Tag: Difficult Stakeholders
Stakeholders can make or break projects, in order to ensure project success, effective stakeholder management is required. Identifying key stakeholders, dealing with difficult ones and creating a management plan can be overwhelming if you don’t know where to start. Building positive relationships with stakeholders and proactively meeting their expectations can make the life of a project manager much, much easier.
Firstly what is a stakeholder? A stakeholder is an individual, group or organization that is impacted by the outcome of a project. They have an interest in the success of the project, and can be within or outside the organization that is sponsoring the project. Stakeholders can have a positive or negative influence on the project.
There are a lot of people involved in getting a project from inception to a successful completion. Knowing how to manage each and everyone one of them, even those who don’t work directly under you, is very important.
Who can be a stakeholder? Some examples are as follows.
- Project leader
- Senior management
- Project team members
- Project customer
- Resource managers
- Line managers
- Project user group
- Product testers
- Group impacted by the project as it progresses
- Group impacted by the project after its completion
- Subcontractors to the project
- Consultants to the project
A stakeholder is a person, like any other member of the project, and some will be easier to manage than others. Each with their own personality which needs to be managed, to ensure productive dialogue with them to know the project goals which have to be met.
Stakeholders should be treated as any other task on a to-do list: by prioritizing them. Over the course of a project, one stakeholder might be more valuable in terms of the project objections than another, whereas some stakeholders might demand more attention than others.
When stakeholder management is discussed, it refers to creating a positive relationship with stakeholders by meeting their expectations and whatever objectives they agreed to in the project. This relationship isn’t just granted, however. It must be earned. Trust can be earned by building a positive relationship with stakeholders through proactive communication and by listening to their needs.
One way to do this is by interviewing the project stakeholders—not all of them, but certainly the most important ones. As speaking to experts to get the background needed for particular fields or groups, so when you do have one-on-one conversations with the stakeholders, you’re well-informed and ready to get the most out of that time together.
Be mindful that stakeholders aren’t infallible, their impact can be negative as well as positive. Stakeholders might have inaccurate or out-of-date information. That’s where your stakeholder management part comes into play. Vet any data provided by a stakeholder to ensure accuracy so that you don’t make key project decisions based on the agendas of others.
There is a process for this, like there is a process for everything in project management. One is to document stakeholder communications, do this formally within the project plan by noting their names, roles in the organization and who they represent. Document every conversation you have with these key project partners, both to record their interests and requests, but also to be able to review their information later for accuracy. If you’re conducting interviews, ask the stakeholders if you can record those conversations, as any record of interaction is important to document.
Next you want to keep to a process of communications with stakeholders, and make sure that process is transparent, so everyone knows what to expect. This includes project requests or feedback, and how to document and respond to those requests needs to be subject to a formal process of review and approval. This lets the stakeholders know that requests are subject to review, and that you have a process that is being adhered to for those formal requests. This protects both parties from scope changes and miscommunications that can impact the project.
Providing regular and timely project status reports that are appropriate for the stakeholders is crucial. Going into details with team members, while executives are going to want more of an overview. So, tailor the reports to the audience. Don’t forget to follow up with stakeholders as well, asking questions to see if they have any feedback. This way they are being managed and proactively communicated, to know if there’s discontent or some decision has been made that will impact the project.
A stakeholder might be working on multiple projects, which means they’re not going to have the same closeness to the project as you. But that doesn’t mean they’re not getting other information about your project from other sources. You don’t want them to be subject to gossip or get incorrect information that might sway their opinions in the project. If they do make an assumption or get misinformation, this has to be rectified immediately. Sometimes they might not want to hear that truth, but better it comes from you, so you can control and manage it.
If your stakeholders aren’t satisfied with the results of a project, you’ve failed. Therefore, in order to successfully complete a project, it’s essential to gain a clear understanding of who your stakeholders are, what their expectations are and what motivates them. This process is called stakeholder analysis.
Stakeholder analysis identifies and prioritizes stakeholders before the project begins. It organizes stakeholders into groups according to how much they participate in the project, what their interest level is and how much influence they have. Once these people are identified and organized, then you must figure out the best way to involve each stakeholder in the project, including the best channels for communication based on their needs.
Communication is key to stakeholder analysis because stakeholders must buy into and approve the project, and this can only be done with timely information and visibility into the project. The former puts the project in context, while the latter builds trust. All this leads to the project being in strategic alignment with stakeholders and the overall business goals of the company.
A good place to start figuring out who the stakeholders are is by reviewing the project charter, which documents the reason for the project and appoints the project manager. Among the information about objects, budget, schedule, assumptions and constraints, project sponsor and top management, this is how the stakeholders can be discerned.
Part of identifying the different stakeholders is dividing them into groups. Internal and external stakeholders which also determines their relationship to the organization. An internal stakeholder is someone whose interest in the project is directly related to being a part of the organization that is managing that project. They can be team members, execs, owners or even investors in the organization.
External stakeholders are those who aren’t directly related to the organization, but they’re impacted by the project to some extent. These are usually suppliers, creditors and public groups.
The issue that arises with all these stakeholders involvement to the project is that often their interests might be in conflict with one another. Therefore, it’s critical that project managers not only identify these stakeholders but also work out a plan in which to manage their sometimes contradictory expectations.
Stakeholder analysis is a way to get help from key project members. Once the key stakeholders are determined, then invite them into the kick-off to help align the project with strategic objectives. Their experience helps a project avoid pitfalls and getting their help builds stronger relationships. They can also help with conflict resolution during the project execution.
Stakeholders are also crucial for delivering the resources needed to get the project done right. When there is good communications between a stakeholder and a project manager, then the stakeholder can help deliver the people, tools and other resources necessary to get the project done.
The process of going through a stakeholder analysis is also a way to build a relationship of trust with stakeholders. Once a line of communications is open with stakeholders, develop a good rapport and show transparency into the project, it encourages trust.
Stakeholder analysis uses a technique called stakeholder mapping. Before getting started, decide on the focus of the project. This will determine who is most important in terms of stakeholders. Once determined, list the stakeholders which come in all shapes and sizes. While it’s important to narrow the focus that comes in later. At this point you want to list everyone who is a stakeholder, no matter the level of their significance to the project. As you list your stakeholders, keep in mind that they fall into two main categories: those who are affected by the project and those who contribute to it.
Some stakeholders are going to have more importance to the project and their expectations will have more of an impact than others. Discern this by using an influence-interest matrix, which is a box broken into four sections. Place your stakeholders in one of the four boxes based on their interest and influence levels.
The top of the box is broken into two sections: keep informed and manage closely.
The lower half of the box is also broken into two sections: minimal contact and keep satisfied. Anyone placed to the right of the box has more influence, while anyone placed near the top of the box has more interest. If a stakeholder is placed in the top right, then they have a lot of interest and influence, making them important players in the project.
Once the list has been established, begin prioritizing them by importance to the project. Decide who among them have the most influence on the project and are affected by it. You can use the influence-interest matrix again to help with prioritizing stakeholders.
The status of stakeholders are not static, they can change throughout the course of the project. Stakeholder analysis is not a one-time thing, but is a process that should continue throughout the project.
Finally, with the information created in the stakeholder map, figure out how to engage stakeholders. This is the process by which stakeholders are one over, get their understanding and support to help fuel the project, putting it on the right course. This leads to a communication plan that outlines the channel and frequency of communications between you and each stakeholder.
To summarize all of the lessons learnt and put them into practice, follow these five steps to make sure all of the bases in the stakeholder management plan are covered.
1. List Your Stakeholders
The first step to any good stakeholder management plan is knowing your stakeholders.
2. Prioritize Your Stakeholders
Note which stakeholders are going to have a bigger influence over the project, and at which stage their influence becomes lesser or greater.
3. Interview Your Stakeholders
Working with new stakeholders can be tricky at the start—some are easier to manage than others. Depending on the type of project, there will either be many voices from outside the company with different personalities and demands, or many voices inside the company with competing goals. Here are some example stakeholder interview questions to ask to get sorted:
- Why are you interested in this project?
- What are your expectations for this project?
- If you have a team involved, what do you expect from them?
- Which deliverables are you most interested in?
- What inspired you to get involved in this project?
- What do you hope this project changes after launch?
- How quickly do you see this project rolling out?
- If you feel positively about this project, why?
- If you have worries about this project, why?
- Do you prefer in-person meetings, phone meetings or email?
4. Develop Your Matrix
A quick mock-up of a quadrant to sort your findings will help you easily distinguish those with high interest, high priority versus low interest, low priority. It will also help to sort all those in between.
5. Set & Manage Expectations
Clearly identify which stages each key stakeholder will be involved in, and timelines by which their feedback is needed. Include a schedule of office hours for them to easily reach you so that they can have time to provide feedback either in a private setting or in a group. As always, be realistic, transparent and honest at every project phase—your stakeholders can tell, and will thank you for it.
Stakeholders play a key role in making a project happen. They believe in the project, and are devoting time, money and resources to the project. Without proper management, they can make things extremely clunky with a lot of messy red tape along the way. This is achieved by keeping an open line of communication, which is the most important step to a good stakeholder management plan.
Let us know your thoughts and how you manage stakeholders within projects. All the very best with your project management journey.
“This isn’t what we wanted!”
“No, you have to do it this way.”
“When this project fails, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
If you haven’t dealt with a difficult stakeholder yet, don’t worry. You will soon. This means you must arm yourself with strategies to deal with them amicably and continue working on the project despite possible roadblocks.
We want to help. Here’s an important reminder and four tips to help you survive difficult stakeholders—no matter what they do—and turn the situation around for the good of the project.
Reminder: Don’t Burn Bridges
The most important thing to remember is that stakeholders also want the project to succeed. However, the way they express this desire may change over the course of the project. One day they’ll support you, and the next day they’ll argue if work isn’t done a particular way. But they’re not “switching sides”—their side is project success. It’s not you vs. them.
Don’t take resistance personally, and remember: Business is business. Burning bridges is detrimental to career success. You can’t dismiss difficult stakeholders. You must find a way to work with them (or around them) and defuse the situation.
Here are four proven ways to deal with even the most difficult stakeholders and ensure your projects move forward.
4 Strategies for Dealing with Difficult Stakeholders
1. Identify them and watch them closely.
The first step is to clearly identify your stakeholders and figure out what motivates them. A stakeholder is anyone who is affected by your work, has influence or power over it, or has an interest in its success. Here are some common example of stakeholder individuals or groups:
You can separate stakeholders into three main categories:
- Primary Stakeholders – People directly affected by the work. Primary stakeholders are usually project beneficiaries. Customers often fall into this category.
- Secondary Stakeholders – People indirectly affected by the work. Secondary stakeholders include teams supporting the project and/or those impacted by its outcome.
- Key Stakeholders – People with a strong influence over the work and a vested interest in its success. This group includes executives.
Each group has different interests, objectives, and agendas—many are competing. Identify and rank their influence and interest to keep projects moving and avoid getting pulled in every direction.
Not all stakeholders are created equal, so figuring out who holds sway and is your best champion saves you a lot of stress. You can further classify stakeholders using this simple matrix:
Image source: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newPPM_07.htm
- High-power, highly interested people (Manage Closely): These people have great interest in your work and the power to help you succeed. It’s critical to fully engage these people and make sure they’re satisfied. Pay attention to their input and implement their ideas when possible. Keep them in the loop when someone else’s ideas are chosen and let them know why.
- High-power, less interested people (Keep Satisfied): These people have little involvement or vested interest in your work, but are very powerful. Do your best to keep them satisfied, but don’t take up too much of their time. Seek their insights around big decisions and make sure they understand how your work will positively affect them. These folks make powerful champions once you win them over.
- Low-power, highly interested people (Keep Informed): These people are passionate about the project and voice their support to others, but have little power or influence. Keep them in the loop and inform them of any major developments. Your work may directly impact these people, so they are usually more than willing to roll up their sleeves and help you out.
- Low-power, less interested people (Monitor): The most apathetic of the bunch, these people are the least affected by your work and should take up little time and attention. Don’t ruffle their feathers and they’ll stay out of your way.
Use the above matrix to quickly identify your champions and potential detractors. But be advised: An active champion might become a roadblock overnight. Monitor your stakeholders’ status review emails or comments to anticipate the tide turning. Keep communication channels open to head off any growing negativity.
2. Listen to what they say.
Don’t close communication channels because you don’t like what you hear. Try to see where difficult stakeholders are coming from and put yourself in their shoes to better understand their motivation and goals.
Make an effort to understand their point of view. If what they’re saying is frustrating, ask yourself: Do their needs align with your project’s objectives? Do they simply want things done a different way? Try to find common ground.
Above all else, people want to feel understood and feel that their opinions matter. Here are a few ways to show stakeholders they matter:
- Find people project roles that best match their interests and talents
- Always treat people with respect, even when tempers rise
- Give praise often, especially when you notice positive behavior
- Provide training and coaching to all involved
- Give people opportunities to share their insights and opinions with the group and help make decisions
3. Meet them one on one.
Schedule time to meet with difficult stakeholders individually. Meeting without other stakeholders in the room takes the pressure off and makes them feel more comfortable. This leads to more clear and calm conversations.
Take this time to explore their viewpoint and preferred solutions. However, don’t blatantly ask why they don’t like your plan. Instead ask open-ended questions about their opinions and ask how they feel the project is progressing.
Meeting with your stakeholders one-on-one also prevents their negative opinions from influencing others on the project. When feedback crosses the line from constructive to pure negativity, it’s best to isolate the situation and handle it one-on-one.
4. Determine their motivation.
What’s causing your stakeholders’ sudden resistance? Are they worried about going over the budget? Anxious the project isn’t turning out the way they envisioned? Are they answering to a board of directors who have their own doubts?
Addressing the motivation underlying their resistance will help you spot compromises, create a win/win solution, and finish the project.
Ask yourself the following questions to get to the bottom of their motivations:
- What are their most pressing business needs?
- What is the best way to communicate with them?
- What information or details do they want or need?
- Do they fully understand your work or do they need some extra explanation?
- Who influences them?
- Who do they influence?
- What are they responsible for?
- Who do they report to?
Detective work will only get you so far: Don’t be afraid to ask your stakeholders these questions directly. Keep the lines of communication open to anticipate any resistance and adjust accordingly.
Keep People Moving Forward
Listen to your stakeholders and strive to meet their needs—difficult or not. Ensuring they’re feeling heard, valued, and appreciated grows trust and support. Building relationships and understanding motivation takes time and effort but will make your job easier in the long run. Projects are more successful when everyone is on board and on the same page!
Have you ever dealt with a difficult project stakeholder? What did you do to diffuse the situation? Hit the comments below and tell us your tales! We’d love to learn from you.