3) Remember, they’re only human: the third principle of stakeholder engagement
Operate with an awareness of human feelings and potential personal agendas. Accept that humans do not always behave in a rational, reasonable, consistent or predictable way. When encountering a stakeholder who appears to be unreasonable, their behaviour often becomes more understandable when their ‘real’ agenda is discovered; for example, they were about to change jobs, their professional reputation or status was threatened, or they were on bad terms with another stakeholder.
Seek to understand underlying issues and assess whether your project plan needs to flex or if there is a better way to work together to maintain a productive relationship.
Why is it important?
Stakeholders’ behaviour, whether in support, opposition or indifference, can determine the success or failure of a project.
By understanding the root cause, you can avoid issues escalating to conflict or roadblocks, identify ways to make it easier for a particular stakeholder to contribute successfully to the project, or escalate the issue to gain a resolution and progress the project.
What does it cover?
- Stakeholder insight:
- Understanding vested interests (motivation), potential risk factors, operational objectives, degree of control over the impact of the project and potential agendas.
- Watching and listening to stakeholders throughout the project to identify potential issues that may need to be resolved.
- Developing and maintaining agile plans, information routes and stakeholder heatmaps.
- Enabling stakeholders to communicate their needs.
- Listening to their points of view and responding so they feel that you have understood and taken their needs into account.
How might I do it?
- Ensure communications channels are always open: be accessible and encourage all stakeholders, especially senior ones, to share concerns or negative feedback with you rather than keeping it bottled-up or ‘sniping’.
- Look for behaviour changes: if a previous champion has stopped interacting with you it might be evidence of an unexpected roadblock.
- Listen: meet with stakeholders individually to get their viewpoint and what they think a potential solution might be. Seek to understand where they are coming from or where the stress-points are.
- Produce the stakeholder heatmap vs project phases with viewpoints and information in order to develop the project/product support solution.
- Respond: confirm that their viewpoint has been considered and how they interface with other stakeholders understanding their relationships in order to develop the action(s) plans you have decided to take to deliver.
Use the links below to find particular examples and sources that are relevant to this principle.
- Stakeholder engagement in a globally distributed software project
- Organisational change and stakeholder management
- Stakeholder communication improvements in a IT system delivery project
- Global teams and stakeholder engagement
- Stakeholder communication improvements in a public infrastructure project
- Stakeholder communication in a historic building refurbishment project
- Stakeholder communication and engagement in a city based transport project
Patterns and tools
1 Boulton, Robert and Dorothy. (1996). People Styles at Work Ridge Associates.
2 Galford, R., Green, C., and Maister, D. (2002).The Trusted Advisor Simon & Schuster UK Ltd
3 Goldsmith, Marshall and Reiter, Mark (2007). What Got You Here Won’t Get You There Profile Books Ltd
Benefits of applying this principle include
- Increased chances of project success by enabling stakeholders to feel able to contribute constructively and effectively.
- Risk mitigation by identifying as early as possible potential roadblocks and working with stakeholders to develop mitigation strategies and progress the delivery solution.
- Effective team work by identifying and addressing potential personality clashes and encouraging open communication.
Risks of overlooking this principle include
- Unexpected spanners-in-the-works from stakeholders who prioritise their own agenda over the project requirements.
- Confrontation or ‘sniping’ when stakeholders feel their issues are not understood or they are not being listened to.
- Team members becoming dysfunctional and demoralised, or leaving due to personality clashes or conflicting priorities.