How to manage common stakeholder issues and challenges
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Project stakeholders are influential and important to your project by definition, but sometimes they can also introduce challenges into your project. As a project manager or team member, how you manage your stakeholders through communication and collaboration can directly impact your project’s success.
With the right approach to stakeholder management, you can reduce the likelihood of project issues and disruption.
Common stakeholder issues
No two stakeholders are the same, so the issues they may introduce into a project can also differ tremendously. For project managers, this means there can be many different reasons why a project encounters resistance from stakeholders or why the project team struggles to gain traction.
Identifying the stakeholder issues happening in your project can help you plan ahead and prepare an appropriate response.
Trying to align many different stakeholders
Having varied interest in the project and its outcome is usually a good thing, but a large number of different stakeholders can also pull the project team in too many directions. As anyone who’s ever ordered pizza for a team can attest to, stakeholders often struggle to make effective group decisions without careful management. Aligning too many different stakeholders together can be challenging for project managers and may introduce additional challenges to the project.
Competing priorities between stakeholders
Stakeholders carry their own expectations and goals into the project. Often, at least a few of these priorities contradict or compete with each other. Some priorities may be personal, departmental, role-based, or reflect differences in professional backgrounds.
For example, you may have a stakeholder who’s own personal goal is to wrap-up the project before they leave on vacation. They may be highly committed to seeing the project’s completion happen as soon as possible, even if this timeline is shorter than what other stakeholders might prefer.
Your team may not have all the resources they need, or your project may be using resources that other stakeholders see as essential for their own projects. Resource competition in organizations is very common – and may be a source of conflict.
Another department with a similar project in the works, for instance, might perceive your project as competition for the same resources.
Breakdowns in communication
Clear communication among stakeholders and with the project team is essential for everyone to achieve their goals and for the project to be successful. Whenever communication breakdowns occur, the project can be delayed or the team may fail to get what they need. Without intentional communication, stakeholders may unintentionally work against the project’s success.
Stakeholders resistant to share information
Sometimes, stakeholders who are very important to a project’s success don’t share all the information the project team needs from them or aren’t providing data in a timely manner. Stakeholders may intentionally try to disrupt the project or may unintentionally do so – a busy stakeholder may habitually forget to email the figures you need every week or miss important project meetings.
How to combat these issues
By approaching stakeholder management carefully and thoughtfully, you can analyze your stakeholders’ influence on your project and create a communication plan to help prevent stakeholder challenges.
Just as project managers must carefully analyze resources and project details, stakeholder analysis can provide valuable insight and direction. Throughout the project, taking the time to thoughtfully consider how stakeholders impact your progress can help you respond appropriately.
Stakeholder analysis helps you determine how to manage expectations, direct stakeholder influence towards your project goals, and provide the information and updates your stakeholders are looking for from your team.
First, before you can effectively analyze your stakeholders, you’ll need to identify them. You can begin by listing every stakeholder you can think of, then adding extra individuals and groups as needed.
Your stakeholder list should include all people who are impacted by your project, have power or influence over your work, or have some interest in your success.
From there, you can prioritize your list of stakeholders by impact, interest, and power. For example:
- Key stakeholders: This first group has a great degree of influence and power over the project. Executive leadership at your organization often fits in this category.
- Primary stakeholders: Your primary stakeholders are directly impacted by the project. This may include internal or external customers, team members, and departments that are expected to benefit from the end results of your project.
- Secondary stakeholders: Those in a supportive role, indirectly affected, or with a more minor interest in your project are your secondary stakeholders.
In these groups, stakeholders may all have different motives, reasons for championing your project, and plans for how they’ll respond to your progress. Since every stakeholder is different, how you go about managing them should be different, too.
Understand key stakeholders
Typically, there are a few stakeholders who stand out as particularly key to the project. Key stakeholders have more influence than other stakeholders and may be more interested in the project’s success than primary or secondary stakeholders. Your boss, your company’s executives, or team leads could be key stakeholders.
Finding the key stakeholders and understanding what they need can help you keep your project on track – since they may control important resources, be able to impact your project in important ways, or be able to grant your project the approval you’ll need.
Create a communication plan
With a communication plan, you’re better prepared to manage your stakeholders on-the-fly and maintain your project’s momentum. Build your communication plan from what you know about your stakeholders and what will be the most helpful for your project. If needed, gathering input from your stakeholders will allow you to make adjustments – sometimes, this is as simple as a quick question to your stakeholder about their preferred communication style and update content. Even if all you do is jot down notes you can refer to later, keeping track of what your stakeholders need from you allows you to stay organized and focused in managing your project.
Once you have a plan, it’s important to establish trust with your stakeholders. Instead of dictating the project to them, make each stakeholder a priority – as appropriate – and provide them with space to share their input. One-on-one meetings may be a part of this process.
Managing stakeholders for your project’s success
Stakeholder management is an art that takes practice and a strategic approach. Throughout your project, check in with your stakeholders and make sure their influence is bringing about positive results for your project. Be prepared to adjust your strategy, if necessary, so your stakeholders and your project both have what they need for success.
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