When managing a project within a client’s organization, a project manager (PM) may encounter key stakeholders with priorities that do not align. For instance, one stakeholder may view a project as a necessary investment, while another may view the project as a waste of time and money. If those priorities are competing, this can have a negative effect on the project’s outcome by causing delays, frustration, or even project failure.
During my career as a teacher, U.S. Marine, and management consultant, I’ve discovered techniques that assess the stakeholder’s motivations and goals as well as develop an engagement plan that that helps to gain buy-in and minimize the negative effect on the project’s schedule, budget, and scope.
Note: Stakeholders are those individuals/groups that are affected by a project’s outcome, key stakeholders are the individuals/groups that may influence the project’s outcome.
Step 1: Organizational Analysis – Think about the current state versus desired state
Organizational dynamics are unique with each client. In some, there are many like-minded individuals with a few outliers, while others are diverse in every way. No matter what the dynamics are, I find value in analyzing the environment during the planning phase of any project. When looking at the environment from a project perspective, I ask myself these key questions:
- Who are the major players in the organization? Think about formal vs. informal influence/ authority
- What is the culture of the organization when dealing with change (historically)?
- What is the mission of the organization? Which industry?
- What kind of organization will you be working in (for-profit, not-for-profit, Government, etc.)? What are the organization’s key resources, capabilities, and shortfalls?
- What is the history of the project (have there been previous attempts at this project? Is this project much needed? etc.)?
- What kind of organizational change will result from your project (functional, process, structural, cultural)?
While answering these questions at a high level, I utilize the client organization’s data, but there is also value in asking these questions through conversations and observing key stakeholders in group settings and one-on-one interactions. While this may not seem terribly difficult, it can become time consuming, so a smart project manager will build time into his/her schedule to conduct a thorough organizational analysis to understand the environment and what the impact could be of the project. My theory: The better I understand the organization as a whole, the easier it will be to understand each key stakeholder.
Step 2: Key Stakeholder Engagement – Assess and engage
Following the organizational analysis, I begin to evaluate each key stakeholder by answering the questions below. I do not answer these questions using my own opinions, but through the perspective/lens of the person I am trying to understand. This analysis is done through individual conversation, observations in group settings, and discussion with others.
Stakeholder Engagement: If I’m a project stakeholder, what am I thinking?
- What are the goals of the organization? Are my goals the same?
- Am I a key influencer on this project? Why or why not?
- Does this project make my life easier? Does this project create more work?
- What could I gain if the project is a success? What could I lose of the project succeeds? Vice versa?
- Can I leverage this project to my advantage? Does this project threaten my job/role?
The role that a person plays in an organization could potentially give you insight on their personality, motivations, and goals. The descriptions below are based on common personalities that I have encountered:
- CEO: Focused on strategy and the organization, but also the people in the organization. PM should describe the project’s effects on both the future of the organization, but also the well-being of its employees.
- CFO: Focused on budget, bottom-line, and return-on-investment (ROI). PM should discuss the project’s short- and long-term financial benefits by using numbers and ROI model.
- CIO: Focused on IT investments, information sharing processes, and the way that the organization utilizes information. PM should discuss the functions of his/her project that may help the info use, and manage, information.
- COO: Focused on operations and keeping things running smoothly. PM’s project may disrupt normal (and comfortable) ways of doing business, so PM must show project’s benefits to operations.
- Key influencer without formal influence/authority: Focused on getting things done. While this person may not be a key decision maker, he/she can make things happen that others can’t. PM should discuss the new opportunities that may result from the project.
Step 3: Develop Stakeholder Management Plans – Build time into your schedule
After the overall organizational analysis, combined with the key stakeholder analysis, I’m ready to construct an effective Stakeholder Management Plan that includes:
- An effective engagement strategy that gains project buy-in and helps to manage expectations
- Maximum utilization of organizational capabilities
- Minimization of negative impact on project objectives
In summary, an effective PM understands organizational dynamics, and its key stakeholders, to achieve project success and minimal negative impact. Remember:
- Don’t assume all stakeholders will be on board with your project. Organizational and key stakeholder analysis is critical.
- Stop thinking like yourself to gain insight on stakeholder personalities, motivations, and goals. Engage smartly.
- Ensure that your project schedule reflects the necessary time to execute the Stakeholder Engagement Plan.
Good luck and please let me know if you have any questions!
— Chris Gonzalez, President, A-G Associates