One of the key tasks of a good project manager is to manage his team. When I say ‘team’ I refer to the direct team, the project team that is executing the project, but also to the wider group of people impacted by your project.
Just think of the end user who will have to use the final installation together with his operational team. He or she needs to approve the design in an early stage. Therefore, the end user is an important stakeholder from the early beginning. The same goes for the plant manager of the site you are working on, the HR manager who will need to recruit operators for the future production line your team is constructing, etc.
You see where I am heading to? Everybody who is closely or more distantly involved or impacted by the project, needs to be considered as a stakeholder. It is important to clearly identify this team.
Here are 4 tips on how to approach stakeholder management:
1. Make sure you know your extended team, all your stakeholders and put it on paper. Do it in the early days of the project and document it in the project’s execution or quality plan.
Your project’s stakeholders might all be official functions, but often you have some ‘hidden’ decision makers. If you forget to count them in, you will pay it back later. Think of an operator with a lot of experience. He will certainly help the production manager, his N+1, to give feedback on your technical proposals. So start by making a list of your stakeholders, but keep your eyes, ears and mind open.
2. Clearly define what you and your team can expect of all stakeholders and what they can expect of you. Define all roles and responsibilities in a RACI. Again, make sure you document it in your project’s execution plan and agree on this with the whole team. This RACI matrix will contain all actions that need to be taken during the project and will evolve during its course.
If you are managing a big project with a large team, it is useful to define audiences depending on areas of expertise.
3. All this will help you set up a meeting structure that values your stakeholder organization. Again, it starts to sound like a mantra: document it! Write down your audiences, meeting structure and the communication means that are applicable to your project, within each audience. These communication means can be: online meeting + report, face-to-face meeting + report, site visit + report, meeting + updated planning, etc. An additional tip here: do what you promised. Did you promise to do a weekly site visit to the construction site with the operational department? Keep that promise, even in busy times.
4. Last but not least: Inform your stakeholders. Let them know what is happening. At all times.
It is important to give the stakeholders a general view of the status of the project and of the next steps. That will give your project visibility (internal marketing). And it will create involvement of your team members.
The way you communicate with your stakeholders can vary from a formal group meeting to a 1 on 1 talk at the coffee machine. Always be respectful and open-minded.
A firm but empathic project manager will always be more successful in motivating his team members to chase the common goal.
To cut it short, stakeholder management is similar to other project management tasks: (1) define, (2) describe and agree, (3) implement and (4) communicate.