Stakeholder Victory, Without Battle

From the Voices on Project Management Blog
by , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Voices on Project Management offers insights, tips, advice and personal stories from project managers in different regions and industries. The goal is to get you thinking, and spark a discussion. So, if you read something that you agree with--or even disagree with--leave a comment.

About this Blog

RSS

View Posts By:

Cameron McGaughy
Marian Haus
Lynda Bourne
Lung-Hung Chou
Bernadine Douglas
Peter Tarhanidis
Vivek Prakash
Conrado Morlan
David Wakeman
Jen Skrabak
Kevin Korterud
Mario Trentim
Roberto Toledo
Joanna Newman
Christian Bisson
Linda Agyapong
Soma Bhattacharya
Cyndee Miller
Jess Tayel
Shobhna Raghupathy
Rex Holmlin
Ramiro Rodrigues
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Wanda Curlee

Past Contributers:

Jorge Valdés Garciatorres
Hajar Hamid
Dan Goldfischer
Saira Karim
Jim De Piante
sanjay saini
Judy Umlas
Abdiel Ledesma
Michael Hatfield
Deanna Landers
Alfonso Bucero
Kelley Hunsberger
William Krebs
Peter Taylor
Rebecca Braglio
Geoff Mattie
Dmitri Ivanenko PMP ITIL

Recent Posts

Business Transformation in Disguise

Tips for Project Success in a Functional Organization

Leadership Lessons From The Soccer Field

5 Steps to Reverse a Project in Chaos

Put Your Users First—Here’s How


Categories: Stakeholder


Chinese military general Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War nearly 2,500 years ago. But his ideas still hold value on the art of stakeholder engagement. After all he did say: "The greatest victory is that which requires no battle," which should be the ultimate aim of every stakeholder engagement process.

One of the clearest messages from The Art of War is the supremacy of strategy over tactics and tactics over reaction. Yet project teams spend most of their time reacting to stakeholders with a few tactical activities, such as report distribution and progress meetings. This approach gives the initiative to the stakeholders. And, as we all know, not every stakeholder has the project's best interests at heart, and those who are supportive rarely have a deep understanding of your project's real needs.

Sun Tzu states that success is driven by strategy: "All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved." Planning your stakeholder engagement should involve far more than simply deciding who needs what information.

The starting point for a good strategy is good intelligence. "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles." Project practitioners and their teams need to understand who's important and why; what their attitude to the work is (and why); what you need from them (if anything); and what those people want from you.

After this analysis, key questions for the team include: 
  • How reliable is our information?
  • What changes do we need to create in the stakeholder community?
  • Where are the risks and threats within the community?
  • How can we make the changes we need?
  • How can we minimize any opposition and damage? 
Now you're in a position to develop a pragmatic strategy to proactively engage with your stakeholder community, focusing on those people who matter. But beware: "Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat." You and your team need to first understand your strategic intent and then develop appropriate tactics to implement the strategy. 

You could, for example, produce the standard monthly report containing data on your project's environmental protection activities. Or, if you know that several senior stakeholders you need as allies are concerned about your organization's reputation, you could highlight the team's successful environmental efforts with a photo on the cover. No senior manager ever reads a report (particularly all of the boring data on environmental monitoring in the appendix). But they can't miss a cover photo -- or how you're helping them achieve one of their organizational objectives. Smart tactics, minimal effort, and now you now have some powerful friends. Similar approaches can be used to minimize the impact of stakeholders opposed to the project if you understand what's important to them. 

Sun Tzu clearly shows that engaging with stakeholders requires more than reactive responses. The good news is a well-thought-out strategy -- implemented through nimble and effective tactics -- can virtually eliminate the need for reactive responses and crisis management, resulting in an overall saving of effort. "Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win." 

Does your stakeholder-management strategy let you "win first" and then deliver an outcome that benefits your stakeholder community? What other stakeholder wisdom have you picked up from Sun Tzu?
Posted by Lynda Bourne on: May 21, 2014 09:55 AM | Permalink

Comments (0)

Please login or join to subscribe to this item


Please Login/Register to leave a comment.

ADVERTISEMENTS

"If I had known I was going to live so long, I would have taken better care of myself."

- Eubie Blake

ADVERTISEMENT

Sponsors