Stakeholder Management

Stakeholder management is the process by which you organise, monitor and improve your relationships with your stakeholders.

A stakeholder management strategy identifies and documents the approach to take in order to increase support while decreasing the negative impacts of stakeholders throughout the lifecycle of a project. Identify the key stakeholders along with the level of power and influence they have on the project is vital.

Stakeholder ‘Engagement’

I personally prefer this term as it implies a more collaborative, listening, consulting, informing and positive connotation. The role of a project manager is to get the best out of the relationships that you have with stakeholders.

Building relationships with stakeholders is vital to getting the best out of them, whether they are at the lowest or highest level. With external stakeholders, your relationship is the only thing that binds you, a client for example is under no obligation to work with you!

A good professional relationship isn’t just about the person liking you, although that always helps. It has to do with the way you conduct yourself, your words and tone, respect or contrition can all play a part. But all good relationships need trust, honesty and clear communication.

Stakeholder Management (as Part of Project Management)

Management of stakeholders is by definition a relationship with a job (project) and all of those invested or intrinsically involved in the outcome. As such stakeholders may and offer are not in alignment in terms of goals, budgets, resources and priorities.

Often stakeholders can be people multiple tires above you in the company hierarchy or a high ranking official from a client like the owner or CMO. These people often feel entitled to special treatment, feeling that their title or privilege demands special treatment… haha.

That said, you need to know how to speak to people; treat someone with disrespect or supplicate yourself and you could regret it. People who effectively manage multiple internal stakeholders are often people (like myself), who have developed the following skills:

  • Being respectful, professional and prepared
  • Great communication skills (speak to people on their level and language)
  • Leadership skills (including the ability to listen)
  • Diplomacy & Conviction
  • Honour & Honesty

Many of these are generic but it is in the application that defines the ability. Being prepared doesn’t mean knowing every last line of code if the stakeholder cares about financial milestones.

What will be the most effective methods of communicating with stakeholders is another concern. Centralised project management with top-down buy-in is an advantage, but these are things to consider when mapping out the initial sketch.

I have certain questions (during the scoping stage) prior to collaborating on a project with multiple stakeholders. These would form a checklist proceeding any gathering or organisation to gather some basic fact about the stakeholders:

  • What are the strategic reasons for consulting with the stakeholders?
  • Who needs to be consulted & why?
    • Who else (non-stakeholder) within the company is responsible for what activities?
  • What are the priority issues, goals and objectives (for them and for you)?
  • Are there any other activities the stakeholders are engaged in, that will conflict with the project timeframe?

Build Trust & Mutual Respect

Developing relationships results in increased trust. And where there is trust, people work together more easily and effectively. Investing effort in identifying and building stakeholder relationships can increase confidence across the project environment, minimise uncertainty, and speed problem solving and decision-making.

Tips For Approach With Stakeholders

  1. It does you well to make sure people know why a change is needed. Talking of change can illicit a negative response. Before you talk about how you want to do things, explain why something must be done. Use the Socratic method to lead them to your conclusion.
  2. Talk to people on their level and adopt aspects of their wording, aligned with their wants and goals
  3. Make your case in multiple ways. People often understand and interpret information in different ways. Use a combination of conversation, imagery, text, video and other media to communicate effectively.
  4. Spend time together to get to know each other (and the team).
  5. Although counter intuitive; allow yourself to be influenced by the people who resist you can work to your advantage if played well. This doesn’t mean that you give in to every demand, but that you can admit that you may have been wrong and that they have ideas worth considering.
  6. Emphasize what’s in it for them. People need to believe that the change will serve them in some way. For example, work will be easier, relationships will improve, career opportunities will open up, or job security will increase.
  7. Emphasize what’s in it for them. People need to believe that the change will serve them in some way. For example, more money, career opportunities will open up, or job security will improve.
  8. Get them engaged in the process. People tend to support things they have a hand in building. Get them building!

Remove as much of the fear as you can – and increase the excitement about the positive things about the change.

Internal & External Stakeholders

In the page on project management, I outlined the steps required to effectively manage a project but I omitted much information on the stakeholder aspect.

Managing a project is intrinsically tied to effective stakeholder management, which I cover tactics and approach for in more detail in this article. The process below is the template for approaching most projects; I say most and the typically project I manage is to drive performance or Crete and deploy new offerings hence the language deployed.

Because stakeholders can be between few and many, consist of unrelated people who may even hold reason to ally or hold grudges; the scale of the management process can vary massively. Ultimately people need to collaborate to get things done… but this is not always the way of things.

I don’t work in an episode of the TV show “Suits” and so constant internal friction driven by poor communication and the mental maturity of moody teenagers… Most projects have had not had major stakeholder issues.

I listed a project management process template in the post on project management, and have removed the steps the don’t affect most stakeholders.

  • Step 1: Conception & Initiation: Identify & Meet with Stakeholders
  • Step 2: Definition of goals: Set & Prioritize Goals & Define Deliverables
  • Step 6: Approval: Present the Project Plan to Stakeholders
  • Step 7: Launch / Execute: Begin to implement the plan
  • Step 8: Reporting: Success!

Step 1 & 2: Conception & Goals

This almost always boils down to buy-in, getting the approval of the stakeholders. Agreeing the goals with a potentially multi-headed client (in some instances). In most working environments this involves stakeholders having concerns about resources, other priorities, timelines and deadlines, etc.

Your project isn’t the only project! Understanding what dates / deadlines and deliverables that are pivotal to the project (other parts cannot begin without them) should be the principle focus. The rest of the project needs to work around these red lines.

Once goals have been decided and the metrics for success, we just need to understand any requirements from the stakeholders in terms of ‘quod pro quo’ or resources. They may need to seek approval for additional funds for example.

Having strong ability to understand, negotiate and resolve conflict is an important skill to have.

Step 6: Approval

After you have designed the plan you need approval from all the stakeholders. This may require the aforementioned skills. This should not be the second point of content for most to all stakeholders.

If the initial goals and requirements have been met by the project strategy and tactical objectives of the stakeholders satisfied; we should be good to go.

Step 7: Execute Project

Regular communication that meets their needs and allows you to be informed enough to manage the project effectively. Meetings to discuss the progress toward various milestones whether they are growth, revenue, features, brand awareness. These need to be frequent enough to ensure timelines are met without upsetting or wasting time of certain stakeholders.

Step 8: Reporting

Typically significant objects are summarised in a report where the metrics that defined success measured that and provides insights on how to improve moving forward.

My Big Stakeholder Success

Probably one of the biggest projects I worked on in terms of the sheer volume of stakeholders was during a consulting job. I had initially been brought in to recruit a Digital Marketing team.

The company had multiple brands all recently purchased competitors and they were merging a groups of around 5 similar brands into one site. This was the site of their main brand and this was also undergoing a redesign and migration.

In terms of stakeholders there were multiple web dev guys each owning a unique aspect of the job and each responsible for implementation certain SEO components. We were also liaising with an external SEO agency who were in theory responsible for the migration, in terms of technical migration.

There was also an external team of developers who were working on the back end of the site which provided vital functionality but also resulted in pages being made that needed optimising.

On top of this were two senior, one C-Level and one Director who were being fed information.

The site was also going to be multi regional with a directory structure to facilitate that and so some sites were redirected to some directories and so forth. This multi-regional approach involved multiple stakeholders for website content from 6 countries.

Migrating 5 sites into 1 with 6 regional versions and international stakeholders each keen for their voice to be heard was quite something.

What Did I Do?

Noticing the errors and problems with an early crawl of the new site I held a meeting with a section of stakeholders primarily external agencies. We removed the SEO agency due to their blunder and in place I devised a strategy that replaced their work with mine. This allowed me to work alongside key stakeholders building the site.

Higher level stakeholders were informed that there ‘was’ a problem and we are now working with the solution. Over a period of several days in the lead up to launch I liaised more than hourly with everyone involved in deadlines for that day. Ensuring we were on target in each area and understanding the areas of risk.

I made the call to delay the launch by 3 days from the initial plan in a high level stakeholder meeting. Explaining the benefits and risks in a straight forward, honest and targeted way. Unanimous agreement was reached and the extra time enabled us to resolve all the problems.

The launch was 100% successful and increased (total aggregated) traffic by 24% over the first 6 weeks.

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