As my primary school headmaster used to drum into us on an almost weekly basis, “you can please some of the people all of the time; you can please all of the people some of the time; but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”
The quote may be attributed to the 15th-century English monk and poet John Lydgate, yet his words are as relevant today as they were all those years ago – and are particularly worth keeping in mind when managing stakeholders in your current and future projects.
Stakeholders’ differing, and sometimes conflicting, interests
Project stakeholders take many forms and have many different levels of interest and engagement. Stakeholders can range from the company CEO who signed off on the project to an intern doing some basic data input down to the ultimate end user. Within those different stakeholder groupings, we generally find a five-point spectrum of engagement levels:
- Unaware stakeholder – at one end are the stakeholders who don’t even know the project is happening, and which may include the ultimate end user.
- Resistant stakeholder – stakeholders who don’t like change and don’t want the project to proceed.
- Neutral stakeholder – stakeholders who are indifferent to the project happening.
- Supportive stakeholder – stakeholders who can see how implementing the project will bring positive change to the organisation.
- Leading stakeholder – stakeholders who actively help the project to succeed, such as senior managers or a project sponsor.
With such varying levels of interest and buy-in among the disparate stakeholder cohorts, it falls to the project manager to keep all parties engaged during the various stages of the project’s design and implementation. Maintaining engagement is particularly important once senior stakeholders have.
Communication stakes are high
As always, communication is key.
Meetings are a key component of successful stakeholder engagement. Meeting fatigue/antagonism is common in the workplace, so they need to be on-point and productive.
Meetings should be targeted to the appropriate audience. Some will be daily checkpoints with active stakeholders, such as analysts and developers, outlining the progress and challenges they are facing. Others will focus on project steering, targeting the senior stakeholders within the project, giving high-level progress updates, and outlining potential risks.
While the meeting length, focus, detail and frequency will need to be tailored to the specific audiences, there are a few characteristics they should all have in common:
- Meetings must be informative and have a purpose. Holding meetings for the sake of them is the ultimate sin.
- Meetings should not be a soapbox for someone to hog the time airing grievances. Disputes or gripes are best taken offline and discussed with a smaller audience.
- Minutes and action points should be distributed shortly after the meeting.
Project status updates are critical
Scheduling meetings is always a challenge, given attendees’ inevitable availability conflicts, which makes distributing a status report all the more useful. A status report should be a concise document giving a snapshot of the project as of that week, along with a summary of what was achieved in the previous week and what is scheduled for the following one. It should also outline risks within the project and who is accountable for managing those risks.
Without meeting minutes and status reports, controlling the project can be extremely difficult, especially if you have resistant stakeholders. Clear updates also reduce the risk of miscommunication – pointing a stakeholder in the direction of a well-thought-out status report can help quash any rumblings within a project. At the same time, if risks are continually being identified and not actioned, the status report can be used to call out those accountable.
At Deep Pool, for example, we’ve found that having a dedicated team of project management professionals committed to holding frequent project calls and providing comprehensive status reports offers the best chance of maintaining the full engagement of all stakeholders over the project’s entire lifecycle.
Think of it like regular parent-teacher meetings and end-of-term school reports. My old school headmaster would approve!
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Deep Pool is the #1 investor servicing and compliance solutions supplier, providing cutting-edge software and consulting services to the world’s leading fund administrators and asset managers. Our flexible solution suite, developed by an experienced team of accountants, business analysts and software engineers, supports offshore and onshore hedge funds, partnerships, private equity vehicles, retail funds and regulated financial firms. Deep Pool is a global organisation with offices in Dublin, Ireland, the United States, the Cayman Islands and Slovakia. For more information, visit: www.deep-pool.com.