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Engaging Your Project Stakeholders
By Martin Webster

In this article, I will address a main reason for project failure. That is, ineffective top management involvement and/ or support. Management commitment is about motivating and leading by example. Consequently, genuine management commitment is absolutely essential for every project – if management do not support project management best practices openly and demonstrably or they are not fully committed to the proposed business change it is unlikely that their staff will take on that responsibility.

What’s more, management commitment is needed throughout the project – the plan, do, check, act cycle. Simply providing the funds for implementing a change and sitting back expecting results is not enough! However, there’s really little point writing about the perceived failings of senior management or the project executive when my target audience is the project manager. Consequently, I will focus on those activities a project manager can do to gain support from their management executives.

One of the most important responsibilities of the project manager is to engage with his stakeholders and project team and to motivate people. Sadly, many project managers fail to do this adequately even though the success of a project is largely dependent on the people concerned with or affected by the proposed change. Indeed it is crucial that the project manager does a thorough stakeholder analysis for both the project and themselves!

Stakeholder Analysis

There are stakeholders and then there are stakeholders! Identify them all and work out their needs. Think about the people you need to deliver the project. Think about the people your change is going to affect. Think about the people who are watching you! A project manager needs to identify his allies and his enemies and then develop strategies for dealing with them. Therefore, prepare a personal – private – stakeholder map and one for the project. Work out who wants you to succeed and who does not. Then find out what their success criteria – or their fears – are by simply talking and listening to them. Regularly make use of your stakeholder maps.

In project management we often talk about the project balance – the area of benefit viability – of time, cost and scope. Different stakeholders place emphasis on different areas; find out what they are! These are known as the hard criteria. In addition, there are also soft criteria which are built on people’s values, e.g. timeliness, attention to detail, honesty etc. If someone who cares little about your project’s success is a stickler for timekeeping make sure you arrive at meetings on time! Likewise, if someone hates disorganisation make sure you are prepared for meetings.

Personal Leadership and Motivation

The soft aspects of project management are equally important as the hard stuff: project planning, tools and techniques, methods etc. Moreover, because a project is a temporary structure there is less time to form effective teams or relationships than in a traditional line management role. Consequently, leadership style and team values are very important.

Successful project managers have an open, even-handed approach that encourages effective communication and promotes confidence in the project. If you create an environment of blame don’t be surprised if you’re not told about a potential problem. Therefore approach your work with a positive attitude, encouragement, commitment, and a willingness to succeed. Make sure you stand out for the right reasons!

Martin Webster is Systems Support Manager at Leicestershire County Council. He has over ten years project and programme management experience. Martin’s professional interests include project management, leadership, and strategic information systems planning. Read more at Martin Webster, Esq.

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