IFYOU’VE EVER HAD a great idea shot down before it got off the ground, lack of support may be the reason your idea didn't fly. Getting your ideas implemented means getting the support of the project stakeholders. To do that you should know the benefits and risks of your idea; the affected stakeholders and their roles; the probable supporters and nonsupporters; how to build a “stakeholder support network”; and the stakeholders' expectations, objections, and decision-making processes.
The first step in gaining stakeholders' support is understanding the positive and negative effects your idea will have on the project. How will this idea benefit the project, and what are the risks? Say, you have an idea for a software design change that would reduce project costs and provide a better product for the user: weighing the resulting benefits against the risks will help you decide if your idea is worth pursuing. Draw a vertical line down the center of a sheet of paper. On the left side of the line list the benefits of your idea, such as, “reduced project completion time,” or “provides a more usable product.” On the right side list the risks, such as, “a complex design,” or “more time required in programming.” Then answer the following questions: Do the benefits outweigh the risks? How can the risks be minimized? Can I really support this idea?
If you can confidently support your idea, you then need to know who are the stakeholders who will be affected by it and why their support is important. Make a list of all stakeholders impacted by your idea. Next to each name write the role of the stakeholder and the main reason why you need his or her support. For example, John's role is the project sponsor; you need his support because he is the one who will approve your idea. Karen is the software architect; she will have to make the design change you're recommending. Jill is an end-user; she will have to live with the product design. This exercise ensures that you identify all affected stakeholders, and, together with your list of benefits and risks, will assist in addressing stakeholders' expectations and objections.
Next, you need to know which stakeholders will support your idea and can influence others to implement it. Exhibit 1 shows a sample “stakeholder support grid.” Use this tool to group the stakeholders by the level of support needed and expected. Based on your experience and the reasons for support you identified in the stakeholder list, write each name in the appropriate quadrant. For example, you expect that John will not be enthusiastic about your idea, but you must have John's support because he's the project sponsor. Write John's name in the upper left quadrant of the grid (high level of support needed, low level of support expected). David is a programmer on the project team; it may not matter to him which design is chosen, he can write the programs to meet the specifications. David has always liked your ideas. Write his name in the lower right quadrant of the grid (low level of support needed, high level of support expected). By the way, don't forget to write your name in the upper right quadrant (high level of support needed, high level of support expected).
You have now grouped the stakeholders into the following four categories: Active supporters in the upper right quadrant, Passive supporters in the lower right quadrant, Active nonsupporters in the upper left quadrant, and Passive nonsupporters in the lower left quadrant. Active supporters and nonsupporters have the greatest stakes in whether or not your idea is implemented. They will be the most vocal—both pro and con. Passive supporters and nonsupporters have the least at stake and may not go out of their way to promote or oppose your idea. An active supporter is usually more than willing to promote your idea to a nonsupporter with whom they have a positive relationship. A passive supporter may need some convincing.
By identifying the positive relationships between supporters and nonsupporters, you can build a “stakeholder support network.” You can call upon the supporters in your network to influence the nonsupporters and to promote your idea to all stakeholders. Connect your network by drawing lines between your supporters and nonsupporters where there are positive relationships, as shown in Exhibit 2. Focus first on connecting active supporters with active nonsupporters, the stakeholders with the most enthusiasm for or against your idea. For example, Jill is an active supporter. She has an excellent working relationship with Karen, who is an active nonsupporter. Karen wants the design to be user-friendly and values Jill's input as a user. Jill can influence Karen to support your idea. Draw a line connecting Jill and Karen. You can connect multiple supporters to nonsupporters. Remember to connect yourself to nonsupporters with whom you have good relationships. When you complete all possible connections, you will have a support network that you can continue to build upon with each new idea.
There may be gaps in your stakeholder support network where you could not make connections. If so, then you will have to promote the idea on your own. This is where one-on-one communication planning is helpful. There are four questions you need to address before approaching a nonsupporter (or anyone else with whom you may negotiate): What is your expected outcome? What is their expected outcome? What are their objections? What can you do to reach consensus?
First, you need a clear objective, your expected outcome. For example, Ed is an active nonsupporter; realistically you want Ed to accept your idea and not campaign against it. Second, anticipate Ed's expected outcome. Ed probably wants you to agree with him and either abandon your idea or change it based on his perception. Third, you need to understand why Ed does not agree with your idea, his objections. Ed may feel that your idea will cost more than you anticipate or cause delays in the project. Fourth, envision an outcome that both you and Ed can live with, consensus. If cost is the primary issue, identify ways to minimize the cost without minimizing the benefits of your idea. Answer the questions in writing to solidify your thoughts.
Finally, know the decision-making process of the person you are trying to influence. Does he or she tend to decide based on facts or based on emotions. Does he or she think first or react first. With this insight, you can plan the tone of your meeting. For example, Susan is an active nonsupporter who makes decisions based on facts. She wants to know exactly who, what, when, where, why, and how. Plan your meeting with Susan to focus on those questions. Avoid emotional statements, such as, “…because it's the right thing to do,” or “This will make our user's lives easier.” Be prepared to state exactly why and how. Of course, few people make decisions based totally on either facts or emotions, but having insight into stakeholders' personalities and planning accordingly will save you time and frustration.
THERE YOU HAVE IT, an easy method to gain stakeholders' support for your ideas. Know your ideas, know your stakeholders, build (and rely on) your stakeholder support network, and plan your one-on-one communications. Follow this formula and watch your ideas soar. ■
Fred Borgianini is a systems integration process specialist in the information technology organization of GTE. He is also a member of the Tampa Bay PMI Chapter.
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