Are project stakeholders appointed to your project by default, or do you take the time to methodically select those who would be the greatest contributors to your project success? Are your stakeholders “absent landlords” or “lords of the manor”? Or are they focused on successful project governance?
I like what the PMBOK® Guide says: “The ability of the project manager and team to correctly identify and engage all stakeholders in an appropriate way can mean the difference between project success and failure.”
I like the upbeat nature of that statement; yet for me, there is also unintended irony. In 99 percent of my project management engagements, it was the main stakeholder that selected the IT solution provider (usually through a procurement process) and the end-user team for the project.
Oh, for the ability to someday manage a project where I, as Project Manager, have the authority to select the stakeholders!
The PMBOK® Guide asserts the above quoted statement because it is project management’s responsibility to influence the process of selecting the ideal project stakeholders, not the other way around. Stakeholders should be identified before project delivery and implementation begin.
Step back for a moment from what we commonly think of as project management – the management of the project delivery and implementation. Think instead of project management’s significant role during the pre-delivery stage of the project. I cannot emphasize strongly enough how important it is to have your experienced senior project management staff at the table to contribute to and influence the selection of optimal project stakeholders.
Absent Landlords do not Contribute to Project Success
I’ve been involved in projects where the major stakeholder is best described as an absent landlord. On one such project, the major stakeholder attended the monthly executive Steering Committee meetings, took a few notes, and asked a few questions when prompted. Otherwise, her presence on the project was non-existent. Eventually, she asked that the Steering Committee meetings be moved to a quarterly cadence. The meetings became nothing more than boring, summarized recitations of the project’s regular monthly status reporting.
My boss assured me that boring Steering Committee meetings were what I should strive for. Boring is a good sign. After all, if the major stakeholder was happy, then the project must be going well.
However, my gut told me that things were not completely well on the project. I was perturbed by this stakeholder’s lack of curiosity and her willingness to accept at face value everything that was presented. While we always presented the facts, I never knew if we were meeting her expectations. My project manager counterpart from the end-user team would not escalate anything that might be considered controversial to her, in order not to upset her.
The project was eventually implemented. The final results were acceptable, but not stellar. The project was not a failure, but not a great success either. It was not one of my finest endeavors as a Project Manager.
However, I now know what I would do differently. I would advocate to get an interested, influential, supportive, decision-making major stakeholder that would ask the tough questions and set high expectations for the results of the project.
Lords of the Manor do not Contribute to Project Success
I’ve also been involved in a project where the major stakeholder was so involved in the day-to-day project delivery that creativity and decision-making by the project team were stymied. His own staff resented his constant intrusion. He second guessed his hand-selected end-user Project Manager. Project decisions were often made to avoid his wrath rather than to do what was right for the project. Quite opposite of the absent landlord described above, he was the lord of the manor and no one dared challenge him.
Eventually the project was implemented. The final results were acceptable, but not stellar. The project was a success, but not a particularly great success.
I was not the project manager in this situation, but I do know what I would do differently given a similar situation. I would advocate for a kinder, gentler major stakeholder, who was less hands-on and more collaborative. I would welcome the firmness of holding tough to deadlines and project goals that this stakeholder had exhibited, but could do with fewer bruised and battered bodies that got caught in his wake.
Identifying Stakeholders is Easy from a Process Perspective, but not from a People Perspective
In both of the above situations, these stakeholders were selected because of their positions within their organizations. The Project Manager requested them for this role via an established process for identifying stakeholders:
- identify the internal and external entities to contribute stakeholders to the project right at the outset of the project;
- award a stakeholder role to the IT solution provider, whether an outside firm or an internal project delivery organization;
- assess organizational environmental factors that necessitate additional stakeholder roles (e.g., factors such as legislative or regulatory compliance, product standards, ancillary functions, and others); and
- document their names in a Stakeholder Register, identifying their project roles, their ability to influence the project, their expectations, and their interest in the project outcome.
This sounds like a relatively easy task from a process perspective, and indeed it is. Remember though, my overarching premise is that the process aspects of project management are the ones that are typically done well by the Project Manager. However, it’s the people issues – or rather, the ignoring of the people issues – that truly test the Project Manager’s skill at assembling excellent stakeholders. It’s the people issues that often cause projects, even those with well-executed processes, to fail.
A Strong Project Sponsor Adheres to the People Aspects of Project Governance
All projects need a primary stakeholder (sometimes called a project sponsor). He or she must be a highly respected, influential, supportive, and interested decision maker within the sponsoring organization.
Who might that be? Well, someone in the organization saw the need for this project. Someone had the vision for its eventual outcome. Someone was willing to risk significant capital, organizational resources, and time in order to benefit the organization. So, does that mean that our search for the primary stakeholder begins with that someone?
In one word, “YES!”
Having such a rare individual serve as primary stakeholder is the first step toward eventual project success. Typically, he or she has achieved a high level of respect and influence in the organization because of his/her ability to work well with people at all levels. This individual can influence outcomes, make good decisions and support them, and closely monitor what is happening on the project and across the enterprise.
I say “rare individual” because this person is one who is acting proactively to fulfill an overall master plan. So often projects are initiated out of necessity to replace ailing legacy systems, or in response to regulatory fiat, rather than as part of a master plan. In such situations, a primary stakeholder is often named because executive management requires someone – anyone – to oversee the project. Typically, he/she is not assessed for his or her fit for the project.
For example, how often is the IT manager from the client organization named as the primary stakeholder because, “After all, it’s a systems project?” Little thought is given to business ownership of the project, which typically results in a higher likelihood of project success.
The hard work for the IT Project Manager begins during the pre-delivery stage of the project. This is where decisions are made to select the best stakeholders who will in turn focus on the people aspects of the project, to influence a successful outcome for the final product.
As the PMBOK® Guide says: “The ability of the project manager and team to correctly identify and engage all stakeholders in an appropriate way can mean the difference between project success and failure.”
Pay attention to the people aspects of project management, and Recruit the Right Stakeholders!
2. Process Initiation – Identify Stakeholders
If you want your IT projects to come in on time and within budget; if you want your clients to be your best ambassadors and your project teams to be committed to your success; if you want to stop leaving money on the table – then Merv Jersak is the mentor and coach who will work with you to help attain the results to which you aspire. With more than 40 years’ experience as an IT Project Management and systems consultant, Merv works with IT solution providers and end-user organizations, focusing on the people aspects of project delivery to drive more profit to the bottom line and to have fewer budget overruns.
To learn more about Merv’s service offerings, or to hire him to speak to your organization, visit www.PeopleFirstProjectManagement.com.
52 Project Management Success Tips from Merv Jersak • Copyright ©2020. All rights reserved.