Managing stakeholder expectations is an important part of managing project-based work. Project stakeholders should have a clearly defined value of what the successful outcome of their project might look like. However, clearly defining the potential value of an initiative before the project has begun can only happen with effective stakeholder management.
What is stakeholder management?
Stakeholder management involves how project status, costs, and roadblocks are communicated to those stakeholders to increase visibility, navigate change in project direction, and manage expectations. Project stakeholders are individuals who are involved in your project, or whose interests may be impacted as a result of project execution or successful project completion.
The stakeholder management process helps project managers keep change front of mind while making it less threatening. The stakeholder management plan is an important reminder for every interaction project managers have with direct or indirect stakeholders as it helps them maintain practical connection between the project and daily operations.
Stakeholder identification cannot be underestimated. It's a big task. Stakeholder identification is often difficult but must be done thoroughly for the project manager to know who's who and put in place strategies to manage conflicting needs and expectations, and help stakeholders transition to a different way of working.
The key facets of stakeholder identification are:
Here you're creating a picture of who's who with regards their functions, ie., corporate, internal and external functions.
Now it's time to identify individuals in each group and rank them as high, medium, or low in terms of their:
- Ability to disrupt change
- Current understanding
- Required understanding
- Current commitment
- Required commitment
- Required support
Stakeholder management approach
This is effectively a power vs. interest matrix, which helps determine the strategy to adopt for engaging with them.
Now your stakeholder management plan becomes more solid. With individuals listed in each functional group you can add their key concerns, the management approach you're taking, and key artefacts for their input or validation during the project.
Review and adjust or use what makes sense for you and your project. The effort applied to this work gives a solid foundation for developing the communication plan, acts as input to the risk management plan, and sets the scene for all on the project team. It also gives you a reference baseline for transitioning people and processes as the project moves through its life cycle.
10 keys for effective stakeholder management
Here are ten tips for creating presentations that supercharge your stakeholder management:
Pique their interest
An agenda is always a good idea, but a brief summary of what will be discussed is even better. Plus, it gives stakeholders a take-away and allows them to come prepared with questions. Keeping stakeholders focused on the objective can be challenging, but it's critical for project success.
Don't assume they know their job as stakeholder
Your stakeholders might understand the high-level view of the project, but you might need to fill in the details of what you need from them.
Keep it simple
Give your stakeholders the situation in straightforward terms. Don't overwhelm them with information. Cut to the chase. However, be prepared for a deeper dive if they start asking questions. When reporting to stakeholders, it's important to remember that executives aren't as interested in your particular project management methodology as they are in results. Keep stakeholder communication focused on progress and value. Be concise and brief. Sending a lot of time buried in the details with stakeholders will not only be frustrating for them—it doesn't do you any good either.
Use numbers and pictures
PowerPoint is a great tool for presenting graphics and numbers to stakeholders. It's how they present information to each other. And, yes, they need to be a prominent part of your stakeholder management plan.
Accept the fact that there might not always be data to support a particular situation. Not having numbers to backup your position could make a successful argument problematic, so you may have to turn to "if … then …" logic to shed light on a situation. However, don't expect the same results or response from stakeholders—numbers rule with them.
Waiting is never a good option
Part of good stakeholder management is anticipating and dealing with problems before they become a big deal. Don't wait until a problem is obvious—it's often more difficult to solve the issue at that point.
Always offer a solution
If you are going to bring up a problem without offering a potential solution, you might as well tell the stakeholders, "Fire me now." Finding solutions is part of your job as project manager.
Specify the actions required
If stakeholders need to take action, don't assume it will be obvious to them. Restate—in list form—what actions need to be taken and when.
Always say yes*
*But make sure they understand how much "yes" costs. Sponsors and stakeholders don't like to be told "no," so don't do it. Just make sure they understand the cost of their request, so they can judge for themselves whether or not "yes" is worth it.
Don't stop reporting
Perception is reality. If stakeholders perceive that you aren't doing anything—your not. Don't let your head be the next one on the chopping block. In most organizations, a stakeholders attention span is pretty short. Long projects that require a lot of stakeholder patience tend to falter and ultimately fail. Providing value regularly, at short (3-4 week) intervals, keeps stakeholders engaged and interested.
Learn more: Workfront for Project Management
Stakeholder management tools
Regardless of your company's project management methodology, there are a lot of project management tools available to help manage tasks and time-lines—some will help you more effectively communicate with the stakeholders in your organization. Whether or not your chosen project management tool facilitates that kind of communication, ignoring that important part of your role as project manager is dangerous.