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8 Tips to Effectively Manage Stakeholders

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The task of managing project stakeholders can, ironically, turn out to be a project in itself – a large, multi-fanged, multi-headed beast that can prove uncontrollable. To find out how best to keep the beast at bay, I sought the advice of three experienced project managers.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. Identify all the stakeholders at the beginning of the project. You need to do this or face the problem of more stakeholders with disruptive agendas joining after the project starts, said Ryan Endres, lead project manager, Project Management Office, Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, University of Wisconsin Madison.

2. Ensure all the stakeholders agree on the project’s deliverables and what their roles are. “You need to have complete agreement on the narrative of the project, the deliverables, and what people’s roles are,” said Glen Alleman, vice president, Strategic Consulting and Performance Management at Lewis & Fowler, a project management and consulting firm in Niwot, CO. “Before the project begins, it’s very important to establish rules of engagement that define people’s functions, and whether they are leaders or followers. You don’t want followers clamoring to be leaders half-way through a project.

“People need to agree on all of the requirements at the start of project,” agrees Endres. “Not doing so may result in possible delays, cost overruns and project failure.”

3. Get consensus on how to handle changes to the project. The more complex the project, the more changes you will have, said Alleman. “It is vital to the success of a project that all stakeholders agree on how to handle changes.”

4. Practice good communication. Again, this is something that needs to be defined at the start of the project. The project team must determine the frequency of communication and what it will include, said Endres. “Typically, communication should be concise and focus on progress and value,” he said. “Communication should be meaningful to all stakeholders.”

5. Keep the project vision visible. Keeping the project vision accessible allows everyone to stay focused on what's important, said Endres. “This helps reduce the chance of scope creep.”

6. Engage stakeholders throughout the process. Experts emphasize that is important to engage stakeholders in problem-solving, reviewing new requirements, and creating lists of lessons-learned.

7. Agree on what "done" is. Stakeholders need to agree what done looks like, notes Endres. “If they don’t, the project may easily get off track.”

8. Finally, don’t forget to empathize with other stakeholders. Your ability to put yourself in another’s shoes can be crucial to the success or failure of a project, notes Josh Nankivel, president, pmstudent.com, Sioux Falls, SD. “Don’t limit your analysis of the project to people’s interest and influence,” he said. “Identify what their goals are, what context they bring with them, and relate to how they perceive the project will impact them.”

Nankivel said an empathic analysis helps uncover hidden variables that can help a PM to decide how to deal with issues. "For example, you may find it is more useful to spend time building trust with a low interest/low influence stakeholder than a high interest/high influence stakeholder if the latter is highly inclined to support your project.”

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