Engaging stakeholders is one of the most important activities a project manager needs to undertake. All the project deliverables can be undermined if there are areas of an organisation with poor stakeholder commitment, and yet there is very little information available to those who are starting out in project management. For this reason, the Stakeholder Engagement Focus Group – an APM-funded research project, led by the Oxford APM Chapter – put together a collection of tools, techniques, patterns, papers and case studies which we hope you find useful.
We have drawn from our own experiences, and been given kind permission to use the RICS/APM Stakeholder Engagement Guidance Note as the basis for the 10 principles outlined below and for some of the case studies. For the purposes of this collection, case studies analyse and draw conclusions from a single, project-related experience. Patterns of repeated behaviours that affect stakeholder engagement are observed.
It is our aim that this collection will grow over time, but we need your help to make this happen. You can get involved by capturing your experiences with stakeholder engagement, asking us to facilitate a workshop at your organisation, or joining the group and rolling your sleeves up. Please reach out to us by messaging the Twitter address @APMSefg.
Useful links update
Key principles of stakeholder engagement
- Consult early, and often
- Remember, they’re only human
- Plan it!
- Relationships are key
- Simple, but not easy
- Just part of managing risk
- Understand what success is
- Take responsibility
Stakeholder engagement FAQs
1. How does a project manager identify the stakeholders?
a. The ‘front line’ stakeholders will be readily identifiable from the outset.
b. The real issue is identifying those stakeholders who are in the background but may have significant influence. To aid in the identification of these ask the known stakeholders if they are aware/know of others who may have a vested interest in the project, and then ask them the same question.
2. Having identified the stakeholders how can a project manager identify those stakeholders who hold the actual power?
a. This really is an ‘ear to the ground’ requirement. Ask around (discretely) amongst people connected with the project and see who has ‘the ear’ of the decision maker(s).
b. The person(s) with the ‘power to influence’ are not necessarily those at the top. Look for ‘advisors’ to those at the top.
c. Ask senior stakeholders if there is anyone they would like you to discuss issues with prior to a meeting with them.
3. What initial method of communication (engagement) should take place?
a. Ideally a face-to-face meeting should be held.
b. Make sure you meet with all of the key stakeholders.
c. Distributing a ‘point brief’ during the meetings helps keep the discussion on track and provides a written account of what was discussed.
4. Where is the best location for initial meetings? (Their location, project manager’s location, neutral location.)
a. It is preferable to meet in a place where the stakeholder feels at ease/comfortable – often their own offices.
5. How often should the project manager communicate with the stakeholders?
a. The easy answer is 'as often as is necessary'.
b. Don’t wait until there is an ‘issue’ – regular communication generates trust and displays commitment.
c. Agree a periodicity of communication, and content, with each of the key stakeholders and then stick to it.
6. What method of communication is best?
a. Where possible the best method is face-to-face coupled with a brief outline of where the project is, including any potential issues on the horizon.
7. Should all stakeholders have full access to all project documentation?
a. Not always. There may be commercial/financial/technical aspects that are considered restricted and can only be shown to nominated personnel.
b. Agree early on who can see what.
8. How should the project manager deal with stakeholders that are in disagreement with each other over aspects of the project? Example: Internal stakeholder insists on a particular direction/process whilst the external stakeholder disagrees and insists on a different direction/process.
a. This is a potential minefield. Unless you can get the disagreeing parties to sit together then you will need to be the ‘go-between’ trying to find the path most suitable to the success of the project.
b. Resist the urge to play one stakeholder off against the other.
c. Try and establish the ‘why’ associated with the direction the various stakeholders want to follow.
9. How can the project manager change the attitude of a stakeholder who is a ‘blocker’ into one that at the very least is ‘neutral’?
a. Regular meetings – face-to-face is always best.
b. On a one-to-one basis try and establish what concerns this particular stakeholder has regarding the project.
c. See if you can engage the assistance from other stakeholders (same level of influence) to discuss with the ‘blocker’.
10. What methods are most appropriate in dealing with constant change requests (insistence) from stakeholders?
a. Ensure that the scope documentation is definitive and clear on what is to be delivered against what timescale.
b. Have a comprehensive document that clearly states the ‘dependencies/assumptions/exclusions’ of the project. This needs to have been signed off by the project sponsor and senior member of the client base.
c. Use a ‘change request’ log. Have the stakeholder initial their request(s).
11. How honest should the project manager be with regards to reporting issues within the project (slippage, budget etc.) to external stakeholders (client/customer)?
Be honest; explain that something has come up (outline what this is) that has resulted in a ‘change’ (slippage to the baseline, increase in costs etc.) and what the impact will be. Make sure you have a ‘recovery plan’ to discuss with the stakeholder(s).
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Agile refuses to analyse requirements beforehand – and thus declines to provide an initial certainty. This will probably always scare any stakeholder trying to understand whether or not they can show results to the board with the budget that they are granted.
You have a choice. You can either muddle on, stand firm and fix it – or look elsewhere.