In the latest edition of the PMBOK, there was a small but significant change in the language around stakeholders. Instead of Stakeholder management, the focus of the PM is stakeholder engagement. What does this change mean?
Management – a definition
When I think of management, I think of control, of guidance, of constraints. Indeed, when I Googled “management definition” I got the following result “the process of dealing with or controlling things or people.”
To me, the key word here is controlling. Even the notion of dealing with stakeholders conjures up images of difficult conversations, and unreasonable demands.
When we engage stakeholders there is much more sense of give and take, and exchange of information, and sharing of perspective and insights. Stakeholders are no longer to be kept at bay or at arms’ length. They are to be woven into the fabric of the project at every stage and their input is to help guide the project to success. This is quite a mindset shift.
There are four pertinent balancing tests to think about with stakeholder engagement.
This is more than gathering a list of people who have an interest in the project or program. This is also the process of understanding what motivates them, how interested they are. How will they be affected – positively or negatively – by the project outcome?
And what they want is multi-faceted too. What do they want from the project? And what do they want in terms of involvement in the project? How do they want to communicate? People have different levels of interest in the project, different reasons for that interest and different ways of absorbing and processing information. We sometimes forget that!
This is an exploration of where they sit in the organizational structure - more than seniority or job title, this considers their networks and contacts within the organization. For example, I worked with an operational manager who had great influence over the decision making of the CIO. Knowing that helped me to position my discussions with him to take account of what the next conversation would be – the one with his friend, and consequently what my next conversation would be – with my boss the CIO.
Considering each stakeholder’s sphere of influence looks at the networks this stakeholder has, and any special responsibility they have been given for this project that extends beyond their normal formal – and informal – role. For example, in one organization, an individual had been given a special responsibility on the project to review all procurement agreements because they had experience of this in a past position.
Every stakeholder has ways that they can help projects be successful. And those ways are not always the obvious one. Sometimes they have special knowledge, they know the context of the project, the history of past change efforts or know what the real goals are of the organization. Other times they know the right people, have a great understanding of corporate culture and have that special way of getting difficult things done. Or they may have a really good understanding of customer behavior and can help the team make good design decisions.
The other side of the coin is how they might hinder. The most obvious way is not being available when you need them, but there are subtle ways stakeholders can create a drag on a project if they don’t feel appropriately engaged and connected. They may push for conflicting projects or pull resources away from your project to a pet project of their own.
This may be the single most important consideration in stakeholder management/engagement. The first part of this equation is to ask:
How do they want to be engaged? What is their interest and commitment to the project and how do they want that commitment reflected?
I have had stakeholders who were willing to be contacted at any time to offer advice, an opinion or just to be a sounding board. They have come to lunch and learns, shared insights into customer needs and desires, shared the organizational vision. They have been project advisors, mentors, and coaches – they are like gold and in some places like seeing a Unicorn!
By sharing and inviting feedback it has been possible for me to change the role of a stakeholder. By explaining how I see them supporting the project, why we see them that way and why we want them to engage in that way, it is often possible to craft a role for them that goes beyond their initial expectation.
This is also a great time to use some strengths-spotting. It is often the case that people do not really appreciate what they bring to the table or how they can use it to best effect. I have experience of a stakeholder whose greatest strengths were kindness and teamwork. When he was first assigned to the project as the “Business Owner” he was at a loss as to what he could bring. He felt he had little expertise in what we were trying to do, and his initial request was that I just keep him updated once a week with whatever dashboard I had been using for his predecessor. We had a conversation and it was clear that he was skilled at connecting with people. As we explored his interests and his strengths, it quickly became apparent that he could provide context for the project team, connections to valuable resources throughout the organization and would show up and give the team moral support when things got tough!
Choosing the mode, frequency and content of communications with stakeholders is key. Evaluate every medium. Maybe it is a dashboard, and email update, a weekly meeting, or a phone call at a prearranged time. Or maybe it is a Vlog – a videoed update that you can put in a shared location for people to access at their convenience – a newsletter that is available for download or a weekly lunch & learn. Find out what works for your stakeholders and be prepared to communicate in many ways.
Finally, consider whether the stakeholder’s role will remain static throughout the project. Have a regular check in during longer term projects to make sure the stakeholder list or matrix is current. Review the methods and level of communication periodically to keep things on track.
As project professionals we often spend a lot of time considering our process, and yet experience and research shows the biggest return on investment is from the people. Spend time with the people, and the people will make your project the best it can be.
I am, by nature, a curious person. A few years ago, after 25 years of managing projects and programs, I was curious about whether I, as a project manager, expected the same thing of myself as others expected of me. Was I meeting expectations?
After some interesting conversations with stakeholders and team members, with answers on a spectrum of yes, maybe, not always, my curiosity went beyond that.
I wanted to know what project managers (PMs) expect their role to be, and what people who have project managers (NPMs) expect their role to be.
Based on anecdotal evidence collected over my career as a PM, I had three theories:
To find out whether my anecdotal evidence was true, I set up a survey. More than 250 people took it – half project managers and half non-project managers. The survey was 18 questions that ranged from industry (40 industries), and location (12 countries), to the percentage of projects using project managers (more than 50%) in the organization to role expectations. The full results of the survey will be available in a few weeks, but here are some thought-provoking initial findings.
Project managers matter
Happily, both groups agreed that having a project manager is essential to the success of a project. 86% of NPMs agreed with this statement as do 90% of PMs.
Both groups agreed that project managers provide context and purpose. The gap here is wider, with 71% of non-project managers and 88% of project managers agreeing with this statement, but the majority of both groups agree.
To a similar extent, we agree that project managers make things happen with 74% of non-project managers and 90% of project managers agreeing with that statement.
Both groups agree that project managers provide a useful buffer between the project team and management and they are not there just to report to management. 65% of NPMs and 87% of project managers agree about the role as a buffer with 23% of NPMs and only 10% of PMs believing that management reporting is their only role.
We also generally agree that project managers keep people on task and make sure everyone knows who is on point for project tasks.
These results seem like a good start for those of us who want to expand this profession! Is there a dark side of this survey?
The effectiveness devil is in the project manager details!
Something to note is the degree to which the two groups agreed – although their answers were generally aligned, they did not always answer with the same intensity! Although we are in general agreement that PMs are essential, only 50% of NPMs felt strongly that this is the case 74% of PMs do!
30% of NPMs felt strongly that PMs make things happen but double that number of PMs felt strongly that making things happen is part of their impact. (59.8% of PMs).
The elephant in the room - micromanagement
We have all heard project managers referred to as micromanagers or characterized as people with clipboards. Two statements were put to the two groups – Project managers slow down development and delivery by having too many meetings and project managers are too ttask-orientedto be helpful.
The good news is that around 60% of people in each group disagree with these statements. What is interesting though is that 30% of NPMs and a surprising 21% (1 in 5) of PMs(!) believe that we are too task oriented to be helpful.
29% of NPMs and more than 26% of PMs agree that Project managers slow down the development and delivery by having too many meetings.
What does all this tell us? Let’s start by reviewing the results against my theories.
Survey Result: Surprisingly this is not the case, good bad or indifferent, the perspective of the PM and NPM is remarkably aligned. This is promising as the profession matures.
Survey Result: While this point of view is not as pervasive as I expected, it is somewhat true, and most interesting to me, over 1 in 5 PMs believe this themselves!
Survey Result: Happily, this theory was contradicted by my survey results! Of course, we cannot rule out that self-selection means that NPMs willing to answer the survey were pre-disposed to believe in the role. Those that don’t believe in the role may not be motivated to answer a survey! But, that caveat aside, things are encouraging.
There are two areas for us to focus on.
The first area is the gap between our perception and the perception of our non-project manager colleagues. Even where we agree in general, there are big gaps when we dig deeper.
The second area of focus is to lift ourselves out of the details and keep our eye on the big picture. I believe that a lot of this relies on us changing our focus from process – agile vs waterfall, charts, KPIs and planning tools – to people, the human factors that impact projects.
Mark Twain is quoted as saying “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
It has taken me more than seven years, and sadly my father is not around to hear or see my appreciation, but over the last few years I have learned a lot about just how much he had to show me.
Last week when I was at the dentist – a place I avoid as much as possible – the technician taking the x-rays was astonished at how long the roots of my teeth are. The importance of this fact is that it makes it a lot less likely that they will come loose as I get older. That may seem like a strange thing to include in a blog post, but I remember clearly that when my father died, he had all his teeth. Apparently I am fortunate to have inherited his strong teeth. I hope I have inherited much more than that, such as his tolerance and appreciation of everyone he met and his insatiable curiosity and love of learning.
When I was in my thirties, I had to give a presentation at work. It was a first for me, the audience was about 45 or 50 colleagues. I was incredibly nervous. I had always been shy, and the thought of standing up and speaking in front of a group felt like my worst nightmare. In fact, I had been having dreams about it for days. My father was trying his best to give me tips on preparation and practice, and I was far from being my “best self”. I was often impatient with my father, and truth be told he could be infuriating, but with my mounting nervousness, I was even less tolerant of him than usual!
On this particular occasion, my impatience was caused by his obvious complete lack of understanding of my plight. I had seen him present many times to many audiences. He was a scientist and had presented to schools and colleges, conferences and seminars all over Europe. He was always knowledgeable, humorous, even paced and entertaining. He could not possibly know what I was feeling.
After twenty minutes of him drilling me on my content and then urging me to run through the presentation one more time, I completely ran out of patience and snapped at him that I had had enough practicing and needed a break. As I walked away from where he was sitting I asked “Dad, how do you do it? How can you stand there and present to anyone on anything, and be so calm and comfortable? I will NEVER be able to be like that!”
His answer has stuck in my mind ever since that day, and when I am about to do something nerve-racking I play the words back in my mind.
I stood there for a moment and thought about those words. I needed him to explain further. There had to be more to it than that.
Following him into the kitchen I asked for clarification. He thought for a moment and then said, “Well, it is not easy to stand up in front of people and deliver a message in a meaningful way, to hold the audience’s attention and make them want to hear what you have to say. Whatever the situation, that is a responsibility, and it is nerve-racking. So it would be strange NOT to feel at least a little anxious. The appropriate reaction is to feel nervous, so just embrace it, recognize it, give yourself a moment and then brace yourself and get on with it. Ultimately all you can do is to make sure you are well-prepared, and then just do the best you can.”
At the time his advice did not really make a whole lot of sense to me. Now, years later, I recognize his advice as a combination of permission to be human and using strengths to accomplish more than we think we can. By recognizing we are worried about something like a presentation and acknowledging that it is natural and normal to feel that way, we give ourselves permission to have that unpleasant sensation without harsh self-judgment.
Then, by using prudence, perseverance and maybe a little love of learning we can be well-prepared. By using honesty, judgement and humility we can can be authentic, and with a healthy dash of humor to lighten the delivery and bravery to be nervous and do it anyway, we can move ahead and stand in front of the audience and put our message across.
And if it doesn’t go well? Well then we forgive ourselves, learn from what we experienced and get up and do better next time!
Richard Terence Kelly 07/19/1930- 09/10/2000, he was an industrial chemist and worked for most of his career at the Greater London Council Scientific Department working on such exciting things as procedures for handling hazardous materials, testing of concrete structures for safety, resilient but safe playground surfaces, and fire retardant materials. He was a caring leader, he was curious, loved to learn (he taught himself five languages), he was analytical, humorous and, above all, fair. He loved people even though he was an introvert – although it has taken me a lifetime to recognize that that last fact was true. He really WAS an introvert!
I love the study, cultivation and simple appreciation of character strengths.
I have seen how cultivating them makes us happy, effective and successful. I have seen how ignoring strengths leaves us frustrated and unfulfilled. I have seen how practicing the art of spotting them can be fun, but also and effective for teams, families and other groups looking for ways to improve understanding and communication. (See for example Family Strengths)
As I peruse the list (available here: VIA Classification), most of them seem to lend themselves inherently to feeling good. I love feeling gratitude, or enjoying a laugh or being kind. Who does not feel good when they feel love or loved? For those like me, who love learning or are curious, doesn’t it feel good to satisfy that yearning for new facts and information?
But what about bravery and courage?
“I wish I had more bravery,” a friend said to me over the phone. “Of all the strengths, that is the one I feel I lack and should work on.”
It is probably a widespread thought.
For example, she has taken a chance on a career change. She knew she needed the change, but she had no certainty it would be successful, no clear path for the future beyond taking the first step. That seems pretty brave to me.
As I discuss strengths, and in particular bravery with more people, I wonder if we all have a tendency to mix up being brave and courageous with being fearless? I know I have said things like “it did not feel brave to me, I was terrified!” And yet when considering courage – a blend of strengths including bravery – quotes abound that tell us that this virtue goes hand in hand with fear.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear”.
Mark Twain said “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear”, to name but two.
The VIA Strengths Classification defines the virtue of courage as “Emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal” and comprises the strengths of bravery, honesty, perseverance and zest.
The strength of bravery is described as “Not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain; speaking up for what is right even if there is opposition; acting on convictions even if unpopular; includes physical bravery but is not limited to it.”
As I read those words they are not exactly synonymous with happiness or feeling good. Who wants to feel pain, threat or difficulty? Who likes to face opposition? Who chooses to feel uncertain, insecure or vulnerable? I know I don’t, and yet one of my signature strengths is bravery.
Looking back on that scary presentation, or performance, the one that made you feel you would forget to breathe, the one you dreamt of for days or may even weeks beforehand, it feels good to know you went ahead despite the nerves and got through it. Maybe you got through a tough time resulting from loss or illness, and look back now and see how you have grown, or just how you kept putting one foot in front of the other despite your distress.
As you appreciate your accomplishment, THAT is when you get to appreciate bravery. If you still struggle to see your bravery, ask a friend or close family member whether they see bravery in you. Maybe through their eyes you can come to appreciate this strength.
So take a moment and look back now.
Think about a time when you were scared but did it anyway, a time when one of your inner voices was saying “this is too hard” but you took on the challenge. Look kindly at yourself, or ask someone close to do it for you, because you were your best self in that moment. If it was hard but you acted anyway, that was you showing bravery! If you took on the challenge not only bravely, but also honestly, determinedly and with energy and vigor, that was you displaying courage.
And maybe if you just cannot recognize your bravery, that is your humility coming to the fore!
Results will be published in this forum later in the year.
Humility in Leadership:
” To lead people, walk beside them…” Lao Tzu
To be humble as a leader allows space for others to excel. Leadership is not about knowing all the answers. Leadership is not about working in isolation, needing noone else. Leadership is about creating an environment where everyone can be at their best. Recognizing the unique contributions that colleagues can make and acknowledging those contributions builds teams. Making uncertainty acceptable and experimentation safe, fosters an environment where people, knowledge and business can grow. Research by the Organization Catalyst (Catalyst. Inclusion Matters. New York: Catalyst, March 2, 2015.) shows that effective leaders exhibit humility and balance; individualization and inclusion.
Striking a balance:
Why is that balance so important?
Because too much individualization makes people feel as though they are on the outside, that they are too different, that they don’t have enough common ground with colleagues. But when inclusion becomes generalization, individuals feel under-appreciated and invisible. It is a fine line, and as a leader, it is another area where you don’t need to know it all, where you can solicit opinion and ask for help – from the team themselves.
Here are some guidelines.
Three ways to increase individualization:
Three ways to build inclusion:
As you can see, the same three approaches can be used to foster a sense of individual recognition and a sense of belonging and inclusion. Building a great team begins with identifying the unique attributes of team members, and then helping them blend those talents and values to create a whole that is bigger – and better – than the sum of the parts. And the beauty is that in so-doing, the individuals themselves enjoy greater well-being.
(1) State of the Global Workplace: Employee Engagement Insights for Business Leaders Worldwide, Gallup, 2013
Results will be shared in this forum later in the year.