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The art of Stakeholder Management

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Ahh, Stakeholder Management. One of the most widely used terms in the project world. I bet if you were to google a “how-to”, you’d get thousands of results with tips, tricks, documents, and matrices.

Sounds complicated! Well, in this article I’m going to tell you why it doesn’t have to be.

The challenges

We’ve all been there. The project is ready to move forward into the next phase. The solution has been agreed upon, resources secured, and timelines mapped out. But then, that ONE stakeholder (you know exactly whom I mean) throws a spanner in the works.

Sigh… now what? Weeks of re-work, more meetings, more of the same conversations but ultimately a significant halt in forwarding progress.

But how do we prevent that?

One word; Empathy.

If we assume that most of our stakeholders, no matter how challenging, are just trying to do their jobs and ultimately look after their own interests, we can position ourselves to meet their needs in advance.

Then, there are a few things we can do to help ourselves:

  • Anticipation
  • Preparation
  • Conversation

Anticipation

Firstly, it’s important to understand the core role of each of our stakeholders. What are they responsible for? What would be the negative outcomes for them if our project fails? How would they benefit if our project is a success?

Preparation

Once you understand what part our stakeholders are playing, then you can prepare for their concerns. Our main goals will be to understand how we can avoid any kind of negative outcomes for them whilst offering some tangible benefits from our solution. Or at the very least, we need to ensure that we mitigate any negatives.

Conversation

Here’s our opportunity. Let’s get their buy-in as early as possible. Set some time aside to speak to them one on one. With our preparation, we’ll be able to talk through all the ways that we alleviate their concerns and that will set the foundations of our stakeholder relationship.

Top tip: stakeholders tend to have their diaries pretty packed, so don’t delay in getting meetings booked in. That goes for recurring meetings too. It’s better to have it booked in and then cancel if you no longer need the meeting than to realise you need a meeting and not have any space for it.

What have we achieved?

Showing empathy and putting the effort in upfront allows us to build a relationship with each of our stakeholders. This means that they are less likely to challenge through fear of failure and will be more amiable to project proposals.

It is always worth putting in the upfront effort when it comes to Stakeholder Management. That initial time can save us potential weeks of back and forth further down the line.

Writing it down

A record of our stakeholders and corresponding detail is incredibly valuable. However, if possible, we should avoid overlabouring it. As long as we know who each person is, their role and what matters to them, that will be enough to allow us, or anyone involved in the project to direct conversations their way.

My view is that supporting documentation should act as a guide or prompt, not necessarily a full-scale play by play of every nuance in a given situation or relationship.

To summarise

A lot of the heavy lifting with stakeholders should be done as early as possible. This will significantly improve the ability for a project to maintain its momentum.  

Once the initial effort has been put in, it is of course important to keep stakeholders updated regularly, either through meetings, reporting or messaging. Finding the right balance for project communication is a skill and needs to be looked at on a project-by-project basis. Possibly a future blog topic!

For now though, if you take one thing away from this blog post let it be this: Anything you can do to understand the stakeholders’ perspective, will benefit your relationship with them. And in the end, relationships are the most valuable thing we can build in any project.

What are your thoughts? Have you had any tricky stakeholder experiences that wouldn’t be solved through empathy and preparedness?

For more guidance on stakeholder management, check out the Aim part of our ABCDE Way, where we talk about getting approval from your sponsor.

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