Stakeholder-led project management: Communication as information-seeking

The ‘six-whys’ of communication is discussed in a series of blogs. In this one, the focus is on communication as information-seeking.

Purposeful.comms

Communication as information-seeking

In information-seeking, the ‘who,’ ‘what,’ and ‘how’ questions are critical. Who should we be speaking to about what, and most importantly, who has the authority and expertise to answer the questions. This demands an excellent understanding of the stakeholders’ sources of power and careful thought on how to categorize and group stakeholders for the consultation process.

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Purposeful Communication:

The PMI process assumes that the primary purpose of communications is to ensure the project provides relevant, accurate, timely, and consistent project information to all the appropriate project stakeholders. This is a good starting point, but there are other reasons for communicating with our stakeholders. For communication to become purposeful, it is important that these are understood if we are to have any chance of formulating the right communications strategy. Aside from the four communication questions—what, when, who, and how—to truly understand the purpose of communication, we must, of course, ask one further overarching question: Why?

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Stakeholder-led project management: Communication challenges

Communication challenges

Communication is the core element of stakeholder engagement in projects. All projects, even the smallest stakeholder-neutral project, depend on some form of communication. No project can exist in complete isolation from its stakeholders.

Project managers recognise the need to do communications planning and to have a communications plan. Where the problem appears to lie is in how well communications are designed to meet the specific needs of the project and its stakeholders. Too often, there is a reliance on generic practices and standards, without sufficient challenge or questioning of the appropriateness of the approach:

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The PMO: Promoting best practices in stakeholder engagement

Stakeholder engagement is one of the most important factors in the successful delivery of projects.

pic2On 24th February 2017, the Cape Town PMO forum hosted by PwC deliberated over what role the PMO should play in promoting good stakeholder engagement on projects.

We were conscious that there is a fine line between the PMO facilitating good practices; acting as a broker between the project and its stakeholders; and taking on the role of leader in stakeholder engagement.  The more responsibility the PMO takes, the higher the risk that it disempowers the project and threatens the creation of effective project-stakeholder relationships.  That said – it is clear the PMO has the potential to support and encourage good stakeholder engagement practices.  How to get the balance right?

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Communities of Practice to encourage knowledge sharing in project-based organisations

This month’s ‘Insights’ blog shares lessons from applying a community of practice (CoP) approach to encouraging knowledge sharing across a project community.  While the research examines multiple PMOs in a large global organisation, I feel the insights are also applicable to the single PMO attempting to promote the sharing of best practices and lessons learned in the project manager community.

The paper gives us some insights into the challenges faced in promoting knowledge sharing, the success factors for the formation of an effective community and how you might recognise that your community is maturing (or not).

“If only we knew what we know…”

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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.

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Project manager: accountable for what?

As a job profiling consultant specialising in project management, I often hear questions like,Responsibility-ahead-Blog-14 ‘Who is responsible for…?’ and ‘Am I responsible for…?’ As questions, they seem straightforward enough, but further consideration reveals the complexity that can underlie them. Perhaps the questioner is just filling an acceptable gap in knowledge, or a check on understanding, but the question may also be reflecting more deep-seated management, or indeed company culture related problems:

  • confusion – nobody is clear who is responsible for what, and therefore who is going to take what action
  • fear – of having to take on responsibilities for which one is not properly equipped
  • anxiety – at having to be accountable for the discharge of the responsibility
  • concern – at the possibility of having to be accountable, without having discharged the responsibility oneself
  • anger – at having to take on responsibility that one feels should be discharged by someone else for a variety of reasons
  • frustration – trying to find out who is responsible in order to get action taken, make a complaint or obtain redress
  • ignorance – of the way in which responsibilities have been delegated or distributed and therefore who should be discharging them
  • obfuscation – when debates about who is responsible result in, or are used to explain, delays and inaction.

Perhaps you recognise some of these?

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Changing IT roll-outs into stakeholder-led implementations

When rolling out new IT infrastructure to a large number of client sites, it is tempting to consider it to be the same project over and over again.  But while the project may be justified in terms of the standardisation of technologies across the corporation, how those technologies get implemented and exploited by each business area may be substantially different.

Philpic1Phil and his team recognised that the crucial factor, the thing that would make-or-break this global project was not the technology but the differing business contexts and stakeholders concerns that each roll-out would deliver into.  A previous attempt at implementation had been a costly failure – the business knew it and needed other options.  Fifty-seven countries impacted;  12,000 applications reduced to just one thousand; the very way that users could access their PCs would change with admin rights removed from all personal computers.  These changes were far-reaching, and their instigation by a central controlling group was unlikely to meet with group-wide excitement and positive emotions!

The business agreed a new approach was necessary.  The first actions taken by the project manager, Phil Urwin, was to send members of his team to visit the twenty hub-countries and establish the stakeholder success criteria.  What would make it good for them at their site… in their words?  Phil’s aim was to convert the technology implementation into a stakeholder-led programme.  Each site visit resulted in a 2-page summary of what mattered to the local stakeholders, and each site was different.  Some reported non-technical users who would need hand-holding –  others reported good technical skills.  Implementation no-go times, PC wants and needs- all captured succinctly in the 2-page mandate for the site implementation.

The rollout project was a large initiative for the company.   At the Head Offices in the UK,  the normal governance structures existed – “these role-based stakeholder engagements were engaged through formal structures, but often there was little interest from them beyond getting a view about the status of the project.  It was with the agenda-based stakeholders that we needed to focus our attention.”  The project established open channels of communication with these groups using webex or whatever medium best suited the participants.  Before and during the implementation this was crucial and resulted in at least weekly meetings.  While the project team took responsibility for the initiation of the meetings, the agenda was driven by the stakeholders – it was definitely their meeting.

With fifty percent of the programme rolled out and four of the largest implementations completed the signs are good.  Customer satisfaction ratings were previously 2-3 and during and post the implementation moved from 4.1 to 4.6.  When asked about the lesson learned from the project, Phil describes two critical areas:

  • A stakeholder-led project. Right from the start, the project outcomes were aligned to the needs and agendas of stakeholders in their own business context.  Phil does not talk about the technology or what it could or could not do – his total focus is on addressing these concerns.
  • Stakeholder-focused, “like-minded team.” It’s not enough for the project and project manager to be stakeholder-focused this attitude and approach must be propagated throughout the whole team. Following the process is not good enough (although the process matters) the understanding and buy-in from every team member is crucial to translating good ideas into a reality on the client site.

Phil Urwin is currently a programme manager with The Grangeside Group.  In September he will be presenting at the New Zealand Project Management Conference in Christchurch on how to recruit the right project manager, develop and keep them. http://www.projectmanagementconference.org.nz/

My thanks to Phil for taking part in the Success Stories Shared initiative.

SSS-logo-smallSuccess Stories Shared is a South African initiative to encourage sharing across the project community. Driven by Louise Worsley & Linky van der Merwe, you can find these stories online on this blog site or at http://www.virtualprojectconsulting.com/success-stories-shared/

If you have a story to share, please do contact us:

  • Louise Worsley: lworsley@pi3learning.co.za