Have you ever had someone torpedo your project? Did this individual have a motive to undermine your efforts? Or, did you make some stakeholder mistakes that gave rise to this event?
Either way, it's hindering your progress. Things are not going as planned. What can we do to manage stakeholder risks better?
A Stakeholder Story
I once observed a junior project manager who was assigned a project with a fixed regulatory deadline. Software changes were needed. The project sponsor told the project manager that it was critical that the project be delivered on time. No exceptions!
The project manager formed a project team. Within days, the project team started making programming changes. The team worked evenings and weekends.
One week before the go-live date, the trainer provided a training class. A few people who had not been involved with the project attended. One of the users exclaimed, “This project has a direct impact on other critical operational processes. You cannot implement these software changes without addressing those issues first.”
The project manager and project team were enraged. Why weren't these requirements stated earlier? Therefore, the project manager and most of the team members saw these last-minute requirements as a hindrance to their success.
What is a Stakeholder?
The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) says a stakeholder is “an individual, group, or organization who may affect, be affected by, or perceive themselves to be affected by a decision, activity, or outcome of a project, program, or portfolio.” So, stakeholders include project sponsors, team members, third-party vendors, users, employees, board members, and anyone else who affects or is affected by a project.
Costly Stakeholder Failure Points
1. Failure to identify stakeholders. Stakeholder management starts with this essential step. How can we manage stakeholders if we do not first identify them? Project managers should identify stakeholders early and continue throughout the project.
2. Failure to understand stakeholder expectations, needs, and concerns. Once we have identified stakeholders, project managers should communicate the project's purpose and seek to understand how the project may impact the stakeholders.
3. Failure to understand the stakeholder’s power and interest levels. Project managers should not manage all stakeholders in the same manner. Consider completing a Power/Interest Grid. Project managers assess stakeholders regarding their Power (Low or High) and Interest (Low or High). Closely manage the High Power, High-Interest stakeholders.
4. Failure to invite the stakeholders to the table early. Want a way to engage stakeholders early? Work with your Project Sponsor. Invite stakeholders to participate in the development of the project charter. Ask the stakeholders to share their thoughts on the problems, goals, deliverables, constraints, assumptions, and high-level risks.
Stakeholder. An individual, group, or organization who may affect, be affected by, or perceive themselves to be affected by a decision, activity, or outcome of a project, program, or portfolio. —PMBOK® Guide, 7th Edition
5. Failure to keep stakeholders updated. Some project managers do an excellent job of engaging the stakeholders early. However, as the project manager gets busy later in the project, the project manager may fail to keep the stakeholders up to date.
6. Failure to engage stakeholders. Things surface that may impact stakeholders, but the project manager may fail to make the stakeholders aware of the situation. Furthermore, as projects progress, the project manager should continually ask the project team, “Who is potentially impacted?” Engage stakeholders in the conversation as needed.
7. Failure to identify, assess, and manage stakeholder risks. Project managers should regularly monitor risks. As new risks are identified, identify stakeholders who may be impacted and engage the stakeholders where appropriate.
8. Failure to communicate with stakeholders for change management. A good Change Control Board (CCB) will help ensure appropriate stakeholders are considered when submitting change requests. The CCB approved changes should be documented and shared with the stakeholders.
Actions for You to Take
Start identifying the stakeholders early in your projects. Seek to understand the impact to each stakeholder. Identify and resolve conflicts between stakeholders as quickly as possible.
Throughout the project, the project manager should continue to identify and manage stakeholders. These simple steps will enable you and your project team to cross the finish line in record time.