Dealing With Stakeholders

Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a project implementation that seemed to be falling apart at the seems? What went wrong? Over the years that I’ve been of involved in projects, I’ve seen a greater and greater need for the application of change management and stakeholder management. The type of change management I’m talking about is “people and process” and when I mention stakeholders I’m referring to the individuals impacted positively or negatively by the project. People are often the key variable not included in the project plans. The best processes and project methodologies will not make up for the lack of effective people management.
Perhaps you’re working on a project like this right now. I want to look at several things over the next two blogs. First, let’s assess the life of your current projects. Second, let’s look at some tools that you can use for future proofing your projects.

What is your current situation? What are some of your current obstacles?

Consider some of the following common challenges:

  • strong push back from key stakeholders and/or users
  • lack of overall buy-in
  • confusion amongst the different project groups during implementation
  • an environment of blame and guilt
  • low levels of motivation
  • feelings of distrust and uncertainty about the future
  • end users are reluctant to accept the new reality and ignore the need to change or adapt
  • there are many problems or unresolved issues due to a lack of stakeholder involvement in the beginning phases of the project planning (in many cases, the individuals involved in the initial planning of a project neglect to involve key stakeholders or users. This leads to gaps or problems in the project plans and quality issues with the subsequent implementation)

So think about your current projects and ask yourself how they would measure up to the above mentioned challenges. How would you rate them on a likert scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being the lowest or worst, and 10 being the highest or best? A project score of 2 may indicate that the project has many of the above mentioned challenges, whereas a project score of 8 may indicate a project that it does not have many of the above mentioned challenges.
If your projects are scoring low on the above mentioned scale then we need to address some of these challenges. I would like to propose two approaches to rectifying these problems. First, I propose the application of more effective stakeholder management in your future project plans. Secondly, I propose the application of formal change management.

Stakeholder Management

I will discuss an approach to stakeholder management in this blog and change management in the following blog.
To get started, let’s look at stakeholder management and something referred to as SIMSCoM. This is an acronym that stands for: Stakeholder Identification, Mapping, Strategy, Communication and Management.
I didn’t invent this approach to stakeholder management. I’m simply suggesting the application of it. Now let’s admit something up front. Stakeholder management is simple and straightforward in theory. The above mentioned process is easy to comprehend. The question is, “why do we neglect to apply it?”

Walking through the SIMSCoM process:

Stakeholder identification: identify all the potential people that may be positively or negatively impacted by the project

Stakeholder mapping: map out all expected lines of communication between the identified stakeholders and assess each stakeholder’s relation to the project
based on key variables like: level of influence; referent power over the project; political power within the organization and/or over the project; level of expected involvement in the project

Stakeholder Strategy: develop a strategy to deal with each stakeholder. How do you plan to influence negative stakeholders to become positive? How do you plan to maintain good relations with positive stakeholders? How can you convert fence-sitters?

Stakeholder Communication: a communication plan must be developed. Make a database of “what” stakeholders expect to be communicated and “how” they prefer to be communicated with. Be cognizant of the fact that you need to be careful which mediums you select to communicate what information. For example, a simple update on generic information may be sent through broadcast e-mail, but an important announcement on business critical information may best be relayed in person. Choose your medium of communication carefully.

Stakeholder Management: a stakeholder management plan needs to be developed for the overall lifecycle of the project. Each stakeholder or stakeholder group must be treated carefully and their needs accommodated. This requires a carefully planned approach to engage and influence all stakeholders for the benefit of the project.

On your last five projects, assess whether you did all of the above. How would it help to engage stakeholders effectively throughout the lifecycle of your projects? Can you reduce the negative reactions, lack of buy-in, and overall resistance from you key stakeholders by applying SIMSCoM? Would the time and effort be worth it?

On the next blog I’ll take a look at applying formal change management to further alleviate the pain of some of these challenges.

Larry T. Barnard

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