Today, we will talk about the subject of how to effectively collaborate with the stakeholders during a project?
We all know that one of the project’s success criteria is to satisfy stakeholders. But reality is that project stakeholders and the relationships among them are usually intricate. Each stakeholder usually has his own expectation and needs. If effective collaboration with stakeholders could not be achieved, it would possibly cause the project’s objectives to be deviated or even project’s failure.
1 A practical case
Here is a practical case of which Jack was new to his career of project manager.
At that time, Jack was leading a team to build an information management system for housing sales company. The objective of the project was to transform the material-based offline management process to be an electronic-based online management system. The purpose was to improve the work efficiency of different functional teams, especially the efficiency of transregional teams. In that project, Jack had to collaborate with various stakeholders, such as internal operations team, client-side operations team, finance team, audit team and their corresponding senior managers. The direct customer of the project was the client representative, who was also the leader of client’s IT department. And then, Jack continuously communicated with the client representative, and achieved some process optimization requirements raised by the client representative. In the process of the project, the client representative was very satisfied with the functions and items which Jack had achieved.
So far, so good. But …
Near the end of the project, Jack arranged a product presentation and review meeting with all the internal and external stakeholders. That presentation meeting caused a fatal blow to the project and project team, which means lots of stakeholders were very dissatisfied with the product. First, the sales department said that one of the product’s function was inconsistent with the original requirement and the functionality change was unacceptable. Then, the finance department said that the algorithm of the commission was contradictive with the actual situation. Lastly, a senior leader said that the system had not solved his primary concern issue, and he could not accept the final product. As a result, the project team had to do lots of rework to satisfy all those requirements, which led to significant increasing of cost and schedule.
Apparently this is typical case of bad collaboration with stakeholders. After the project, Jack, who had been through the entire project personally, had a deeper understanding of stakeholder collaboration in project management. After deeply analyzing and resuming the whole event, several key causes can be found for the upper case.
First, at the beginning of the project, Jack’s analysis of key stakeholders is biased and one-sided. Jack thought that he only has to collaborate with the client representative in order to achieve the project’s objectives. The reality is even though the client representative had his own requirements and expectations, but only satisfying what the client representative needs does not mean all stakeholders’ requirements will be satisfied as well.
Second, Jack had not been able to facilitate different functional departments effectively, which led to inconsistency of different stakeholders’ expectation regarding to the project. As a result, various stakeholders had their own deviation regarding to acknowledgment of the objectives of the project, leading to many additional requirements, gold plating and severe scope creep.
Third, Jack had not been able to develop an effective communication system (including communication methods and communication channels) for stakeholders’ communications. Neither did he have been able to to build enough trust among the stakeholders. As a result, during the project, the support from various stakeholders is very limited, and leading to ambiguous requirements and unaligned objectives, and so forth.
Forth, lack of continuous engagement of stakeholders. During the project, there are only two meetings which invited all the key stakeholders: project initiating meeting and product review meeting. Between these two meetings there was no communication and interaction between Jack and all the key stakeholders, which caused the variation between project scope and the original requirements becoming bigger and bigger. As a result, the final product review became a total failure.
2 How to effectively collaborate with stakeholders?
First, we have to fully identify all the stakeholders. During the process, we also have to document these stakeholders’ interest, expectation, engagement level, interactions, and potential influence on the project, and so forth.
In the “stakeholder register”, documented information should includes: basic information like stakeholder’s identity information; some assessment information like main requirements, expectations, influence on the project; classified information like internal/external, level of influence (high/medium/low), level of power (high/low) and so forth. In the upper case, some important stakeholders like finance department and sales department had not been identified, and certainly these stakeholders’ level of influence had not been identified as well. As a result, the final delivery of the project became unsuccessful.
Second, during the project’s execution, we have to continuously evaluate the level of stakeholders’ engagement in order to find out whether the stakeholders’ engagement has positive influence on the project’s objectives or not. At the points of key milestones, status and information of the project must be delivered to the key stakeholders, to gain their feedback of the project. And more importantly, it is also to gain their commitment of the project objectives.
Third, we have to build the trust among all key stakeholders by using our interpersonal and team skills, so that we can effectively influence the key stakeholders and achieve the right project objectives. These skills includes conflict management, cultural awareness, negotiation and political awareness and so forth.
Finally, keep in touch with all key stakeholders by using communication and feedback. The most ideal plan is to engage all stakeholders in process of the project, but in reality it is very difficult to be achieved. Therefore, we have to try to shorten the feedback cycle, so that the problems can be discovered and be resolved as early as possible.
In summary, this article presents a practical bad case of stakeholder management, and several key points of stakeholder management have been presented and discussed.