My Project Management Expert

Working with Stakeholders

Successfully working with stakeholders is a key skill which every project manager must have if they want to consistently deliver and have a long career. The reason for this is that project stakeholders not only provide the direction for the project in terms of defining project scope and business requirements documentation, but they often also ultimately control the project budget and the project resource management as well.

When you consider this, it becomes all too apparent that if a project manager is unable to work with their project management stakeholders, they are virtually doomed.

So what is the best way of working with stakeholders?

Well I find that having a clear project communication plan is a good start. This sets out exactly how you will communicate with key individuals and ensures that you maintain contact with those "hard to tie down" stakeholders.

However despite this you'll find that you simply cannot get hold of some stakeholders, particularly the most senior one's. Quite frankly whilst your project may be the most important thing to you in your working life, to certain project stakeholders, it will probably be just one of several projects they are involved in. And worse still; it may not even be considered to be a high priority project for them.

For example a colleague of mine was managing a small project, but which had extremely senior stakeholders. The problem was he needed key decisions to be made by some of these stakeholders, but none of them ever attended a single meeting he had scheduled. Quite frankly they had more important projects to deal with, such as mine! My colleague's project was finally put on hold for lack of project management stakeholder participation. Now if he'd had a suitable stakeholder strategy the outcome would have been very different.

So you may well find that you need more effective and direct project communications. Whilst email has it's place, I find the best way is to either call or go in person to talk to the key project stakeholders.

Get friendly with their PA's to determine their movements and then make sure you catch up with them. It may sound like you're stalking them, but I have seen too many projects fail for lack of stakholder participation to take the chance.

An additional bonus is that the project stakeholders will admire your efforts and subconsciously re-prioritise your project in terms of importance. This means that they will actually start attending your meetings, which makes life much easier for you.

Working with Stakeholders - Tip

If you find you have one difficult individual whilst working with your project stakeholders, then try to outflank them. Get a consensus going with the other stakeholders on key decisions, which means that when they are discussed at either the team meetings or programme board they will quickly find themselves in a minority of one.

And few stakeholders keep on arguing when no-one is backing them up for fear of being perceived as "difficult".

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