Managing Stakeholders with Competing Priorities

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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?

  1. What are the goals of the organization? Are my goals the same?
  2. Am I a key influencer on this project? Why or why not?
  3. Does this project make my life easier? Does this project create more work?
  4. What could I gain if the project is a success? What could I lose of the project succeeds? Vice versa?
  5. 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:

  1. Don’t assume all stakeholders will be on board with your project.  Organizational and key stakeholder analysis is critical.
  2. Stop thinking like yourself to gain insight on stakeholder personalities, motivations, and goals. Engage smartly. 
  3. 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

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