Project Management Institute

Everybody Matters

Stakeholders, Even The Ones You Don't Know About, Can Make Or Break A Project

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By Chuck C. Jones Jr., PMP

When I was a young project manager, I thought technical knowledge of the project life cycle was the only factor necessary for success. How wrong I was. One experience in particular taught me that if all stakeholders aren't properly identified and analyzed, all the technical knowledge in the world won't help.

If stakeholders raise major concerns about your project, you should relay those to the project sponsor, who can help defuse tensions or find alternatives.

My team and I were planning a kickoff for a project to develop a database of customer service records for broadband services. We identified and invited project stakeholders to the kickoff meeting. However, we failed to identify one group of stakeholders who had a vested interest in the project—and failed to discuss how to mitigate the risk of bad feelings if stakeholders were left out. We also neglected to interview any stakeholders prior to the kickoff meeting.

Each of these missteps was significant. Together, they created a strong potential for project failure. From the beginning, the project lacked buy-in from stakeholders, because they had not been interviewed. Later, we realized the newly identified stakeholders did not fully trust the project team. We also had an unexpected cost: One of the newly identified stakeholders required training. Though my team and I were able to finish the project, we saw a lower-than-expected user acceptance of the database we'd created.

That stakeholder mishap (and others) taught me to identify all stakeholders and their concerns before kickoff. I also make sure my team decides on ways to build trust with all stakeholders. These steps are less about avoiding potential problems and more about seizing opportunities for project success.

Over the years I've also learned good practices for interviewing stakeholders. Interviews conducted face to face or via phone should not exceed 15 minutes. If the interview is conducted via email, follow-up is required if interviewees fail to respond on time. If stakeholders raise major concerns about your project, you should relay those to the project sponsor, who can help defuse tensions or find alternatives.

If the stakeholder identification and analysis process is done correctly, project teams gain valuable knowledge of the specific interests, influence and importance of all stakeholders. This knowledge is often worth just as much as a project manager's technical expertise. PM

img Chuck C. Jones Jr., PMP, is a senior project manager at Atrium, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

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