AECOM Impact Blog: Stakeholder management – A concern for project managers
Romi Sebastian, AECOM project manager in Qatar, discusses four of the most common stakeholder issues that project managers face and his suggested solutions.
Stakeholder management has long been a concern for project managers. Stakeholders and project managers don’t always think in the same way. Project managers must find ways to face stakeholder expectations that don’t align with the genuine situation on a project.
In my experience working on projects in the Middle East, I would like to establish some of the most common issues that project managers face on a daily basis and how these issues could be resolved competently:
1. Minor additions versus scope creep
Stakeholder viewpoint: The stakeholder thinks that all he/she is asking for are a few new little requirements. Since these changes are minor, why then inconvenience ourselves by going through the formal process of change management and gaining approval?
Actual situation: Project managers recognize that these “little” requirements will ultimately add up and force project resources to work on undocumented requirements, which transforms into loss of time and money.
Resolution: Project scope management needs to be stringent when project teams work towards confirming requirements with stakeholders. To alleviate all misunderstandings, the project manager should communicate to all the stakeholders about the change management process and that no changes will be accepted without going through the agreed approval process. Project managers should recognize scope creep and monitor if their work includes addressing any undocumented requirements.
2. Disbelief versus lack of engagement
Stakeholder viewpoint: The stakeholders have not been briefed on the status of the project for a while; the stakeholder deduces that the project manager must be hiding or delaying negative project information.
Actual situation: The project manager did not conduct a proper stakeholder analysis and information distribution plan to engage the stakeholders throughout the project period.
Resolution: Early on, come up with a list of all of the individuals involved in and impacted by the project. Then, identify and filter a group of key stakeholders based on their influence, power and closeness to the final project operations. To add to this, prepare a communications and information distribution plan. The project manager’s job always includes communication. Let stakeholders know what is going on from time to time; especially regarding project elements that impact their survival and operations.
3. Project failure versus unrealistic expectations
Stakeholder viewpoint: The team isn’t hitting every milestone on the dates specified, so the project is obviously a failure.
Actual Situation: Those very specific project milestones are created months ahead of time, and not all requirements can be known when a project is launched. The project may still produce good results.
Resolution: Project managers must be clear and transparent when managing stakeholder expectations. Explain to stakeholders that a “project plan” is merely a “projection” of what you expect to happen in the future. Following an outdated project plan will merely result in failure. Project managers should communicate to stakeholders what they can expect regarding immediate milestones. As soon as a milestone seems to be at risk, this fact must be communicated immediately. Explain the reasons and communicate any new plans based on updated project priorities.
4. Stakeholder project wishlist versus balancing constraints
Stakeholder viewpoint: Projects can be done quickly, inexpensively and at a high quality—without sacrificing any constraints.
Actual Situation: If a project is completed quickly and inexpensively, quality could suffer. A project team can conduct high-quality work in a short amount of time, but stakeholders should expect increased costs as a result of added resources. The disagreement often occurs as a result of executives making promises to their stakeholders without involving the project manager—and it is noticeable during project kick-off when stakeholders bring their unrealistic expectations to the table.
Resolution: To overcome the challenge, the project team should hold workshops with key stakeholders from various groups to uncover solutions. In addition, appoint change agents within the organization to educate colleagues on the project’s benefits and impact. If project teams are to produce quality deliverables, stakeholders need to be educated on the risk of “quick and smudged” projects versus “well-planned, quality” projects.
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