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A Practical Guide to Dealing With Difficults Stakeholders offers a more realistic approach to stakeholder management. Books often assume that stakeholders feel warm about a project. Even if they don’t, a good communication plan can help you win them over.
This is not real life.
What is a stakeholder?
The authors (because there are three: Holloway Bryde, Joby and Joby) define a stakeholder by:
Any person or group that can influence the cost, schedule and specification of a project.
This is a very broad definition, but it’s hard to imagine how it could be narrower. Projects are not complete without stakeholders.
They also include the measure of perceived success’ in their definition, which I believe is important.
Because the business environment at project end is different from the one at project start, the perception of success is more important than the achievement of the project goals. As you move through a project, the success criteria for a project change.
This is how they put it: “Successful engagement is about ensuring the perception of your projects is what you hoped for, in addition to achieving any objective, measurable outcomes.”
Prioritizing stakeholders
I like their ideas about prioritizing stakeholders. Project managers are often told to place all stakeholders on a two-by-2 grid and then plot them out. Next, tailor your engagement activities accordingly.
Real life shows that the most important stakeholders consume far more time than those who might have been flagged by stakeholder analysis as requiring high involvement. Prioritize them. You want to be able to spend your time with the stakeholders that really matter.
Real life stakeholder management
The best thing about this book was that it is very practical and easy to read, despite looking formal and being part the Advances in Project Management series by Routledge (previously Gower). The authors share many stories. I felt sorry for them because they had to spend so much time working with very difficult stakeholders.
An experienced project manager will also enjoy moments of pure comedy. This made me laugh:
Many stakeholders don’t care as much about the project because they have many other priorities.
This is also about project sponsors:
They want to change their minds, especially about scope and requirements – but without having those changes remarked upon or affecting the project or being written down. Many sponsors suffer from “Great Man Syndrome”. They believe that every conversation with them, even informal, is somehow included in the project scope. They often respond to the realization that it isn’t as they thought.
Because it’s never happened to me (*wink*).
Although I felt like I had already read some of the advice on working with project sponsors, it wasn’t too long ago that I read a whole book on sponsorship (Strategies to Project Sponsorship).
Engaging unusual stakeholders
There is a chapter about the team as stakeholders. It briefly mentions the role that the project manager plays as a stakeholder in the projects (which I agree with).
The authors note that demotivation can be fatal to a project and that the team is definitely involved in that. They wrote:
“Projects can be complicated, messy, and political.