Must-Dos for Stakeholder Engagement

By Adrian Wlas

The successful completion of a project is largely dependent on how the stakeholders view the results and whether or not they consider their expectations, requirements and agendas being met. For this reason effective stakeholder engagement is a crucial activity for any professional project manager to master in order to achieve project success. Stakeholder ‘engagement’ is a practice for influencing outcomes through a variety of communication means. This works alongside stakeholder ‘management’ or the process of identifying and managing stakeholders. Some key must dos for such engagement are outlined in this article to help to increase the chance of successful project outcomes.

Establish Buy-In at all levels
Stakeholders want to know that their contribution and time are of value for the project success and that they will therefore receive the end benefit. However generally senior executives see change as an opportunity for gain to both the wider business and for their own interests but employees view change as a disruption that will involve a loss. To combat this, for each key executive stakeholder you have identified, determine a ‘what’s in it for them’ proposition and deploy it for early buy-in and support. Ensure they understand the expectation that this needs to be championed down to the employee level to ensure a positive message is distributed that will appeal to them also. Give a clear message to all stakeholders that you are openly accessible and schedule frequent communication checkpoints as a place for them to voice concerns and ensure their needs are heard and addressed.

Keep Involved throughout the project
Often stakeholders are involved only in the early stages of the project and then not again until they see the final deliverable, of which increases the risk of needs being unmet. Utilise regular board meetings to advise up on status and concerns but remember to always position in such a way to propose ‘solutions’, rather than advise ‘problems’. Always use business language and not jargon they would not understand. Finally always make the stakeholder look good and don’t surprise them with bad news. In addition to formal board meetings also ensure to plan dedicated stakeholder engagement tasks into your schedule around key milestones. This would include reviewing requirements, design, test results throughout the development life cycle. This will ensure they are kept involved right throughout the core activities and not just through high-level infrequent updates.

Provide clear purpose and R&R
Often stakeholders believe their role is passive and involves only attending a few meetings to be kept up to speed with progress. Try to create a partnership with key stakeholders by looking for shared ownership and purpose by making sure you are both in agreeance on what success looks like and what is needed to achieve it. Strengthen this further by defining clear deliverables and roles and responsibilities and what is expected from stakeholders. This will ensure clarity and eliminate any uncertainty around ownership expectations. Provide stakeholders with the knowledge of how their involvement and contributions can have a direct impact to the results. By managing this with a collaborative and partnership focus, the linkage between the project and the recipients becomes a solid foundation to ensure the success of the delivery.

Monitor and remember rules of engagement
Setup a monitoring system to prompt you to regularly check the health of the engagement level of your stakeholders. This may be something as simple as regular calendar reminders or using a more elaborate tool depending on the maturity level of your project and organisation. Through regular reviews and engagements always keep in mind the questions of engagement being – why they are considered a stakeholder, what their expectations are and what is their attitude to the project; positive, negative or neutral.

Summary
Following these key tips will improve the potential for project success and enable the project manager to continually improve the process of keeping stakeholders fully engaged throughout the life cycle.

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