Managing stakeholders represents a major political challenge to all programme and project managers. Although many project managers are only now beginning to address this, whereas complex stakeholder management has been intrinsically linked to programmes and lovingly embraced by programme managers.
Previously project managers have been able to avoid the daily manoeuvrings and manipulations intrinsic with complex stakeholder management, typically having the “protection” of an adept programme manager whom managed this crutial task in order to leave the project manager to get on with project delivery. Project managers would have one key stakeholder, the sponsor. Things have changed.
Project managers are now being faced with addressing the complex stakeholder management challenge.
What makes it such a challenge is that frequently little is known about the nature of the various project stakeholders: who they are, what their individual agendas are, and how to understand the nature of the stakeholder trade-offs.
Stakeholder management is a process, like so many others we perform. Unfortunately this is not one you commence at project kick-off and ignore thereafter. During the lifecycle of the programme or project the stakeholder management process is very much cyclical. It requires the programme and project managers to continually update and reassess the nature of the various stakeholder groups and their potential impact on the programme or project.
Different stakeholder groups have different priorities. Programme and project managers must acknowledge and address these or face derailment of their programme and project. Stakeholder priorities have a tendancy to change during the programme and project lifecycle so compounds the challenge.
It is imperative that a comprehensive stakeholder analysis is performed. Stakeholder Analysis is the technique used to identify the key people who have to be won over in order to ensure successful delivery of the programme or project. Remember, by engaging the right people in the right way, you can make a big difference to its success. Stakeholder analysis forms the foundation of your stakeholder management. It enables you to get to grips with your stakeholders, such as how they are likely to feel about and react to your project, how best to engage them in your project and how best to communicate with them.
Eight years ago I ran a programme for a retail bank’s £50 million strategic venture. An exciting foray into a new and lucrative business area for the bank. The initial stakeholder analysis was conducted with executive management and identified twelve stakeholder groups who needed to participate in the programme. The kick-off meeting was arranged and representatives invited from these groups.
As the kick-off meeting was due to commence it was very much apparent that the stakeholder analysis was somewhat underestimated, as a queue of eager representatives from approximately fifty stakeholder groups from across the bank wished to participate. The kick-off meeting was postponed.
Executive management had to reassess the situation and the programme progressed with over forty stakeholder groups. As you could appreciate this made for a very interesting balance priorities and trade-offs between all parties. I certainly came away with a few scars from that experience!
When it comes to stakeholders, programme and project managers must accept that it is clearly impossible to “maximise” satisfaction levels among all stakeholders. Astute programme and project managers must find a fine balance of trade-offs, seeking to satisfy all stakeholder groups but only to the degree possible. Unfortunately, easier said than done!