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When I took my first course in project management, I was taught about managing stakeholders. Today, the terminology has changed. I can credit Patrick Mayfield, who was on a panel debate in 2011 with me, for pointing out that “engaging” is a better term.
It is arrogant and foolish to assume that you can manage the response of another person to your project. Everything else becomes easier if you can frame your experience with stakeholders as one that engages them.
Despite this, there are still many challenges. There are always challenges. Below are questions that I have been asked by others over the past few months.
How can I divide communication time between the team and stakeholders?
Someone asked me how I divide my time between communicating with stakeholders, and communicating with the staff.
Because the team is stakeholders, I don’t think it would be easy to split the time like that.
As stakeholders, you can see all the people involved in the project as changing as you go along.
You will communicate extensively with the sponsor, key customer, and possibly the PMO during the initiation phase. The rest of your team might not be available. The table below is from my book Collaboration Tools for Project Managers. It’s what I use when I work with stakeholders throughout the project’s lifecycle.
If it’s not me doing all of the communication and engagement work, then I try my best to be there for the team and provide informal or ad-hoc mentoring as needed. It shouldn’t be difficult, and if your PMP status allows you to use mentoring to earn PDUs while working, then you can do it.
How can I ensure that my team members don’t derail the project?
Ha! That’s a good idea. If one of your stakeholders wants the project to fail, they’ll do everything in their power to make it happen.
Clear roles and responsibilities are important.
It helps them understand why they are participating in this work by setting objectives. It is a great bonus to have a charismatic project leader with a clear vision and is willing to share it with the team. If I don’t have someone to fill that role, I will have to fill it myself.
It is possible to avoid project derailment by being on top of task management and helping people prioritize. It is important to be able to delegate tasks, and to give people a well-thought-out, complete work package. I also try to document and communicate what each individual effort will involve.
I then try to establish freedom of action boundaries to let them know what they can approve/make decisions on and what must be returned to me.
Next: 9 Ways to Deal with Stakeholders Who Want You Project To Fail (on PM Perspectives Blog).
How can I stop stakeholders from waffling?
Another question I was asked was, “How do we stay firm with stakeholders to ensure they don’t wiggle about their requirements?”
I answer that question with another question: Why is waffling so bad?
People talk in a hazy voice because they lack the vocabulary to articulate what they want.
You can limit the time and enforce strict protocols regarding sticking to the agenda if you want to keep the discussion brief. Expect your requirements to be incomplete.
I find that letting stakeholders talk is part of managing stakeholders. Yes, they go on for a while. Yes, they will repeat themselves about their requirements and any other details related to the project. However, if you cut off their communication and give the impression that they aren’t interested in the project, relationships don’t develop.
I am not a business analyst. I have no analytical skills and I am too impatient to gather requirements with any degree success.
Work with a business analyst who is knowledgeable and trustworthy.