Project Management Institute

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It's Monday morning and you're greeted with a seven-minute voicemail from your primary stakeholder pointing out several critical issues that remain unresolved. Your excuses aren't cutting it, and he or she suggests a “status call.”

You know what that means.

After a forceful exhale and a jolt of coffee, you start thinking about your response—which will surely dictate how the rest of your week will unfold.

If you still plan on attending that networking cocktail event on Thursday, you need to get moving.

1. Act fast—and make it personal.

Make sure you follow up within an hour of receiving a distress signal from a primary stakeholder. Don't waste time formulating a 400-word e-mail addressing each point. E-mails are too informal, and context is key. Reach for your mobile. Or better yet, put in some face time. Your physical presence can speak volumes about your dedication to the issues and the stakeholder.

2. Don't walk in with solutions.

Upon first contact, you need to idle that proactive brain of yours.

No matter how many status reports or action plans you submit, sometimes stakeholders simply need to be heard. Be prepared to sit with notebook in hand and lips zipped, carefully listening to your stakeholder's needs and frustrations.

Once you've absorbed that, reply with questions geared toward understanding his or her expectations. Don't fall back on broad statements such as, “I understand your concern and we will work to resolve these technical issues.” Instead, consider asking probing questions like, “How do these technical issues affect your upcoming product launch?”

Being inquisitive shows you're committed to identifying and tackling the root of the issue and not just its symptoms. Although a stakeholder may pressure you for an answer, avoid committing to or offering a solution before understanding all the facts and constraints. Simply agree to follow up and respond within a defined time period.


imgNo matter how many status reports or action plans you submit, sometimes stakeholders simply need to be heard.

3. Identify issues that can be tackled right away.

In some cases, your stakeholders will rattle off 145 issues they deem “critical” to business continuity—all of which need to be addressed immediately. In reality, only a select few have a direct impact on the primary stakeholder—and those are the things that deserve immediate focus. The trick is prioritizing those without discounting the remaining ones.

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Julian Pearson replies that risk “is not whether an event will have a negative effect, but that an event will happen that could impact the deliverable to which it relates, in any way.”

Assuming you were listening and asking the pertinent questions, you should have a clearer picture of your primary stakeholder's motivators. For example, if he or she is preparing for a major marketing blitz and this is the highest priority, map which issues have a direct effect on the success of the campaign.

Working with your primary stakeholder, create a list of prioritized action items—but make sure it's manageable and realistic. Agree on six primary challenges you will address (and hopefully resolve) in the next four to five working days. This gives you something tangible for you and your team to focus on. If you end up resolving any of the secondary issues, you'll be exceeding expectations. Give yourself an opportunity not only to make the grade, but to go to the head of the class!

4. Define a follow-up schedule and stick to it.

Plan on giving your primary stakeholder regular status updates on the issues until they've all been addressed, if not resolved. This not only demonstrates your tenacity but provides quantitative progress.

The frequency of the updates depends on the severity of the issue at hand. If it affects business continuity, you need to be providing updates daily (or even more frequently) in addition to making yourself available.

Keep in mind that there's a fine line between demonstrating you're a go-getter and pestering your primary stakeholder with useless details. Stick with clear, concise updates to the high-priority issues and avoid technical jargon. All he or she really wants to know is: Have the issues been resolved, and if not, when will they be?

When paired with your expertise (and determination to go to that reception on Thursday), these tactics should afford you a manageable week—and a satisfied stakeholder. PM


Brian McCurtis, PMP, is an IT stakeholder manager responsible for Latin America at Nokia Inc., Miami, Florida, USA. He is also the author of the blog Stakeholder Guide.


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