We know that projects take time and effort. We expect to spend hours on project timelines, project budgets, and project deliverables whether we’re planning an event, constructing a building, or installing public art.
At Reach Partners, we do this well. We are, after all, project managers.
That said, the term “project management” doesn’t completely describe our work.
Every project we do involves or affects people. After all, without their input and responses, our projects are meaningless. An event doesn’t happen without presenters, attendees, organizers, and vendors. Buildings aren’t constructed without engineers, architects, funders, and those who occupy its spaces.
And public art without an artist and viewers? Well . . .
Truth be told, project management is as much about people management and relationship building as it is about shuffling plans, timelines, and budgets. We spend a considerable amount of our time working with stakeholders and keeping them engaged in the work.
Stakeholders are those people who have a degree of buy-in, ownership, or influence over the final product. They’re the people who will sing the project’s praises or complain bitterly about the outcome.
In short, they’re the people who will determine the success of the project and we need their enthusiasm.
So how do you keep them engaged and pleased with the final outcome?
At Reach Partners, we intentionally connect and communicate with the people whose opinions can make a project sink or soar. That hard work of building relationships pays off.
Here are some tips we’ve found helpful:
1. Identify Your Stakeholders: Early on, identify and define all the people who will interact with the project or project team. Consider internal stakeholders (immediate staff, suppliers, contractors) and external stakeholders (those with interest in the project, donors, community members).
If you have numerous stakeholders, determine their level of influence. A person with a high level of influence has significant power to impact decisions and the project outcome. Someone with a low level of influence needs to be informed, but has limited ability to change the overall project.
While every opinion is important, some relationships need more (or different types of) care at key points in the project.
2. Define Stakeholder Expectations: Stakeholders are human, which means they can be complex and unpredictable. Still, if you want any chance of ushering a successful project, you need to understand their needs and wants.
Listen carefully and understand points of view. Different groups of stakeholders may have different expectations. Their expectations may even change, shift, or be influenced throughout the life of the project. If you have been diligent about exploring their concerns and needs, you’ll better able to manage tensions and mitigate fears before they’re out of control. With the right context, you will be able to make it easier for stakeholders to make decisions and embrace the results.
3. Keep the Project at the Forefront: While it may be necessary to reframe a project to meet the expectations of key stakeholders, don’t lose sight of the project’s scope and purpose. We’ve seen projects get derailed when one or two concerns changed the project’s goals and purpose.
4. Build Stakeholder Focus into Each Stage: Consider the perspectives of your stakeholders at each stage of the project. Expectations may be different at different points of the project. You may need to prepare stakeholders for changes to a timeline or budget. Revisiting what stakeholders need and want at each stage will make it easier to communicate and manage expectations.
5. Communicate Clearly (and Often): Anticipating what stakeholders need to know and when they need to know it is a skill. We can’t control how a stakeholder receives and perceives information, but we can carry stakeholders through a complex process by providing details and critical data.
To do this, we communicate even when nothing is happening. Even when the conversation is challenging and uncomfortable.
Frequent touch points and empathetic listening are key to building trust; trust leads to happier stakeholders.
Effort spent nurturing these relationships is energy well-spent. Your project won’t succeed without it.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Adapted from a blog post published October 2017