Anyone that has to deliver large-scale projects will be aware of the importance of managing stakeholders, and the pain, delays and ultimately project failure that can be caused when this key aspect isn’t dealt with appropriately from the outset.

From my experience of implementing projects that affect people across whole organisations, I have pulled together my five top tips for stakeholder success:

Map your Stakeholders

It’s important to analyse your stakeholder requirements at the start of any project. This can be done with the whole team, as it is helpful for everyone to understand the nuances and relationships with key stakeholders for that project. A useful tool I have used with my teams in the past is the Power/Interest Grid. Just list all of your stakeholders (these could be groups as well as individuals), and then plot where they sit on the Grid. Their relative power/interest will determine the nature of the communication/contact you need to have and at what stage, and this will enable you to create a communications plan with accompanying timeline and build this in to your overall project plan, as well as flagging up potential challengers that need to be engaged with early.

‘Pitch it’ like a pro

I once had a fairly complex report that I had to take to multiple audiences to get approval for some funding. Early feedback I was given suggested that my ‘fatigue’ in compiling the report was showing in my presentation – so for the next occasion I chose to treat it as a ‘pitch’. I then crafted a one-page summary drawing on the following elements from sales and elevator pitch techniques, including:

  • A strong opening question which defined the problem/challenge we were trying to solve in a snappy one-liner
  • Key points all backed up with facts answering the ‘what’s in it for me?’ question for my audience
  • Closing with a firm statement/conclusion that was upbeat and implied their commitment

I then rehearsed the pitch on my colleagues until I was confident I could present without reading or referring to my notes. The next time I presented the proposal I was delighted when one of the panel said, ‘great pitch’, and the ensuing discussion was a positive one rather than a laborious trawl through the detail of the report.

Divide and conquer

Meeting with key stakeholders ahead of a formal committee or panel to individually pitch and present is a useful tactic. That way you can focus on their own individual needs and concerns and go into more detail than is often possible in a more formal setting. Your stakeholders will appreciate that you have taken the time to seek them out individually to consult with them and listen to their views. Going into a meeting to present your proposal knowing that you have key players already onside will help you, as you are less likely to have any surprise questions or challenges, and you are more likely to have tacit approval from those you have already met with.

Regular catch-ups

Some projects have a life of their own and it may be unclear to stakeholders in the early stages what the outcomes are likely to be. Early, then regular consultation is needed to ensure that expectations are managed. Shifting stakeholder views will need to be managed carefully throughout the project. Stakeholders can also change their mind during the project lifecycle and even forget what they initially agreed. So, maintaining a path of regular contact with most, if not all stakeholders, is essential. Generic email updates are fine if they are customised to the audience and using project team members to update key stakeholders is ok also, but nothing beats personal contact from the project lead either by phone or face to face to make sure key messages are getting through and to ward off any mismatched expectations that may occur.

Relationships are key

The Association for Project Management say that developing relationships results in increased trust. And where there is trust, people work together more easily and effectively. Building relationships is a natural human instinct that often ‘opens doors’ or influences outcomes that cannot always be achieved by following plans and processes alone. These ‘shoulder to shoulder’ working practices and alliances help reduce barriers, build rapport, instill confidence and fuel progress.

A useful exercise is to map your own social network of contacts in your workplace, where do you have these relationships of trust? If you find they all appear within your own team or department then that is a good wake-up call that you need to invest some time in developing trust-based relationships further afield.

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