Stakeholder Management in Long Duration Projects - Project Management

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• by Victor Casal
• 23rd Aug, 2018
• Last updated on 11th Mar, 2021

If you are working in project management, you know that a key to success is to manage the stakeholders involved. There are articles, webinars, and books about how to successfully understand the science around it. In many cases, you know that you will work with many stakeholders through the years because there are many projects in common, but what if the project was one and the changes came from the roles or even the stakeholders involved?

Suppose you have a service contract management with company ABC that is due to last at least five years. So, do I have the same approach as it was a one or two-year project? And here comes the funny part, yes or no.

STAKEHOLDERS MANAGEMENT ACCORDING TO PMI

Chapter 13 of the PMBOK® defines the Project Stakeholder Management as “…the processes required to identify the people, groups, or organizations that could impact or be impacted by the project, to analyze stakeholders expectations and their impact on the project, and to develop appropriate stakeholder management strategies for effectively engaging stakeholders in project decisions and execution…”. I bring all the definition so you can see the words involved in it, identify – expectations – impact – engaging. Those are the keys to success.
According to the PMBOK®, the four processes in the stakeholder management are identifying the stakeholders and their planning, managing and monitoring their engagement in the project attributes. If you see the stakeholder’s management tools and techniques that are set to use in these processes, you can divide them into two main segments, the analytical and the communicational.

The Driving process :  For a better Stakeholder Management
In both cases, only expertise, common sense and soft skills will guide you and even then, you will probably make a mistake in some moment. Don´t worry, because mistakes are expertise for the future and, believe me, everybody makes mistakes. (That´s part of the risk management)

GET A LEVERAGE BY UNDERSTANDING THE ROLES

Part of being an effective Project Manager is known for which strings to pull and the ones you must let go. That knowledge comes from listening, seeing and analyzing the non-spoken words in meetings. Just like when in a relationship someone does all the taking but when it comes to decisions always look for the approval of others that haven't said a word, that's the one in charge but probably is not interested in the issue.

So, how can I know the level of power, interest, influence or impact of each stakeholder? Do I use the force?

How do you analyse your Stakeholder?

The first is obvious, talk to people that have been involved in previous projects and try to know the stakeholders involved in the project. You know a guy from another company that worked there? Buy him some coffee and let him explain to you who is who in the company.

Or better, some guys in your office have worked there before. Well, let's gather information on which people involved will have more impact on the project, or if someone needs to be informed about every change of scope, etc.

You will probably expect that a CEO will have more power than a Manager, so that will be a good approach.

However, that's not the case of influence. It could happen that the CEO doesn't know what you will do because that’s not his/her area of expertise, so the manager makes all the decisions and has more influence on the project.

Another hint will be clarified in time if you see an attitude from other people involved to always pass all the big decisions to someone specific.

If you have the opportunity, during the first meeting when you are developing the scope of the project try to establish how the communication processes will be. There you will see people that want to be informed, the ones that have the final voice, some just need to check on them from time to time and the people you are going to work through the entire project and need to actively be engaged.

As you may notice, each one is just an example of common sense that use the communication processes to figure out the data you need to analyze and establish the role of the stakeholders involved in the project. If you know who is who in your project, you will have a leverage.

DEVELOP AN AGILE APPROACH ON ROLES OF EVERYONE IN THE PROJECT

So, what you need to keep doing after the project start with the stakeholder’s management?

I believe that success in this area came from three things:

• Knowing roles
• Handling expectations
• Communicating effectively

These three represents the main questions Who? What? How?

Who? You need to know who is who in your project. Some people are there just for the champagne on the podium and some are because they care, you must know which one is relevant.

What? The reason many projects fails is that the scope of the project does not reflect the expectations of the stakeholders. You need to know how to handle the expectations and try to be completely clear about them, and if it is written in a document better. There is an article from the editor of knowledgeHut that give you 8 tips on how to handle it effectively.

How? You need to know the type of communication you need to use in each case. Maybe is in a meeting, or by an official document, even drinking coffee, you need to understand the moment and the way to do it. For instance, if some parts are delivered with delay and it implies a financial hit to the project it's better to talk in private first and deliver the news, then write an official document. Communicate effectively.
When you are working on projects that will have an extended duration you need to know that the roles will change. As certain as the sun will rise tomorrow, people will get in and out of the project or even of the company. I am a faithful admirer of the waterfall, but in the world, we are living, every information is just a stone’s throw away; you need to develop an agile approach in many things, even in this. Some will change roles within the project, maybe the project leader will become a manager and his interested will change with his power, maybe some guy has an opportunity closer to where he grew up, it doesn't matter, in a project that lasts so long change will come.

There are things you need to keep doing along the project´s run:

• Be informed by external references:

You need to be informed of all possible changes that will affect your project. Make alerts in google news or read papers, it doesn't matter, you need to stay ahead of the game. For instance, if you are working with the federal government and a scandal get to the news, you should be aware that many people will probably change, be prepared and try to follow any information.

• Gather information from people:

If you don't like diplomacy and the importance of it, I truly advise you to see Game of Thrones. You don't need to like all the people involved, but you can make them inform, warn or advise you. Try to get ahead of the game and gather information about the new people involved or the new roles that will change. Being a Project Manager is not easy and will always require the extra mile to diminish the possibilities that some event make the project fail.

• Effectively archive documents:

I know that it sounds absurd, but many Project Managers fail in this. If you see that some guy, that you don't know, is making all the changes when you read the history in the reply of the last emails, then this guy has influence-power in the project.

• Make less but effective meetings:

It is absurd the amount of time we waste in nonsense meetings, so make them count and anyone involved in the project will try to be there. In them, you will update the roles of each stakeholder. Prepare meetings and give with a couple of days before so everybody knows all that will be discussed in them, try to establish who will be attending. “If you book them, they will come” Wayne Worlds 2.

LONG TIME PROJECTS STAKEHOLDER´S RELATIONSHIPS

Many of the success involved in getting a good relationship with the stakeholders in long projects is based on handling the expectations. Notice that you can develop a relationship of friends or you don't see them again when the project finish, but I will try to explain how to achieve good relationships, that will help you get successful project by managing expectations.

Building  a great Alliance

Remember when you were a kid and you will open Christmas presents? After you did an amazing letter to Santa where you describe that you want the Lego´s Falcon Millennium, there were three choices:

• You get the Falcon Millennium toy, not the Lego. You are getting something similar but not what you asked.
• You get the Lego´s Falcon Millennium. Yes, yes. Exactly what I asked.
• You get the USS-Enterprise. Not even close.

The same happens with the expectations in a project with the possibility to see all the process from the letter, the elf determined the possibilities (if you were good or bad), the assembling, the package and delivering. So, if you see something strange you can put a red flag.

That's what happens in real life. The things the stakeholders want maybe are not possible. Your client wants the project to be built in three months, your boss wants 2% of cost reduction or the subcontractor established that he will not start until all equipment is in place. These are common things, many of them need to be established when making the scope of the project, but you need to keep all of them aware of the reality of the project. Don´t accept any request if it is not the reality of the project.

Some of them will bring discussions and will mean roughness in the relationship but is better to bring people down to earth from two feet that bring them at 5.000.

In the paper written by Ernest Baker in 2012 “Planning effective stakeholder management strategies to do the same thing”, he mentions tools for setting and managing expectations.
“…

1. Stating the success criteria (project objectives) in the project charter.
2. Defining what is in and out of scope in the project scope statement.
3. Defining and getting agreement on the project deliverables documented in the WBS.
4. Creating and sharing the project schedule or release burndown charts.
5. Documenting who on the project team does what in a responsibility assignment matrix (RAM) or RACI chart.
6. Creating and using a communication planning table to show how stakeholders will be kept in the loop for project information.
7. Creating and posting project dashboards for the PMO or senior leadership.
8. Creating, leveraging, and using project subsidiary management plans to handle all the processes necessary to define and manage the various parts of the project.
9. These sets of guidelines, or rulebooks, list the “how's” to do the various project management processes.
10. Conducting project kickoff meetings to publically state project objectives and set stakeholder expectations.

I believed that it is also significant to have a documented change requested process, so any change made from the initial scope needs to be understood (with all the implications of it) and accepted by the stakeholder´s initially established as the ones to possibly do it. Cause, in many opportunities, you will need to change the reality to meet the expectation of some stakeholders, but need to keep track of anything that will mean a change in time, quality or cost.If you keep the expectations and project reality closed to each other, you will have good relationships during the project´s run. once it is finished, you will decide which  relations are worth keeping and those who don't. It will be because you see an opportunity in the future, because you liked them and have affinities or because you will still work with him.

You need to understand that keeping track on relationships in this hi-tech world is as easy as writing congratulations on their birthday or an email once every year. Most people want to feel that meant for help in the progression of someone as if they really do than shame on you for not doing it.

CONCLUSION

Many of the “magic” of an effective stakeholder management comes knowing the roles, handling expectations and being an effective communicator. It means to gather information, a bit of diplomacy, analyze information and a lot of common sense (not so common after all). But in long time projects, it is all about keeping the gap between reality and expectations the closest as possible.

Victor Casal

Blog Author

Civil engineer, PMP certified and planning enthusiast. More than ten years of experience in construction project management, maintenance and operations consultancy in concessions agreements.