Stakeholders are the most influential people in a project, yet engaging their interest can be challenging. For project managers to make big moves, adjustments or decisions within a project, they need stakeholder support. Therefore, it is vital that stakeholder management is part of project methodology, so that the PM has the backing they need to carry it to success.
Who are the Players?
A stakeholder goes far beyond someone who holds the purse strings. In modern project management terms, a stakeholder is really anyone that has a vested interest in the project—be they internal or external. The most important stakeholders within any project are typically the ones calling the budget (generally considered the “client”) but it can also be a supplier or team member.
The idea is that if they are slowing down or preventing elements of work from being done, then they need to be more involved with the project. This means they should be developing stakeholder management skills of their own to contribute to a successful outcome. The best way to hone skills is through participation. Therefore, the following are a few means by which stakeholders can stake their claim in a project:
Writing the Scope
The initial stages of project planning are the prime time for stakeholder involvement. Getting all sponsors in at the project scope level is like inviting them to plan the party, instead of the clean-up. This also triggers a higher level of engagement throughout the project lifecycle as collaboration creates a deeper vested interest overall.
A big mistake some project managers make is avoiding stakeholder involvement when it should, in fact, be the opposite. Project managers should be pursuing stakeholder collaboration at all times. The more involved an external stakeholder feels with a project, the more they will care about the outcome. Developing stakeholder management means open collaboration, communication and reception to ideas. After all, why would someone be interested if you exclude them? There are lots of collaboration tools that can be used to help make a project more inclusive.
Acquiring stakeholder management skills means the ability to accept responsibility. This comes with involvement. The more included a stakeholder is, the easier it is to establish accountability. This is also why it is important to involve them from the ground up as that is when you assign who is ultimately responsible for what.
Although the project manager tends to hold the highest risk when it comes to project outcomes, the most successful ventures have always come from resilient collaboration and active engagement from all sides.
Project management and stakeholder management are the two skill sets that should be driving a project. Anyone with a vested interest in the project should be contributing to its success. It is part of a PM’s job to inform the stakeholders if they are not aiding the project as much as they should and help them to hone their management skills. Ultimately, a project manager can only benefit with stakeholders that are informed, engaged and ready to manage.