Lessons Learned About Stakeholder Management

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The current post contains a few valuable lessons learned about stakeholder management I came across during my 15 years working as a project and program manager. The palette of particular situations concerning stakeholder management is huge: deciding when and how to share setbacks concerning the project; how to make an effective executive presentation; how to deal with the winds of high office politics; how to deal with difficult employees and suppliers; how to deal with demanding customers; how to deal with government regulators; how to deal with auditors; how to deal with communities impacted by the outcome of the project or program.

Stakeholder management is one topic of high interest for the Project Management Institute [1]. A project might have internal or external stakeholders, each stakeholder having a different influence and level of interest towards the outcome of the project or program. For the current presentation, I chose two particular lessons learned acquired during my long term project and program manager career. Both of them do not frequently appear in the life of a project or program.

The first situation concerning minor stakeholders assigned to a project, infrequently working for the project, and generally not charging the project or having a particular interest in the outcome of the project. Probably such stakeholders are challenging to imagine working on an IT software development program, but occasionally using the services of a systems or database administrator could be such a situation. In engineering projects, such stakeholders may be quality, safety, certification, manufacturing engineers, buyers, shipping, receiving inspectors or clerks, editors in charge of releasing artifacts. Many times these stakeholders are taken for granted, and one would expect they would jump in to do the relatively minor work assigned to them, sometimes requesting little time to do. Many project managers will not even assign tasks in their schedule for these stakeholders, which can turn into a major headache. These minor stakeholders may work on many projects, many times they are overloaded, unavailable, or they do not have any priority assigned to them to work on a general project. Thus, a task that would last maybe a day can drag a week or more, producing delays in deliveries.

I remember a project I was working a few years back when I needed a government inspector to ship a few hardware units on a program where the customer had the power to impose severe financial penalties for delays in deliveries. The facility had only one such inspector, and she was overworked and taken for granted. To make these deliveries on time, I reached out to the inspector early to assess her availability and was working around her schedule. I was delivering all the paperwork early to her. During the inspection, I cleared my agenda to make myself available to solve all of the multiple issues she raised during the inspection. The relationship with her as a project manager was so good that she offered one time to come quickly at work from vacation and do an inspection on a unit needing urgent shipment. I had some other similar situations during my career. The lesson learned I had is never to ignore the minor stakeholders. Ignoring them could generate big headaches.

The second lesson learned concern working with rare resources, but challenging. I had the leadership of the activities for a non-profit organization in a specific region. I got a board of several directors managing areas, all assigned by the organization for a fixed duration. I got two very talented directors, both overqualified for their jobs, but unfortunately not standing one the other. The activity went relatively well for a few months until the conflict became so intense that it was bringing the whole board down. They were constantly attacking one the other in private to the other directors and me, and the work was suffering. The situation was so dire that each of the two threatened to resign the position held if I do not kick out the other off the board. Finding any replacement was not an option at the time, and I needed to think out-of-box to end that tenure successfully. The solution presented itself. I placed myself as a buffer between the two. The two directors would never be in the small region council at the same time, but they could attend at the same time all the other events, large enough that they could avoid one the other. I was working with each one separately, and the conflict went away. Both of them finished their assignments successfully. Creating a wedge between these two talented but challenging stakeholders was the only way to keep the endeavor moving forward.

Dr. George Gafencu, DBA, PMP, DTM

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[1]       Project Management Institute, A guide to the project management body of knowledge (sixth edition). Newton Square, PA: Project Management Institute, 2017. Retrieved from https://www.pmi.org

 

Other posts on similar themes:

Lessons Learned About Milestone Documentation

Project Resource Allocation Issues

 

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