Stakeholder management is paramount because people make businesses (and projects) work

Stakeholder management is vitally important in the world of project management because stakeholders can have a major influence on the project’s outcome.

In fact, stakeholder management is so important that the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) now separates it from communications management, where it was previously embedded, recognising it as the 10th knowledge area.

Managing stakeholders is essential because unhappy stakeholders can use their influence to scuttle the entire project. Similarly, well managed stakeholders can be a project manager’s greatest asset, clearing organisational red tape and providing vital support every step of the way.

Organisational Change Management (OCM) – which is a specialist area in its own right – sets out to analyse all the stakeholders and identify the resisters and the adopters. It’s important to remember that stakeholders are far broader than the project’s initiators who are often, by definition, its most vocal supporters.

Every single person that will be impacted by the project is a stakeholder, to a lesser or greater degree. The fact that human beings inherently resist change often provides the project manager with the biggest challenge. A smart PM will be aware of the changes the project will bring about and seek to manage the impact of these on all the various stakeholders.

These days companies spend millions on engaging staff, making sure that they feel part of the organisation in the truest sense of the word, rather than merely workers following orders. And the days of putting a project into motion, regardless of how users feel about it, are long gone. So, getting people, at all levels, to buy into the project goes way beyond the actual project’s outcome; it talks to the heart of the company’s engagement with its staff.

Although the actual change management activities will inevitably be undertaken by an OCM specialist – especially when it’s a large, expensive project with far reaching consequences – the PM needs to be aware of the challenges and how they will be dealt with, and the role that they themselves can play in the process.

Here’s a simple checklist for stakeholder management:

  • Identify all stakeholders
  • Determine the degree of impact of the change on stakeholders
  • Assess if they are resistant to or adoptive of the change
  • Work out a strategy to reduce resistance and gain acceptance from resisters
  • Take steps to ensure that all stakeholders feel empowered and involvedIn the rush to deal with the more technical issues of project management such as cost, scope and risk management, “softer” issues like communication and managing stakeholder expectations are often swept under the carpet, but PMs  ignore these at their peril. People make businesses (and projects) work. Identifying the adoptive ones and making them change champions can make the PM’s job that much easier and have a major influence on the project’s long-term success. After all, a truly successful project is not only delivered on time, within budget and providing the desired functionality; it also needs to stand the test of time and be embraced by people across the business.

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.