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Exploring stakeholder management skills

The Oxford Chapter committee have for some time been considering how they might refocus their enthusiasm for project management and the APM, and engage with the many different types of project manager that exist within the Thames Valley.

They had a strong feeling that the so-called ‘soft’ skills involved in stakeholder management were problematic for many project managers who have learnt their profession through following an engineering career path. They sensed an appetite for ideas and models that could help people engage and manage the critical stakeholders that exist at every level of PPM.

Stakeholders come in many shapes and sizes, and there is no ‘one size fits all’ formula. They therefore reached out to the local Project Management Institute (PMI) chapter and extended the invitation to them, as well as seeking the advice and help of ‘TV branch friends’ from the Programme, and Benefits Management SIGs.

As well as being inclusive and non-prescriptive, the committee were keen to ensure that the evening was as interactive as possible, and therefore conceived the idea of dividing the audience into three groups. Each group was around three separate workshop sessions that ran simultaneously.

Managing Stakeholders – Core Styles 

Laurence Davidson, a Director at local consultancy and Oxford Chapter committee member, devised a fantastic 20 minute session that used a quadrant to explore four basic types of people styles, and confronted attendees with the realisation that communicating with a ‘Driver’ requires different techniques from those needed to communicate with an ‘Expressive’.

Basing the content on ‘people styles at work’ by Robert and Dorothy Boulton, as well as drawing upon Belbin team roles and Insights™ personal discovery system, Laurence came up with a simple ‘evaluator’ that could be filled in by participants while he explained how they might use the quadrant to reflect on their own preferred style.

Stakeholder Engagement – Case Study 

Sensing strength in numbers, two other committee members teamed up to deliver an assured workshop exploring the authority influence matrix and containing elements of role play from their group.

Long-standing Chapter secretary Steve Walters proved the perfect foil to James van Helden from Siemens Healthcare, and together they plotted an interesting path from the familiar MSP stakeholder matrix to a somewhat controversial fracking case study that had everyone talking.

Effective Stakeholder Workshopping

The third workshop was brilliantly managed by Keith Warren-Price who was able in the short time available to give everyone an unforgettable taste of the Pinpoint process, or ‘track’, that can be used to increase the level of engagement of all participants in a team or meeting environment. (And by all we mean everyone - not just the noisy outgoing ones!)

Pinpoint Facilitation is based on Howard Gardner’s theories about learning and working styles, and strongly utilises visualisations and brainstorming techniques to explore an open question. On this occasion the question at hand was; “How effective is stakeholder management in your organisation and what changes would you make to improve it?”

At the end of the session the attendees used sticky labels to indicate which parts of the process they thought Pinpoint would contribute to stakeholder engagement. The amount of positive votes, across, or more correctly down, the board was testimony both to Keith’s skill and the process’s power. Please see the bottom of this article for a summary document of Keith's workshop.

The evening was very well attended, with a palpable energy in the room and genuine enthusiasm from all attendees. The Oxford Chapter committee intends to develop the theme of stakeholder management further still by hosting a focus group for interested parties during December 2016. As part of this, the committee are conducting a stakeholder survey. A short questionnaire can be completed by anyone who would like to get involved. 

Feedback and reflection from a participant

Antonia Adams, director of the Global Programme Group at Clifford Chance. The group comprises 25 project professionals who work with the firm's leadership to define and deliver the programmes and projects that support the Firm's strategy.

Antonia writes: Snoozing! Or Phubbing! (Just in case you had not heard, this word was coined by an advertising agency back in 2012 to describe the habit of snubbing someone in favour of a mobile phone ... admit it, you have done it as well.) I would suggest these are two very likely outcomes to an evening lecture after a long day in the office and a long drive to an evening event.

So the complete lack of opportunity or inclination to snooze or phub was, in my view, one of the defining features of the APM Oxford Chapter event on stakeholder management and which made the event for this very new APM Member a thoroughly enjoyable, energising and educational event.

Three topics were covered during the event: Pinpoint facilitation, stakeholder analysis and communication styles. The traditional approach would be to roll them up at the front of the seated audience one at a time, let them talk for 20 minutes, and then perhaps have a panel discussion; but it was precisely by breaking with conventional wisdom that the organisers minimised the snooze or phub quotient.  

I won't pretend that it was not disconcerting to enter a large room with three "stands", each consisting of notice boards and flip charts ... but no chairs! However, as soon as the format of the event was explained to us, I sensed the collective penny drop instantly. We were divided into three groups, and each group spent 20 minutes at each stand, first hearing about the topic from an experienced practitioner, and then executing a mini exercise to get the feel for how one would use the technique back in the office.

Masterly! I was already familiar with stakeholder analysis and communication styles, but the mini-exercises were a much-needed prod to use these techniques rather than leave them to gather dust on my mental shelf.  I had never come across Pinpoint facilitation, an approach to running meetings or workshops that is far more likely to engage your attendees than the traditional round table method, and so this session was of particular interest to me, and I am looking forward to receiving the material from the event so that I can think about how to put this into practice.

In conclusion an intellectual pick-me-up at the end of the day ... that is how I will remember my first APM event. I look forward to many more to come.

The Oxford Chapter offer their thanks to Antonia for her considered summary of the event.

And finally - what others thought!

The post-event survey enjoyed a particularly high completion rate (35 from 50 or so participants). 70% thought the event was excellent value for money and the remainder good. When it came to Net Promoter Score (NPS) on a scale of 0-10 ‘How likely are you to recommend this event to others?’ (arguably the true test of stakeholders having been successfully engaged), all respondents gave a score of 7 or higher and 73% scored 9 out of 10!

One respondent summed it up very nicely saying, “I thought this was a really good event. The short 3-presentation interactive format ensured everyone was engaged. It was enjoyable as well as informative. It has given me ideas and food for thought. It was nice to see the PMI there - joining with them is a good initiative. Well done to everyone involved in creating and delivering this event.”

Thank you to the Oxford Chapter committee members, Merv Wyeth and Neil White for all their ideas, facilitation and hard work in putting together this event.