Stakeholder DIS-engagement

Have you ever been invited to contribute to an initiative? Attend a meeting? Complete a questionnaire? Been interviewed? 

Then weeks later, you thought – what happened there?  How was my input used? I wonder, was my input used at all?  What happens next? It’s not a pleasant feeling – it’s almost a feeling of being duped. Experiencing this, you could be forgiven for being wary about giving your valuable time again.

The stakeholder journey – from engagement to close-down

The stakeholder management process has six stages and is cyclical– you keep repeating it throughout the life of the project. Like every process – its use must be adapted to the context of the project you are working on. And remember, each stage has a purpose, and you skip it at your peril.

The stakeholder process

Key point 1:  Separate identification from analysis

To start, you need to think about who might possibly be stakeholders. The idea is to go broad at first, considering who could be a stakeholder now, and in the future. Stakeholders are more than just the people you know, or the people near to your project right now.

You may end up with an awfully long list. It’s in the analysis stage, we identify the candidate list of individuals and groups that we are really going to engage with. Think of it like the risk management process – you identify potential risks, prioritise them and then focus management attention on the important ones. In stakeholder management, rather than risk exposure, we use terms like salience. Who are the important stakeholders to focus on given our understanding of their power, legitimacy, and urgency?

Key point 2: Know your stakeholders

The truth is that you may not know the stakeholders well. Even if you do, you may not understand their positions and agendas concerning this particular project.

If you are working on a project with new people you have not met before, you may have to spend a lot of time on this. Remember though – you don’t have to know everybody. You just have to know people who do!  Good analysis draws upon the knowledge and understanding from a variety of people – that is also how you make sure you broaden your perspective.

By the analysis stage, all stakeholders should be named. It’s not – “the sponsor” – it’s Avuyile Selondo. Understanding the role is not interesting – it’s peoples’ personal views of that role and the agendas they have, or may adopt later, that matters.

What about groups?  Some groups are homogenous – not many – but some are. Classic examples are lobby groups. They have a single purpose and can be dealt with like an individual. Others are heterogeneous – they contain individuals with varied concerns and agendas. How you deal with them is more complicated. What ‘conduit’ will you use into this group? A representative or a delegate?  How you go about this is also important. There may be official representatives for the groups. Or you may have to create the representative role. Do you ask for a volunteer? Do you ask the senior manager to assign somebody? Do you select someone yourself? In stakeholder-sensitive projects, the group decides on their representative, clearly a risk-laden process, but one that cannot be avoided.

Key point 3: Engagement strategies are more than just communication plans

I often get to ask project managers about their stakeholder engagement approaches. They all say they are doing it, but when I ask them for evidence, mostly what I get is a communication plan! Don’t get me wrong – a communication plan is a form of engagement, but typically its focus is only on the transfer of information. There are other purposes for engagement:  to persuade others, to influence positions, to motivate to action, to isolate opponents, to create energy. The more stakeholder-sensitive the project, the more complex the engagement becomes and the more varied the engagement approaches required.

Key point 4: You won’t get it right from the start

The stakeholder process is cyclical for a reason – you have to go round it several times. Partly because who gets interested and involved in your project changes over the life of the project and partly because stakeholders have a chameleon-like tendency to hide from you! Let’s return to our risk log analogy. Like the risk log, your stakeholder log is a live document that you will need to revisit, monitor, and amend. You will always need to review your engagement strategy in light of the changes in the stakeholders’ positions.

Key point 5: Every opened-up relationship must be ‘comfortably’ closed down

Closing the stakeholder process

And finally – you do have to dis-engage!  The cyclical model doesn’t show that or what to do to make it happen, so let’s examine the options.

For individuals

When a project closes, what do the stakeholders need to know? Well that depends on their relationship with the project.

Role-based stakeholders are those who have an identified responsibility with respect to the project. Agenda-based stakeholders are those who have a ‘position’ with respect to the project.

Worsley, 2019

Role-based stakeholders need to stop doing what they were doing for the project. That’s important – not least because the project is supposed to stop spending on them!  But perhaps even more importantly, they need to be given feedback on their input, how it has made a difference, what they should do following the close of the project.

Agenda-based stakeholders are often more passionate and energetic about the project than role-based stakeholders. Unless appropriately channelled or dis-engaged, that energy may continue after the project – often in ways you don’t expect and, not infrequently, to the longer-term detriment of the project.

Good dis-engagement ensures stakeholders know what happened, what they should do now, and what happens next. It will leave them prepared to engage with you and other projects in a positive way.

For groups: The delegate:

If somebody has been delegated to represent a group, then you may expect them to dis-engage these stakeholders. However, I think we have all had the experience where somebody has challenged us about a project and your first thought is, “but I told your manager about that”. Why didn’t they tell you!  The closure of the project must ensure that adequate communication is getting back into the group, either via the delegate or by whatever means necessary!

For groups: The representative

Having a genuine representative of a group – somebody seen by the group as representing their interests – is a blessing. It can be beneficial to maintain that relationship beyond the end of the project to facilitate future projects. Indeed, many large organisations create project representatives in the business units to take on this role on an on-going basis. That means that the relationship between projects and the representative ought to be maintained outside of specific project activity. Beware though – just because that person was a great representative on one project does not mean that the stakeholder group will accept their representation on another project. Agendas will differ in their level of homogeneity within the group.

Great dis-engagement can turn even failing projects into a positive experience

A project to review and update job descriptions across a large company was abandoned after nine months due to changes in the operating circumstances. Over 300 staff and management had been involved in the project at some point. As a part of the project termination, the team put together a communication plan to ensure that every stakeholder that had been involved during the nine months received communication acknowledging their input and clarifying what was happening next. Despite not completing, this project was regularly cited as a success by managers across the company.

Communication must be followed through to a satisfactory conclusion, from the stakeholders’ perspective. Just because the project has moved on to the next stage, or has completed, does not mean that the stakeholder expectations have stopped. Every stakeholder channel that is ‘opened’ must be ‘closed’.

Sometimes effective dis-engagement is the only thing that will make a difference between project success and failure.

Louise Worsley is author of the book: Stakeholder-led Project Management: Changing the way we manage projects. The second version of this book is now available in e-form from Business Expert Press ($17.99)

The Accidental Mentor

For many of us, mentoring is not something we have been trained in but is something we fall into.  You wake up one day, and somebody has asked you to be their mentor. Or even more surprising, you overhear a conversation – “Louise is my mentor”!  And you think, am I?  When did that start? Am I any good!

When I came across the wonderful initiative, The Mentoring Club, and decided to sign-up, I had to ask myself: What kind of mentor am I, and how can I truly be of value to the people I connect with?

From my experience, there are many reasons for being involved in mentoring – as a receiver or giver.  It won’t be a big surprise that the purpose of the mentoring changes the nature of the relationship between the mentor and the mentee and the conduct of the mentoring itself. 

Mentoring and professional networking are intimately linked

The six mentor archetypes below describe differing mentoring experiences. Sometimes, a single person can fulfill several mentoring purposes, but you will never find one person to fulfill all of these.  Neither, by the way, should you try!

We know that Great Project Managers Have Great Networks.  If you haven’t checked out your own network, follow the link to see how diverse your network really is.  Our networks are our support structures, and we all need them.  For me, mentoring has always been a mutual support process.  Whether I am the mentor or the mentee, every interaction increases my understanding and creates those go-to connections that are so valuable to our professional development.

The six mentoring archetypes

The mentoring club

The Mentoring Club provides free mentoring for engineering and product enthusiasts, marketing & communication managers, designers, people managers, startup founders and creative minds.

The online network, founded in April 2020 by Jessica Dewald and Bastian Buch, already connects over 100 mentors from around the world with those who are keen to learn, grow and advance in their personal development. Mentees can easily join and book a session with any of the experienced mentors through the online platform. The conversations are confidential, and relationships are managed between the mentor and mentee. Guidelines (rules of engagement), structure and organisational growth is overseen by the founders.

If you are interested then here are just some of the consultants who offer pro bono mentoring – these are all in project management:

Project management mentors

Feel free to reach to any of us and maybe also consider joining this wonderful initiative.

The Project Office: A history and approach

Project offices (PMOs) have been around for quite a while but how they get used by the business has changed a lot – particularly over the last 20 years.

The PMO today has many of the characteristics of our friend here, C3PO:

Always thinks ahead

Doesn’t take unnecessary risks

Not afraid to speak out

Gathers, analyses, and uses information to help others

Doesn’t do the jobs, but can advise and mentor

Ready to admit if they are wrong

Defers to “superiors” but normally gets their own way!

But one thing is clear. In the end, what a project office does and achieves will always be driven by the wants and needs of its stakeholders. Without that alignment then project offices will fail.

This video is an extract from an online lecture for the MSc in Project Management at The University of Cape Town. Click here for further information on the course.

Do you have a stakeholder-centric PMO?

Are your stakeholders confused?

Sometimes the biggest problem your stakeholders face is that they are just confused about what you want from them and how they are supposed to deliver it. This is particularly true in a world where project roles are changing rapidly.

  • What am I supposed to do as a product owner?
  • Which of the twelve senior managers in the programme are supposed to make decisions about what?
  • I’ve been made a sponsor but I am not interested in the project and I don’t have the time?
  • What do you mean – I’m not a legitimate stakeholder!

Culling projects: A critical portfolio process

With most organisations reporting more projects that they can resource, stopping projects which are addressing yesterday’s problems may be even more important than not starting those projects designed to address today’s.

In a review of 15 client portfolios, the UK project consultancy group, CITI reported that in annual portfolio prioritisation more than one-third of the projects and programmes approved were carried forwarded from previous years, with 20% having survived two annual review processes.  The question perhaps to ask is – does this reflect a real need for long-term projects or is it that management decision making around stopping something is just so much harder than approving a project to start?

Significant portfolio management attention has been paid over the last few years to developing improved governance processes around the front-end selection and prioritisation of projects.  But portfolio monitoring and control is a much greyer area and often confusion arises between the governance responsibilities at the portfolio and project sponsorship levels.

Continue reading “Culling projects: A critical portfolio process”

Project management: Have we lost the plot?

So, these two people meet.  Discovering they were both teachers, the woman from New Zealand asked of her male English colleague, “What do you teach?”. “Mathematics.” he replied, “How about you?” “Me”, she replied, “Oh, I teach children!”.

How we frame what we do, the way we describe ourselves, what we do, and what we do it with, fundamentally affects how we manage ourselves.  That’s just as true in project management as it is in education.  As a professional project manager, what is it we say we do, what is it we say we are, and why does it matter? Continue reading “Project management: Have we lost the plot?”

Lessons from the best PMOs in the world

Over the last three years I have had the privilege to be involved as an international judge in the PMO Global Alliance Awards and as the chairperson of the judging committee for the South African PMO Awards.  Here are just some of the things I learned from some of the best PMOs in the world.

I would love to hear from you, so please share your insights by adding to the post.

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Great project managers have great networks

Much research over the last twenty years has attempted to identify the characteristics of successful project managers. However, more recently, this has been questioned and replaced with a more interesting debate. What makes for successful project management? The argument goes that even the ‘best’ project manager acting alone without support from the organization and appropriate collaboration with peers and other stakeholders is unlikely to be successful.

In our own research on the characteristics of successful project managers, we found that the high performers were much more likely to have extended personal and professional relationships within and outside their organizations. It wasn’t just that they had more expertise to draw upon, but also that when they needed to interact with stakeholders, to further the goals of their projects, they were more likely to have pre-existing relationships to draw upon. They built up and valued ‘social capital’ in ways that less experienced project managers were unlikely to do.

Great project managers have great networks

Continue reading “Great project managers have great networks”

Be a Modern Professional Learner

As a project coach, I get many opportunities to ask the question,” What did you learn from most over the last few years?”   So far no one has ever answered; “There was this great course” or even, sadly; “There was this great presentation you did on…”.

Most adult learning comes from relevant experience: challenges faced on a project, interactions with peers, or opportunities which force reflection upon and make sense of our experience.

Continue reading “Be a Modern Professional Learner”

Conflict in the project workplace : A coach’s perspective

High conflict levels unbearable

Conflict levels were so high at work that Paula had reached the point where she just wanted to resign her contract and leave it all behind her.  She knew that this was not a good move – she liked the company she was working with – “it was just a few people that were causing me the problems”.

What she hadn’t really understood (but her Employment Agent was alerted to) was that the problem was bigger than this.  Paula was beginning to get a reputation amongst managers and her peers as somebody who was just too difficult to work with – too high maintenance.  As one manager commented – “she seems to be good at her job – good at getting things done – but she really does rub others peoples’ backs up”.

Paula agreed to be involved in a coaching experience instigated by her Employment Agent to see if a resolution could be found.

Continue reading “Conflict in the project workplace : A coach’s perspective”

What makes a good benefits analyst?

Some years ago we published the results of a survey on what were the key skills and competencies of a portfolio business analyst.  Even then we struggled to find a suitable and commonly used job title for those analysts involved in supporting the development of business cases and benefits management plans.  We have come across so many names – business case analyst, benefits analyst…

Five years later and benefits management remains an aspiration rather than a reality in most organisations.   Heather van Wyk presented on her experiences in benefits management at the EMEA PMI Congress in Berlin.  She relates how, when she quizzed the audience, only a handful of participants felt that businesses were successful in implementing effective benefits processes.

Continue reading “What makes a good benefits analyst?”

The PMO as knowledge broker

Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely

Identifying lessons learnt is a necessary part of the project process, not only does this information have the capacity to lighten the workload of the project manager, but it also places the company running the project, in a position of increased competitiveness – however, this is only if the knowledge is actually applied. Unfortunately, the reality confronting many project managers is that once boxes have been ticked and projects completed, it is very rare that this information is accessed and utilised in future projects.

Continue reading “The PMO as knowledge broker”

Want more pace in your projects? Governance is the key

Increasing the pace of delivery of projects takes a lot more than just working faster.  For most projects the biggest time-thief is decision-making.  It’s not the effort, it’s the elapsed time it takes to appraise the various stakeholders of the issue, get a consensus and then transmit their response to the project. If you really want to increase pace of delivery, then it is the elapsed time-stealers that have to be streamlined… and of these, the most important? Governance.

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The myths of stakeholder management

Project stakeholder management has borrowed many of its concepts from other discipline areas. This cross-usage of wisdom is helpful but its application in projects is still to be proven and bedded-in to the way we do things.  After all, it’s only in the last few years that stakeholder management has been recognised in project management bodies of knowledge.  In the meantime trial and error application has resulted in a number of myths about its application to projects.

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Going solo: The project management way!

Last year I watched my daughter make her first solo flight in a light aircraft.  That means she took off in an airplane on her own, and landed it. She was just 16 and had ten hours training.  The first I knew it was happening was when the instructor said quietly to me,  “You might want to stay around to watch this lesson!”.

Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash

If you haven’t experienced going solo in a airplane, this is pretty much how it works. After you’ve made three perfect landings in a row, the instructor casually remarks: “Not bad, why don’t you do the next three circuits on your own?”  They then climb out of the airplane leaving you alone with the engine running and ready to go.  At that moment the airplane seems tremendously quiet, the right-hand seat looks tremendously empty and the runaway looks tremendously short!

Continue reading “Going solo: The project management way!”

From right-size governance to agile governance

If you’re working in a structured project environment with a project office, the chances are that you are using a right-size governance approach.

What does that mean?  Essentially, the level of management attention and oversight varies appropriately, depending upon the characteristics of the project, such as size and complexity, or the level and significance of the impact of the project on the organisation. 

Continue reading “From right-size governance to agile governance”

Is Agile a planning-free approach?

The introduction of Agile as a software product development approach is having a significant and positive impact upon the way IT projects are delivered. However, in our coaching interventions, we are finding some confusion among project managers. Some experienced project managers quickly learn how to adapt and integrate Agile practices into their toolset. It is just another approach, which used appropriately in the right projects increases their ability to deliver. Others move straight to denial; change-weary, they avoid or downplay the usefulness of the Agile framework– “It’s nothing new.” That is their loss! Of greater concern are the more junior project managers who, faced with Agilists, lose their bearings. “What is my role in this?” “How does the governance work?” “How do I plan?” And most worrying–“Do I need a plan?”.

Continue reading “Is Agile a planning-free approach?”

Stop looking for a superhero project manager

I have a memory passed down via family members that as a 9-year old when I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I responded that I wanted to be an expert!   I’m sure my parents find it a very irritating response and would have preferred an answer like doctor or engineer or lawyer!

Whatever I meant at that time, I am pretty clear now, that this is just not possible. Today there is so much information, so many insights and experiences that we need access to as project managers–this cannot possibly dwell in the body and spirit of one person. Karen Stephenson captures it perfectly in her phrase,“I store my [know-how] knowledge in my friends”.

Continue reading “Stop looking for a superhero project manager”

Adaptive planning – the why’s and how’s

To get you mind in gear, try these questions. You will find our suggested answer below:

  1. What is the most important difference between incremental and iterative project planning approaches?
    1. Incremental planning moves towards the final solution
    2. Incremental planning requires the final solution to be known from the beginning
    3. Incremental planning has short planning horizons
    4. Incremental planning delivers solutions more quickly
  1. Why is having a variety of product development life cycles (PDLCs) important to project managers?
    1. A PDLC identifies what tasks and activities need to be carried out
    2. Some PDLCs are easier to for the project’s resources to use than others
    3. Each PDLC provides the project manager with options about best sequencing
    4. Some project contexts are better suited to some types of PDLC than others
  1. A project plan should be ‘change competent’.  Why?
    1. Because the purpose of projects is to cause change
    2. Because change is difficult for bounded management plans to cope with
    3. Because change is to be encouraged by projects to best deliver the projects outcomes
    4. Because a project plan is best structured into 4 parts, which makes it ‘change
  1. What is the major difference between a constraint and a CSF?
    1. A constraint is a limitation placed on a project
    2. A constraint cannot be changed by the project manager
    3. A constraint is often owned by a person or body outside of the project boundary
    4. A constraint determines the best planning approach
  1. Which one of these is the best description of how the best approach to planning is determined?
    1. The project content
    2. The project context
    3. The hierarchy of constraints and CSFs
    4. The stakeholders’ preference