Projects involve more than just objectives, outcomes and plans. They also involve people – most importantly, the project stakeholders. Stakeholders can be strong advocates for a project, or they can turn around and kill it. They can help project managers become better at their jobs, or frustrate them into failure. Because of their influence on most project decisions, it’s clear that forming good relationships with stakeholders is essential to becoming a successful project manager.
Take Action with These Relationship Building Tips
Take the time to identify all stakeholders before starting a new project. Include those who are impacted by the project, as well as groups with the ability to impact the project. Then, begin the process of building strong relationships with each one using the following method.
- Analyze Stakeholders: Conduct a stakeholders’ analysis, or an assessment of a project’s key participants, and how the project will affect their problems and needs. Identify their individual characteristics and interests. Find out what motivates them, as well as what provokes them. Define roles and level of participation, and determine if there are conflicts of interest among groups of stakeholders.
- Assessing Influence: Measure the degree to which stakeholders can influence the project. The more influential a stakeholder is, the more a project manager will need their support. Think about the question, “What’s in it for them?” when considering stakeholders. Knowing what each stakeholder needs or wants from the project will enable the project manager to gauge his or her level of support. And remember to balance support against influence. Is it more important to have strong support from a stakeholder with little influence, or lukewarm support from one with a high level of influence?
- Understand Their Expectations: Nail down stakeholders’ specific expectations. Ask for clarification when needed to be sure they are completely understood.
- Define “Success”: Every stakeholder may have a different idea of what project success looks like. Discovering this at the end of the project is a formula for failure. Gather definitions up front and include them in the objectives to help ensure that all stakeholders will be supportive of the final outcomes.
- Keep Stakeholders Involved: Don’t just report to stakeholders. Ask for their input. Get to know them better by scheduling time for coffee, lunch or quick meetings. Measure each stakeholder’s capacity to participate and honor time constraints.
- Keep Stakeholders Informed: Send regular status updates. Daily may be too much; monthly is not enough. One update per week is usually about right. Hold project meetings as required, but don’t let too much time pass between meetings. Be sure to answer stakeholders’ questions and emails promptly. Regular communication is always appreciated – and may even soften the blow when you have bad news to share.
These are the basics of building strong stakeholder relationships. But as in any relationship, there are subtleties that every successful project manager understands – such as learning the differences between and relating well to different types stakeholders.
How to Relate to Different Types of Stakeholders
By conducting a stakeholder analysis, project managers can gather enough information on which to build strong relationships – regardless of the differences between them. For example, the needs and wants of a Director of Marketing will be different than those of a Chief Information Officer. Therefore, the project manager’s engagement with each will need to be different, as well.
Stakeholders with financial concerns will need to know the potential return of the project’s outcomes. Others will support projects if there is sound evidence of their value to improving operations, boosting market share, increasing production, or meeting other company objectives.
Keep each stakeholder’s expectations and needs in mind throughout each conversation, report or e-mail, no matter how casual or formal the communication may be. Remember that the company’s interests are more important than any individual’s – yours or a stakeholder’s. When forced to choose between them, put the company’s needs first.
No matter what their needs or wants, all stakeholders will respect the project manager who:
- Is always honest, even when telling them something they don’t want to hear.
- Takes ownership of the project.
- Is predictable and reliable.
- Stands by his or her decisions.
- Takes accountability for mistakes.
Supportive Stakeholders are Essential to Project Success
Achieving a project’s objectives takes a focused, well-organized project manager who can engage with a committed team and gain the support of all stakeholders. Building strong, trusting relationships with interested parties from the start can make the difference between project success and failure.