I’m the middle of teaching a project management class and we just finished up a section on Stakeholder Management. The discussion was lively, the group insightful, and as is often the case when I teach, I learned a few things myself. What I found interesting was the passion this particular group of students had about managing stakeholders. Most of the students are experienced project managers and they had a lot of insight into this vital but often overlooked area of project management. The two questions that got the discussion going were:
- Would you consider yourself (as a project manager) successful if you met the requirements, the timeline and the budget… but your customers were not satisfied with the product?
- Would you consider yourself successful if your project was delivered later than originally planned, over the original budget, but your stakeholders were happy?
Of course there are many situations that would influence your answer. But in general, and the class agreed, managing stakeholder and customer expectations were the keys to measuring project success.
Many project managers are falsely led to believe that managing the project management process is the only thing they need to worry about. This might be true for junior PMs, but senior PMs know better. In the ideal world, everyone would follow the process correctly. Charters would be flawlessly written. Scope would be well defined. Requirements would be perfect. The estimates would be dead on. The resources available. There would be no conflicting priorities and the customer knew exactly what they wanted before the project started, and were happy with the product or service that got delivered. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had a project like this. No matter how hard I try, every statement I made above never pans out perfectly.
Since the process is never perfect, you have to ask yourself, how can a project manager ever be successful? The key? Managing expectations. As a project manager, it your job to understand where the problems are in your project. What are the holes in your charter? Where and why will the scope change? How good are the requirements? Are there enough resources? Does the customer really know what they want? Once armed with this information, you need to manage your stakeholder expectations.
How you manage expectations is a dissertation in itself, but here is some sound advice to get you started.
- Make stakeholder management a conscious thought process. If you aren’t thinking about this on a daily basis, the odds are that you won’t be doing this very well. Everything you do, should be centered around stakeholder management. Everything. Writing the charter, setting the scope, gathering the requirements, updating the schedule – all need to be done with the impact to stakeholder expectations in mind.
- Set expectations – Again, this is a conscious activity. If you can’t answer this question – “How did I set stakeholder expectations?”, you probably didn’t. What this means is that you are spending too much time managing the process of project management, and not enough time managing expectations.
- Monitor expectations – If you set expectations at the beginning, be sure to circle back regularly to see how your stakeholders are doing.
- Influence expectations – After you circle back, if expectations need to be reset, ensure you find a way to influence your stakeholders so that expectations are set appropriately.
All the best,
All the time,
- Top 10 Project Mgmt Problems (virtualcommunicator.wordpress.com)
- Project Management: What you need to be able to do (adhockley.wordpress.com)
- Example of Stakeholder Analysis (brighthub.com)