Sunday, March 11, 2018

10 Principles of Stakeholder Engagement

Stakeholder engagement and stakeholder management are arguably the most important ingredients for successful project delivery and yet are often ignored or undervalued.

On the opposite side, I have also worked with project managers that were so busy with stakeholder management that they forgot they also have to deliver a project. Whole project teams were working for days on StC Powerpoint decks instead of the actual project!

Project managers depend on people to respond to the outputs and benefits that they deliver. People will only respond if they are engaged. The phrase “stakeholder management" implies that these people can be made to respond positively to a project, but the truth is that a project manager in most cases has no formal power of authority and therefore has to rely on engagement to achieve his/her objectives. And this is a good thing!

What Exactly is Stakeholder Engagement?

Stakeholder engagement is the practice of interacting with, and influencing project stakeholders to the overall benefit of the project and its advocates.

Stakeholder Engagement is the practice of influencing a variety of outcomes through consultation, communication, negotiation, compromise, and relationship building.
The successful completion of a project usually depends on how the stakeholders view it. Their requirements, expectations, perceptions, personal agendas and concerns will influence the project, shape what success looks like, and impact the outcomes that can be achieved. Successful stakeholder engagement is an essential part of professional project management.

Stakeholder Engagement vs. Stakeholder Management

Stakeholder Engagement differs from Stakeholder Management.

Stakeholder Management is a process that can be defined as: “the systematic identification, analysis, planning, and implementation of actions designed to engage with stakeholders”. 
By contrast, Stakeholder Engagement is the practice of influencing a variety of outcomes through consultation, communication, negotiation, compromise, and relationship building.

Key principles of stakeholder engagement

#1 Understand

Before aiming to engage and influence stakeholders, it’s crucial to seek to understand the people you will be working with and relying on throughout the phases of the project lifecycle. Sharing information with stakeholders is important, but it is equally important to first gather information about your stakeholders. One technique that can help with this is Stakeholder Mapping. See my Stakeholder Mapping Guide on how to do this.

#2 Communicate

There have been numerous studies into why projects fail, with ‘bad communication’ often pointed to as the most common reason. Across all sectors and sizes of project, ineffective or insufficient communication is at the root of project problems such as unclear objectives, misunderstanding the problem, poorly coordinated teamwork and ineffective risk management. The fundamental challenge of effective communication is based on the clear evidence that ‘what you say is not the same as what they hear’, even with people you know very well. It is therefore easy for communications to be misinterpreted. Good communication requires relentless and time-consuming effort to ensure the intended message is understood and the desired response achieved, which, especially on large projects, sometimes justifies the assistance of communication professionals.

#3 Consult, early and often

The rewards of early and efficient stakeholder consultation should be clear to anyone that has worked on a project where this has not been done well. If you have ever felt ‘I wish I’d known that at the start of the project,’ then consider that even just a few, well-timed questions can be very valuable. Questions about who the relevant stakeholders are (e.g. ‘Who else’s views should we be considering?’), and, once these have been identified, questions about the stakeholders’ objectives, success criteria, constraints, key concerns, their stakeholders (e.g. customers), etc., usually provide information that easily justifies the time spent investigating.

#4 They are human too

Accept that humans do not always behave in a rational, reasonable, consistent or predictable way and operate with an awareness of human feelings and potential personal agendas. By understanding the root cause of stakeholder behavior, you can assess if there is a better way to work together to maintain a productive relationship.

#5 Plan it!

A more conscientious and measured approach to stakeholder engagement is essential and therefore encouraged. Investment in careful planning before engaging stakeholders can bring significant benefits. What kind of regular meetings have value? How are they structured? Formal meetings with meeting minutes, or informal ones? This is what Stakeholder Management is.

#6 Relationships are key

Developing relationships result in increased trust. And where there is trust, people work together more easily and effectively. Investing effort in identifying and building stakeholder relationships can increase confidence across the project environment, minimize uncertainty, and increase the speed of problem-solving and decision-making.

#7 Just part of managing risk

Stakeholders are important influential resources and should be treated as potential sources of risk and opportunity within the project. Over and above conventional planning, using foresight to anticipate hazards, and taking simple and timely actions with stakeholders can significantly improve project delivery. See "Risk Management Is Project Management for Adults" for more insights.

#8 Compromise

The initial step is to establish the most acceptable baseline across a set of stakeholders' diverging expectations and priorities. Assess the relative importance of all stakeholders to establish a weighted hierarchy of the project requirements and outcomes. Having ranked the stakeholders in order of importance, their differing interests can then be weighed accordingly with the best compromise solution being at the ‘centre of gravity’. As the leader of the project, it is your judgment as to what this solution is with the rationale and decision being communicated to all parties where appropriate.

#9 Understand what success is

Project success means different things to different people and you need to establish what your stakeholders perceive as a success for them in the context of project delivery. See "The Project Success Model" for more insights.

#10 Take responsibility

Stakeholder engagement is not the job of one member of the project team. It’s the responsibility of everyone to understand their role and to follow the right approach to communication and engagement. Good project teams have clarity about stakeholder engagement roles and responsibilities and what is expected of people involved in the project. See "Taking and Giving Responsibility as a Project Sponsor" for more insights.

When you need some guidance on how to define and measure project success, just download the Project Success Model by clicking on the image.

The Project Success Model

Posted on Sunday, March 11, 2018 by Henrico Dolfing