If anyone asks me what the most important element of successful project delivery is, there is only ever one answer. Manage the people. It is of course people who deliver projects. It is people who block the progress of projects. It is people who get behind a change programme. It is people who resist it. Without energy, focus and attention on people the most beautifully crafted project plan, risk register or change control process is worth nothing.
In project management parlance people are stakeholders. This term makes it easy for us to group people together and analyse them. There is no mystery to stakeholder management, you just have to give a damn about people. There are lots of tools you can use, and many of them can be helpful for prompting you to think about who the important people to your project are and how you are going to work with them. But a stakeholder map or analysis that is produced simply to tick the box will add nothing to the success of your project (this principle, of course, holds for any project documentation you produce). If you can answer these questions about your project’s ‘stakeholders’ you will be well on the road to successful project delivery.
Who are they?
Who cares about your project and why do they care about it? To answer this question you need to understand whose world the project impacts. Who is likely to benefit from your project? Who will it impact most? Who might feel they are losing out as a result of the change you are implementing? Who will need to contribute to the delivery of the project? Who will be involved in decisions that impact on the project? Who has an influential voice that will be heard by those who are impacted by the project?
You really need to understand the environment you are working in to be able to answer these questions. Find out what people care about, what they are worried about, what’s important to them. Do your research. And then by all means come back to your desk and map it out on a chart. But if your mapping and analysis start and end at your desk, don’t be surprised when things start to go wrong.
How can you reach them?
Do you have direct access to all of these people or groups of people? Can you get direct access? If not, who can you access them through? Make sure you have a clear route to your stakeholders. If you have a large stakeholder group, how will you stay in contact with them? This is important not just for telling them about the project but also for listening to them and understanding their viewpoint.
Understanding the channels you will use to engage in two way communication with your stakeholders is essential. As is a clear understanding of what is important to them. This will inform your comms plan and ensure you are targeting your communication effectively. For more tips on good change communications read 5 reasons change communications fail
Do they know you care?
Demonstrating to your stakeholders that you care about their view, their world and the impact this project has on them is essential if you are to build the trust you need to get your project delivered successfully. Actively listen. Visibly demonstrate that you are taking action based on your understanding of their needs. This can be tricky if you have competing groups of stakeholders who want different things. If this applies to you, find the common ground. There is always some, somewhere. Keep listening until you find it. If you have very resistant stakeholders, listen, let them know you understand, but don’t allow them to suck up all of your time. You can care about the impact on them while still driving the project forward. Be clear on the ‘why’ of your project and be consistent in your messaging while keeping your ears open and being willing to make compromises when it is the right thing to do.
In short: keep people at the heart of your project; build excellent relationships with the broad range of people who have a stake in your project; ensure any documentation you create is simply a reflection of the reality you understand. If you can do this you are on the road to ensuring successful project delivery.