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How to engage and communicate with stakeholders
June 27, 2019

How To Engage And Communicate With Project Stakeholders?

By Brian McHale

If only your project depended entirely on you. Chances are, you’d get it done before anyone could say: “Deadline!”

However, there are plenty of factors you have to consider and the most important one (right after your team) are the project’s stakeholders.

In this post, we’re going to show you how to identify the stakeholders in your project, and how to improve stakeholder engagement through a communication plan.

What Are Project Stakeholders?

According to the definition, stakeholders “are the people who are actively involved with the work of the project or have something to either gain or lose as a result of the project.”

If you were developing a banking app, your stakeholders would be the bank, your team, financial regulators and the customers who are affected by how well the app works for them.

However, we can differentiate between key stakeholders and the rest.

While they’re all important, key stakeholders can quite literally make or break your project.

Project Stakeholders

Image source: Stakeholder Management / Project stakeholders.

This is a typical stakeholder situation.

Let’s say you were the manager of your team. At any given project, your stakeholders could likely be:

  • Top management
  • Your project team
  • Customers
  • Contractors and suppliers
  • Government.

Now, the trick in navigating the sea of these stakeholders to negotiate a situation where everyone’s satisfied (or at least not causing you major problems).

After all, when the project’s stakeholders aren’t satisfied, no one else is either. And just like with managing risk, they’re necessary and can even be good for the project.

However, you need to manage and engage them.

What is the difference between stakeholder engagement and stakeholder management?

Stakeholder management is just a process (like so many in project management).

In it, you’ll identify, assess and make plans for dealing with different types of stakeholders.

Stakeholder engagement, on the other hand, consists of the acts of communicating with the stakeholders. They frequently include negotiation, consultation and relationship building.

How To Communicate With Your Project’s Stakeholders?

Each stakeholder type comes with its unique peculiarities. And as a project manager, you’re going to be responsible for communicating with them.

Fortunately, it’s easier than it seems. Here’s how to communicate with them:

1. Top management

These are your superiors who need to give you the go-ahead for any projects, notable changes, and also likely shoulder the brunt of failure (should it occur).

It’s always good to:

  • Agree with them on reporting terms: For example, should you check in with them periodically? Would they like to be kept up-to-date constantly?
  • Regulate their engagement through using Office 365 project management software. Notes and comments are welcome, but they are best kept for one-on-one meetings with yourself. A dashboard giving them an overview of what’s going on in the project can keep them in the loop in between meetings without having to provide constant updates.

By outlining all the tasks clearly and updating the progress, you can keep them informed about the project.

2. Project team stakeholder management

Your team can (but doesn’t have to be) a tricky stakeholder. They’re the people who engage with the project the most.

Clients check in periodically and watch out for outcomes. The top management wants to know if there are any risks and if you’re on track.

However, your team is there with you in the trenches every day.

You can improve your communication with them by:

  • Having one-on-one meetings with individual team members
  • Including them in project planning
  • Managing tasks transparently (which is also a bonus for top management involvement)
  • Encouraging them to participate fully (feedback).

This way, you’ll be able to effectively collaborate and communicate with your team, as well as dispel any worries before they become a problem.

3. Customers

Depending on your organization structure and the project scope, your customers may be made up of coworkers, or others within the organization who will benefit from this project. For example, if an IT department carrying out a project to upgrade internal systems, the customers include every other department in the organization.

We need customers for our projects to be successful – especially if they are mandated by external customers – but sometimes they’re really hard to deal with as stakeholders.

In some cases, they may not be sure what they want. The briefs are not comprehensive enough. They presume we know everything when really… A bit more information would be great.

And not to mention the project scope and unrealistic expectations.

Classic project management.

Fortunately, you can manage their engagement by:

  • Creating a detailed project scope statement to define the requirements and outcomes of the project
  • Developing a project plan which includes milestones, check-in points, etc.
  • Clearly communicating about their desired outcomes, expectations, as well as any change policies.

4. Contractors and suppliers

Sometimes you just don’t have all the people (or all the things, in the case of suppliers) under one roof.

And when you need to hire contractors, it can cause a mess. You could experience scheduling overlaps, problems with work quality, and so much more.

It takes a lot of patience to keep contractors on track.

However, keep your wits about you. Make sure you communicate with independent contractors clearly, have all the terms outlined in an agreement, and if you can – try to only work with people who have proven themselves to be trustworthy.

It’s also good to integrate them into the team, even if it’s just for a one-off project.

This way, they’ll feel more (emotionally) involved and they’ll be more likely to do their best work.

5. Government

Depending on the type of your project, you could also be working with government officials.

This is especially true when it comes to public works or sectors like pharmaceuticals.

In this case, it’s best to have a liaison for government communication. They can make sure that everyone is on the same page and that you’re compliant with all the pertinent regulations.

The Stakeholder Engagement and Communication Plan

When it comes to engaging with stakeholders during the course of your project, it’s best to create a communication plan.

In order to improve stakeholder engagement, you can follow the ten key principles. They outline the process of managing different influential groups.

At the very least, your stakeholder management plan should consist of:

1. Stakeholder analysis and assessment

Firstly, you should assess the stakeholders and understand how they could influence the project.

Then, analyze them as a group:

  • How will the project affect them?
  • What are their expectations?
  • Understand what motivates them?
  • Discover what annoys them?

If you notice there could be any conflicts with other stakeholders, make sure you take note.

2. Stakeholder engagement plans

It’s always good to plan stakeholder engagement – preferably, with stakeholders present.

This way, you can agree on terms that work for all the parties. Define their degree of involvement, any relevant reporting standards, and so on.

Get it down on paper, too.

You can also create your personal stakeholder engagement plan by covering the following:

  • Make a stakeholder list (including contact names, project phases, influence, engagement approach, etc.)
  • Classify stakeholders and develop a power/interest grid (as depicted above)
  • Define the type of power and interest (e.g. If the top management is the stakeholder they are powerful enough to stop the project, and their interest in the project stems from monetary incentives)
  • Develop the stakeholder engagement tactics (communication type, frequency, etc.)

3. Keep the stakeholders involved

Depending on the stakeholder and project type, some of your stakeholders will naturally be more engaged. However, others may wish they were more engaged.

Again, project tracking can be of great help here, as it allows you to keep everyone in the loop while saving your time.

Communicate with them consistently and strive to build a relationship. This way, they’ll be more likely to compromise in tricky situations.

Stakeholder Engagement: There’s Nothing to It!

You have to manage project stakeholders like any other project management risk.

And while you have to know who you’re dealing with and devise tactics for communication, simplicity goes a long way. When it doubt, just imagine they’re kids in kindergarten fighting over everyone’s favorite toy.

You can solve everything else by developing an honest relationship and posing one very simple question:

“What do you need?”

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