Friday, May 26, 2017

Beginners Guide To Project Management
Part 20 - Keeping Stakeholders Happy

Bobby McFerrin in "Don't Worry Be Happy"
After a short break (actually it was more like a year and a half break), we now continue with the Beginners Guide To Project Management, now on part 20 - but just 4 more parts or so to go. And this time we're discussing what you can do to keep your stakeholders happy with your project which is also called stakeholder management - not just the project team but also the people around and about your project, the ones that can influence your project it and the ones that may be interested in your project.
Now, we talked about stakeholders before, namely on Beginners Guide to Project Management Part 9 - Getting a Project Team and Beginners Guide to Project Management Part 11 - The Project Communication Plan but back then we were in the context of planning. At this stage, however, you already have your plan. What you want now is to execute it and make sure that people are getting their expectations fulfilled - are they still as much involved in the project as they were back then?

Previously on the Beginners Guide to Project Management:

Introduction
Initiating
Planning
Executing and monitoring

From the start

Myth buster: stakeholder management is not telling your project stakeholders what to do! For example, you have to manage your project sponsor but rarely, if ever, you're going to get a chance to tell your sponsor to do something. So what is stakeholder management? In a nutshell, it's about:
(...) "identify the people, groups, or organizations that could impact or be impacted by the project, to analyze stakeholders expectations and their impact on the project, and to develop appropriate management strategies for effectively engage stakeholders in project decisions and execution."(...)
In "Project Management Book Of Knowledge", 5th Edition, page 391

So it doesn't say anywhere "telling stakeholder what to do", OK? That is not to manage.
So what do you have to work with? You have a project team, a communication plan, and a project going on. From the communication plan, you have a list of stakeholders (usually more people and organizations than those on your project team).
You should approach different stakeholder differently, and that should already be considered in your Project Communication Plan. For instance, (i) a project team member, (ii) the project sponsor, (iii) your CEO and (iv) a big supplier to whom you ordered some small piece of equipment, they should probably be managed differently just because they're linked to your project differently. One of the many ways to map these links to your project is the Power/Interest grid, which is used to group your stakeholders into 4 groups - the ones we want to keep satisfied, the ones you want to manage closely, the ones you want to keep informed and the ones you just want to keep track.

Power/Interest Grid
So how does this work? This grid explicitly puts these 4 players (team member, sponsor, CEO and supplier) in different quadrants that tell you to interact with them differently. Odds are that your stakeholders will be mapped like this:
  • Team member: low power but highly interested in the project
  • Sponsor: high power (hopefully) and highly interested (hopefully) in the project
  • CEO: high power but may even ignore your project at all
  • Supplier: low power

The first thing that comes to my mind when considering this "happy people" topic is this Bobby McFerrin video.
In your life expect some trouble
When you worry you make it double

Involving Stakeholders

There are a great deal of things you can d to involve stakeholders in the project. One of the best ever ways to do it is to use one of our cognitive biases, the IKEA effect, for stakeholders to feel more involved.
In a nutshell, the IKEA effect is about the extra value we give to things where we put some effort in. For instance, we give extra value to our furniture when we assemble it.
Regarding projects, you can ask stakeholders to help in your project with some meaningful work and this is particularly effective regarding sponsors. I don't mean you should try to get your sponsor to carry cement in your construction project, or to code something in your software development project. But what about ask him to remove some real roadblock you find on the project's path? That would feel to your sponsor like meaning work and odds are he would value your project more just because of it.
Also with your suppliers. I assure you that if you show your suppliers how their products are being put to use in your project he will consider your project much more valuable than otherwise. And, again, odds are that because of that you'll get some extra margin when needed - for example, if you ever need to make sure some order gets delivered sooner than previously agreed upon.
This would also serve the double purpose of connect with your stakeholders and have something more to discuss with them - and even maybe bond. Just remember you can't bond with people you don't know.
And for last, feedback is crucial. You need to have feedback (like the Start-Sop-Continue model or the Sandwich model) from your stakeholders in order to know how the project is impacting them and how will they impact your project. And to have true, honest feedback, you have to have some sort of a bond and trust in place...

Conclusion

Stakeholder management is by far the single most important contributer to project success: if your stakeholders are happy (in particular, if your sponsor is happy) your project is on the right track to be successful.
This doesn't mean you should tap dance and comply to their every whim and it certainly doesn't mean that you should act like your stakeholder's best friend. On the contrary, you should make your actions crystal clear and ask for and provide true feedback. Remember to make your actions clear or else you take the risk of being arrogante when providing honest, true feedback to your stakeholders. Just imagine if you give feedback to your sponsor using the Start-Stop-Continue feedback model when your sponsor is not expecting any feedback and you go to him/her and say "I think you should show more support for this project because otherwise that department X will keep on throwing rocks at this project."...


Images from http://www.the80srocks.com/ and http://daniparadiseducation.wordpress.com

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