 🌝

Thanks, Kiron!

Good points Kiron, I face this all the time and can’t remember I worked on a project where there wasn’t a similar case or two. It’s almost inevitable.

Thanks Andrew!

Thanks Rami, I might turn this into a series of articles about commonly experienced PM irritants.

Kiron, I think this is a good idea. Cheers. !

Commonly experienced PM irritants? You might wind up with an encyclopedia!

Thanks Abolfazl.

Thanks Stéphane - that would actually be perfect since I'm always complaining about insufficient ideas for new articles!

Interesting post Kiron. In my current program, it mainly comes down to a capacity issue, but there are also pockets of resistance.

Thank you,Kiron, for addressing the elephant in the room topic: hidden agendas!

Thanks alot, Kiron for expossing real hinderance in project life, if not adequately addressed at initial stage.

Dear Kiron,

This is a topic I'm glad you touched on and I feel its something that needs to be explored in greater detail. The 'passing the buck' attitude is something that we all have experienced and trying to nail a person intrinsic to the decision making process of the project can cause major roadblocks and delays to the project. This is especially difficult if you are caught in a chain of decisions where you can only proceed if you the get the go ahead from someone else who in turn is dependent on someone else and so on up the decision making hierarchy. If only there was a way to short circuit this process.

Daire

Previously used a Commitment charter to identify any workload / support clashes - a picture of the real story...

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