Tips for project success through proper stakeholder engagement

According to a research report by PM Solutions, the top two root causes cited as obstacles to project recovery for projects at risk of failure are:

  • An inability to get stakeholders to accept the changes required to get a project back on track—such as changes in scope, budget, resources, etc. 
  • Poor communication and stakeholder engagement as well as a lack of clarity and trust.

For the sake of PMP-certified and aspiring PMPs, Project Stakeholder Management used to be a part of the Communications Management knowledge areas in the PMBOK® Guide – Fourth Edition. It was added as a knowledge area in PMBOK® Guide – Fifth Edition. Further, PMBOK® Guide – Sixth Edition saw changes in the process names under Project Stakeholder Management. Let’s delve into this change from stakeholder management to stakeholder engagement and recognize the paradigm shift in how we should see the project stakeholders.

According to the Oxford dictionary, management is defined as – the process of dealing with or controlling things or people, whereas engagement is defined as – the action of engaging or being engaged.

Further, the word “engage” means:

  • to involve someone in (a conversation or discussion).
  • to participate or become involved
  • to establish a meaningful contact or connection with

Clearly, when we had the process names such as Plan Stakeholder Management and Control Stakeholder Engagement, it didn’t look like both the Project Manager and the Stakeholders were on the same side of the fence – aiming for project success. Now with the modified names, there comes a more humane stance of communication, collaboration, and participation. No doubt, the onus of initiative and planning out how the project team can best engage with the stakeholders lies with the project manager.

Stakeholders are known to influence a project through six factors: Power, Influence, Urgency, Legitimacy, Proximity, and Network (Rajablu, Marthandan, & Yusoff, 2015).

Stakeholder engagement must always start with conversations with the stakeholders to understand their requirements, expectations, capabilities to contribute according to their skillsets and availability, and must continue throughout the project cycle with timely requests for feedback or sign-offs on milestones.

Usually, stakeholder influence is visible in the project initiation stage as the active stakeholders would be vocal about their requirements or expectations. But there might be a few stakeholders who might not take interest early on. The risk is minimal in the early project stages as all inputs and ideas can be studied, and debated on to reach a decision. It is at the project delivery stage when the project risk reaches its highest potential as any mismatch in results, and stakeholder’s expectations could end up in project failure. So, the project managers must not miss out on identifying any stakeholders, in the beginning, to be able to ensure optimal engagement with each one of them (Vogwell, 2003).

 

How to get stakeholders involved across the project cycle?

A walkthrough of the design document, a proof of concept, or a prototype can help get inputs in real-time. Recording and sharing the outcomes of such interactions in the form of documents can help do away with any communication gaps or incongruity.

A shared feeling of accomplishment comes when the stakeholders’ inputs are incorporated, and they contribute to the development of project outcome. This is vital for project success. In the case of any conflicting opinions among the stakeholders, it would be best to help them build a consensus in the interest of the project in light of actionable insights or consequences of each of the options.

Project success is much more probable if we try to manage a project through stakeholders. An active stakeholder engagement starting with identification of all the possible stakeholders, ensuring prompt and clear communication with them, engaging with them at all stages, soliciting their participation, deriving empowerment by seeking timely approvals and feedback, and using their expert judgment in Risk Control makes a flawless recipe for project success.

 

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