Lessons in Stakeholder Management not learned from Bram Stoker’s Dracula

 

Slalom Consultant Carl Manello

“Oft expectation fails, and most oft there where most it promises” William Shakespeare, All ’s Well that Ends Well

For project and program managers a “stakeholder” is not a colorful reference to vampire killers, like Dracula’s arch-nemesis Abraham Van Helsing, wielding their weapon of choice. Project stakeholders are those within or outside an organization who sponsor a project, or who have an interest in a project, or who may have a positive or negative influence on a project.

Who are the Stakeholders?

In order to manage stakeholders effectively and ensure that their needs are being addressed, it is first necessary to identify all the stakeholders. Stakeholders may include executives, coworkers, customers and suppliers.  They are basically anyone who is impacted by or may be impacted by the project.  The key is to find as many stakeholders or stakeholder groups as early as possible in the project.  As large projects may have hundreds of stakeholders, it is often necessary to identify stakeholder groups and those individuals that are in position to speak on behalf of the group.  As individuals or groups are identified, stakeholder needs and requirements can be flushed out.

Slalom Consultant Amit Patel

Slalom Consultant Amit Patel is known for his excellence in creating spend management reports and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (depending upon who you talk to).

It is important to flush out those requirements early. Finding stakeholders late in the project will add to project costs, create delays and/or missed functionality in the project.  The cost of “fixing” missing requirements after development begins can be 100 times as high as it would have been during the initial requirements gathering stage.  If stakeholders are missed, or identified late in the project, requirements will be missed.  Late requirements identification can lead to added costs, missed milestone dates, and/or missed functionality.  If a more complete set of requirements can be identified early, project planning is more accurate and it will therefore help you to reach a successful conclusion of your project.

How are the Stakeholders identified?

There are many ways to identify stakeholders:

  • One method is to take a look at prior project history.  A similar past project may lead you to some stakeholders.
  • Another method is a simple brainstorming technique:  come up with names of individuals who may be affected by the project.  A list of potential stakeholders or groups needs to be vetted and ratified by project sponsors, but offers a good starting point for an initiative with no historical archive.
  • A third approach is to engage subject matter experts.  Subject matter experts in the business can help identify potential stakeholder groups and possibly key individuals.
  • A hybrid approach is to invite potential stakeholders to a meeting about the project.  This will provide the stakeholders an opportunity to identify themselves.  This first cut of stakeholders can be leveraged to help flush out additional stakeholders.

While each of these methods requires some additional work, that investment will pay you long term dividends, especially considering the cost factor of finding out information late.

How are Stakeholders’ expectations managed?

Once stakeholders have been identified, it is important to manage their expectations.  If expectations are missed (expectations cannot be met if stakeholders are not identified), then the risks to project success increase.  As the project manager, one of your primary focuses is to meet your stakeholders’ needs and requirements.  It’s back to that basic equation of the triple constraint and your ability to deliver on-time, on-budget and to specified requirements.
In order to ensure alignment and delivery on requirements, it is important to have some formalized method of tracking user expectations.  This can be done with a Stakeholder Matrix or through a combination of standard business analysis tools (e.g., Statement of Customer Needs, Requirements Specifications and Traceability Matrix). Another important tool is the Communication plan.  It helps to organize communication activities in support of your stakeholders.  A good PM has an entire kit-bag of additional tools to help manage users’ expectations, including an Issues Log, Requirements Change Log, and Risks Log.

Summary

Managing your stakeholders and their expectations requires a level of formality to ensure an agreement in requirements, objectives, scope, a realistic schedule, and appropriately estimated costs.  There are many activities, standard practices and tools that are available to help you discover and manage your stakeholders’ expectations. As PM’s we need to work hard to ensure that Shakespeare is not correct and that expectations are managed well where they are needed most.  Facilitation, communication, proactive management and bevy of tools, processes and methods all contribute to make you more effective in your pursuit of excellent delivery and to ensure that all will be well when you end your project well.

About Carl M. Manello
I am Slalom Consulting's Practice Lead for Delivery Effectiveness. I work to support organizations' capability and delivery maturity -- not just IT organizations -- so that their initiatives run more predictably, efficiently and provide the best results.

5 Responses to Lessons in Stakeholder Management not learned from Bram Stoker’s Dracula

  1. Pingback: Understanding Your Environment « The Slalom Blog

  2. Pingback: Scope Changes are not Unthinkable « The Slalom Blog

  3. Pingback: Effective Methods of Risk Identification « The Slalom Blog

  4. Pingback: The Power of Personality Management « The Slalom Blog

  5. Pingback: The Art of Project Management: Planning | The Slalom Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: