A visit to London on Thursday 16th March allowed a visit to the University of Westminster who were hosting an APM event on project problem solving through stakeholder engagement. The guest speaker, Fiona Magee from CITI Ltd drew on her experience in consultancy in Programme management to emphasise the importance of ‘Stakeholder Engagement’ as an essential prerequisite for realising the benefits from projects.
Failure to engage the stakeholders, can mean that a project produces outputs as intended but there is no take up of the results and benefits are not achieved. Magee reported many instances where project managers attempted to hand over outputs to stakeholders who were unwilling or unprepared to take them up. She then debunked the Five Myths of stakeholder engagement which can affect projects.
- We Manage our stakeholders
Using the term ‘stakeholder management’ indicates that we co-ordinate and control our stakeholders. Is this really our intention? Can we be successful with this approach? The term ‘engagement’ indicates participation and responsiveness. We seek to engage our stakeholders and can only manage the project’s engagement with them. This distinction is really important.
- ‘Everybody’ is a Stakeholder
This attitude can lead to futile efforts in pleasing everyone who has any connection with a project. There are two types of stakeholder – role based and agenda based. Role based stakeholders have roles in the project e.g. project sponsor, team member, supplier. They are an intrinsic part of every project and need to be engaged. Agenda based stakeholders are ‘around’ the project and are affected by it. In some projects, managing these stakeholders is hugely important. In other projects, they may not play a significant role.
- We understand our stakeholders
The classic ‘stakeholder analysis’ matrix classifies stakeholders according to their interest in the project and the impact they have on the project. We need to take a questioning approach to this analysis. Is the project sponsor really a high interest and high impact stakeholder? Some project sponsors have little interest in the project and need to be engaged to increase their interest. By questioning the actual position of the stakeholders, we can take action in order to address any potential problems for the project.
- It’s all about communication
Communication is important for engaging stakeholders but we need to consider what we are trying to achieve with our communication and why we are communicating rather than just the ‘how’ and ‘when’ of the communication. If we are trying to change behaviour, it can be useful to consider Beckhard and Harris; change formula.
We can ‘nudge’ behaviour in the direction of engagement and this taking this into consideration with our communication can be very effective.
- Some projects do not need stakeholder engagement
Projects vary in the degree of complexity of their stakeholders. Some projects have few stakeholders and all are role based. In this case, the stakeholder engagement will not take significant effort. However, other projects have a wide range of stakeholders with complex interrelationships and we can expect these will require significantly more effort to engage. We could call these ‘stakeholder sensitive’ projects and there is a lot to be learned from them.