Identifying who your stakeholders are is just the first step in managing stakeholders. Once you have them identified, it’s time to get to know them and ultimately, build a trusting relationship. There are three key areas I focus on when building relationships.
Relationships are Evergreen. Building relationships is something that is ongoing and never ends. Think of it in terms of the evergreen tree; once it starts growing, it’s one of two colors. It’s either green and healthy, or brown and dead. Relationships are the same way.
Every person you interact with is different. Each comes with a variety of backgrounds and experiences. No two are the same. My best recommendation is to engage your key stakeholders 1-on-1 and truly try to understand their world. It’s not about the quantity of time you spend with them, but the quality. Start with “small talk” and get to know their personality, what their likes/dislikes are, and their jobs. Seek to understand their daily routine and how your project will impact them. Also, find out if they’ve ever been burned on a project in the past.
An example is stakeholder I was warned about who was called “grumpy.” I took this person out for coffee and found out our kids were about the same age and into similar sports. We eventually started talking about the project. I soon found out the last couple projects her team was never consulted on and left in the dark. During requirements gathering, I made sure her team had input and gave her regular status reports.
Build Relationship Capital; Spend it Wisely. I’ve seen dozens of definitions for relationship capital and summed up, it’s the influence a PM builds and wields with people, built through trust and open communication. This can be done with anyone, but we’ll focus on stakeholders as they hold power with your project.
I work hard to build trust with stakeholders. I listen intently when they talk, take action when they ask, and provide information before they’re surprised. I keep my EQ in check when dealing with them and tougher issues. This all leads to trust and open communication. When that happens, I know I can go to them and ask for help when I need it.
An example is I built a good relationship with a marketing person, which was also the department that provided most of the funds for our project. We needed to make a procurement, but finance said no since it couldn’t be capitalized and we needed for figure out a Plan B. After review, Plan B would add a month of time. So, I went to the marketing person and asked for additional funds to be approved directly from her department. Since she trusted me and knew I wouldn’t ask unless there was a need, approved.
Build Relationships WITH Stakeholders and AMONG Stakeholders. This goes back to building capital. Once you’ve built relationships with your stakeholders, it’s time to build it among them. Stakeholders with a relationship and shared vision can do more than just one alone. They can hold each other more accountable than just the PM. This relationship can also be beneficial when conflicts and/or issues arise.
I once managed a large-scale program with 11 projects and six project managers. We setup a steering committee that met weekly to provide status, highlight what’s to come, discuss issues and gain commitment on next steps. One key stakeholder, who was also the director of a technical area, committed to getting resources on the projects but never followed through. After I talked to him a few times, I finally asked three other stakeholders to assist, which they did the same day. Within 48 hours, we had the resources we needed.
Now that you know who your stakeholders are and built a relationship with them, it’s time to ensure they’re kept informed throughout the project. Join me for the Part 3 of Stakeholder Management, ongoing communication.