Every project manager deals with a number of project stakeholders – those who are interested in the project’s outcome, may affect or be affected by its outcome. Communicating with stakeholders and managing their expectations is one of the most important and yet most complicated tasks that project managers face in their work. To balance conflicting interests of multiple stakeholders project managers have to apply special talents and skills. There is even a separate branch of project management which is called stakeholder management. It teaches project managers techniques that can help them collaborate effectively with multiple project stakeholders. In this article I share my thoughts on how to achieve the consensus between multiple stakeholders on your project and make them happy.
Why stakeholder management is important
If you as a manager pay close attention to your project’s stakeholders and their expectations you get a number of benefits. First, you can ensure that everyone is on the same page regarding the project requirements, which minimizes the scope creep on your project. Second, close communication with all the stakeholders helps you to put together a better risk management plan and mitigate negatives that could impact the project. Additional benefit is using stakeholders` expertise and influence in order to help the project succeed.
To manage the stakeholders` expectations you should first identify what stakeholders you have on your project. Depending on the project type, there may be different types of stakeholders. Let’s take a look at a typical stakeholder structure of a software development project.
Keep in mind that each of the stakeholder type listed below may be represented by a group of people, not a single person. Also, there may be other stakeholders on your project who are not listed here. I just want to outline the stakeholders involved in most of software development projects.
Typical stakeholder structure of a software development project:
You may assume from this title that a project sponsor is a person who provides financial resources and other support for project implementation. It may be true, but very often project sponsors do it indirectly, because most projects are undertaken by some organizations, not by personalities. From this perspective the project sponsor is a person who has overall accountability for the project in the organization that implements the project. Also, project sponsors are those who advocate the project’s inception. Therefore, they are primarily concerned with the project delivering the agreed business benefits. If you work in a company that provides software development services to other companies, project sponsors are usually on the side of your clients.
Customers is a group of people who are the end users of the software product you are developing. You as a project manager most likely don’t communicate directly with the customers of your product, but your project is definitely influenced by customers` feedback, which you get through the Project Sponsor or Product Owner.
Product Owner or Product Manager.
Product Owner is a person who is responsible for defining and prioritizing the features of the software product which your team is developing. If you work in a software service company Product Owner most likely will be on your client’s side. If you work in a product company, Product Owner will be definitely on your side. In small companies product owners may play several roles simultaneously, for example, marketing and product management or UX design and product management.
Development Team is a group of people who are directly working on a software product your company is developing. Besides software engineers, it may include quality assurance engineers, business analysts, UX designers, etc. The main requirement to the development team in modern software development projects is that it has to be cross functional. It means that it should comprise all necessary expertise in order to complete the project.
Regardless of whether you work in a service company or a product company, you as a project manager will be reporting to some management people who also have a stake in your project. In some cases a project sponsor may be one and the same person you`re reporting to, but it’s a rare case. Most likely you will have a manager who is responsible for a number of projects like yours or a program that includes your project. It may also happen that you will be reporting directly to CEO of your company.
Now, when we have a list of IT project stakeholders in place, let’s talk about how to reach a consensus between them and how to make all of them satisfied. There are some helpful tips in order to achieve this.
How to make project stakeholders happy
1. Understand the goals of each stakeholder. Clear understanding of the goals of each stakeholder helps you as a project manager take actions to meet stakeholders` expectations. At first glance it may seem that in general all the stakeholders have one and the same goal – to have a successful project. But, in fact, the interpretation of a successful project varies from each stakeholder to another. Thus, for a project sponsor successful project is the one that generates income, while end customers prefer to have a user friendly and convenient application which makes their lives easier. At the same time, development team wants to do a meaningful work and get a reasonable compensation for this, while upper management wants to see that all the sponsor`s expectations are being met and even exceeded.
2. Apply Power/Interest Matrix in stakeholder prioritization. As it is difficult to keep focused on all the project stakeholders at the same time, you may find it helpful to categorize them by their power and interest they have in the project outcome. In this context, the power means the level of authority a stakeholder has in the project, while interest is the level of involvement the person has. By using this stakeholder management approach, you can determine what stakeholders you have to manage closely and which of them require minimum effort. This helps you channel your time and energy on those specific stakeholders who can either make or break your project.
3. Develop right communication strategies. The first thing you should do here is to determine the preferred methods of communication and create a communication schedules for each of the stakeholders. Different stakeholders prefer to communicate in various ways – some want a weekly summary email, others a daily phone call. As it’s impossible to have project status review meetings with all the stakeholders at a time, you as a manager should play a bridging role. It means that you should have a regular sync ups on the project status with all the major stakeholders. In fact, playing this role you`ll be compelled to apply some negotiation skills and even political talent in order to get the agreement between various stakeholders.
4. Apply consensus building techniques. Quite often different project stakeholders have competing and even conflicting goals and interests. In this case you as a project manager should look for a balance between their interests. One of the techniques that may help you achieve and keep this balance is prioritizing of the stakeholders` goals and requests. By doing this you will get to know what tradeables each of the stakeholders has and in which area trade-offs are possible. It is also possible to host a meeting with the stakeholders who have conflicting goals. If there is no consensus between some groups of the stakeholders, it makes sense to start with finding a common goal like having a successful project outcome. You may also apply different conflict resolution strategies if the situation goes too far.
Hope these tips help you to reach an agreement between your project stakeholders and lead the project to a successful outcome. Please, share in comment your personal experience of managing multiple stakeholders and what you do in order to reach a consensus between them.