Managing stakeholders can often turn out to be the ‘make’ or ‘break’ aspect in a project. What makes it really important is that, one has to be cognizant of this through all cycles of the project. Right from project initiation to closure, the project manager cannot afford to ignore the key stakeholders.
Interestingly, stakeholder management is looked at as synonymous to communication management itself, although one may argue that communication is just one part of it. For some, it may be the most natural thing to do, while for some, it is a cause for migraine. There is no need to fret because with enough experience and by asking the right questions, it is definitely possible to master this skill.
Here are a few questions that can help you stay on your toes when it comes to managing your stakeholders.
Have you identified and prioritised the correct list of stakeholders?
This is the first step in the process and the success of the project depends on you getting this right. Just make sure, you have not missed out someone inadvertently or included someone, who is not one. A couple of checkpoint questions are: a) Does the person have the power to influence or impact your project? b) Does the person have any vested interest in your project? If the answer to either question is ‘yes’, add to your list.
Is your level of engagement the right amount?
The trick is to get the stakeholder involved at the right phase of the project. If you do it earlier than needed, it can end up in unnecessary intervention and confused decisions. If you do it later, there is a chance you get started on the wrong foot or some new variables may make you go back to the board and work out things again.
Do you understand the power equation?
You cannot manage a relationship, professional or otherwise, if you have not figured out, who has power over whom. This basic understanding helps you come up with an appropriate communication strategy and how much time and effort you need to invest with a specific stakeholder.
Are you using the right communication channel?
With a wide range of communication tools and technologies available, sometimes it could be disruptive if the right channel is not selected for the right audience. Consider two things 1.) stakeholder’s choice (email, phone, video conference, chat, etc.) 2.) effectiveness of the channel. Your comfort with the choice should come secondary since it is imperative to adapt.
Does your team do it too?
One obvious, yet, understated dynamic of stakeholder management is to handle this at multiple levels. So, while a Program Manager may interact with the Client Account Director and the Project Manager may interact with a Senior Client Head, the execution team would interact with individual clients. If the teams do not manage their share well, the cracks will start to show. It is the project manager’s responsibility to get the team’s buy-in and coach them to manage their counterparties well.
Do you have a plan of action for ‘when the going gets tough’?
If the interaction with all the stakeholders is easy and smooth, there is hardly any reason for this topic to be discussed so extensively. Unfortunately, many a times, clients can be unreasonable, the manager sitting above you has lofty expectations, the vendors do not collaborate effectively, the QA and dev teams are at conflict and overall, everyone wants everything done ‘yesterday’. In such a tough setting, investing in a good relationship with the other side, right from the start helps to resolve conflicts better. Also, communication with the right set of tools and data – metrics, status reports and meeting minutes – helps to stay ahead of the game.
Like any other project management attribute, stakeholder management is about creating that magic potion by mixing the science and art. Whether you use processes, tools or your personality to manage people, ask the right questions. In no time, you are bound to see the results!