Especially for all product owners, project managers, change managers, “normal” managers and actually anyone who wants to bring about change within his or her organization: welcome! Today I give you 10 valuable tips in the wonderful world of stakeholder management.
Stakeholder is the English word for “stakeholder”, where you can think of everyone who is needed to lead your project, initiative, program or change process to a successful end. Think of employees, shareholders, interest groups, government but certainly also customers. How do you ensure that you connect these people to you or your goal and that you can make them a fan of your strategy?
A nice word, support. It is important to properly orchestrate the expectations and interests of all those involved and stakeholders. Keep in mind that everyone pursues their own interests and therefore has reasons to support your project or not. Acceptance of critical stakeholders is fundamental.
That is why you must continue to inform, involve, consult, persuade and possibly use these stakeholders as ambassadors at all times. By building and maintaining a good relationship with the various stakeholders, all these parties are much more likely to be loyal during a project. Good stakeholder management is therefore about “dealing well with everyone’s interests”.
Stakeholder management tips
I’m going to try to guide you through the world of stakeholder management on the basis of 10 practical tips. With the following advice you can make your stakeholders more involved, satisfied and loyal.
1. Identify your key stakeholders
Your database of stakeholders, stakeholders and interested parties will probably be large. To save you a lot of time and energy, this first tip is a real “must have”. Determine which stakeholders are most important to your project. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Which stakeholders have a lot of power or influence within your organization (and can make your project fly or break down)?
- Which people are most affected by the consequences of your project?
- Who has the most substantive interest, knowledge or experience (and can serve as a specialist)?
- Which stakeholders have a strong internal network (and can serve as a connector)?
Still, the list of “targets” will be long. Therefore, make well-considered decisions about which people you are going to focus on. Stakeholder mapping tools and applications are available to make this task easier.
2. Connect conflicting interests
As mentioned earlier, you will notice that every stakeholder pursues his own interests in his daily work. If these interests are hindered (or even thwarted) by your project, you will notice resistance. Therefore, from the perspective of each stakeholder, try to make the connection with the positive consequences of your project.
Yes, we are confiscating your empathy. Your project should have a positive effect on the operating result at the end of the day. So you have to succeed in selling your project in a smart way, so that even your biggest opponent will see the benefits.
3. Communicate (in plain language)
It sounds like the most obvious tip, but is also the most scarcity. Communication is a challenging soft skill, as some people excel at verbal communication but come across poorly in written communication. If this soft skill is not used, there is a risk that you will not get the support and buy-in of the key stakeholders who can sink or swim a project.
Good communication is an art. How often do we catch ourselves forgetting to update key stakeholders on progress or during (or on the eve of) important milestones? I myself invariably plan a moment every week to make a “round along the fields” and to contact the most relevant stakeholders. Do not “over-communicate”, because then your communication will have less and less impact.
In addition to the frequency, the message is also of great importance. Every discipline now has its own large portion of jargon, or jargon. Every company often adds a dose of abbreviations and terminology. This combination often makes it virtually impossible to stay away from incomprehensible words during conversations, presentations and other communication moments. So use universal words and wrap them in as short and clear a message as possible.
Also regularly ask for feedback from your stakeholders (about your way of communicating). Improving your communication is, in my opinion, easier than most people think.
4. Consult regularly
A great danger lurks for those who at the start (or during) a project think that they have all the knowledge and insights to bring the project to a successful conclusion. What this means in practice is that stakeholders are completely sidelined. They are not asked for input and even worse: they are not kept informed of the progress.
A project, especially at an early stage, can be a big question mark for the stakeholders. It is therefore not clear to them what the goal, scope, risks and approach is. Early and regular consultation is essential. This is to ensure that the requirements represent the most important challenges or opportunities as well as possible. It’s okay to ask for input; it will help you to come up with stronger solutions and make more speed in the long run. After all, a good start is half the battle.
5. Manage expectations and align
Scrum talks about “MVP”, which stands for “minimal viable product”. This refers to the first version of a product or service that is presented to the end user as early as possible. This version contains only the much-needed functionalities, where the question is quickly asked: “what is desperately needed?”. I have had many discussions with stakeholders who do not agree on the limited scope of the MVP version.
If you are able to properly argue why you make certain choices (and are open to feedback) then I think you can get your stakeholders behind your plan. If feedback gives you new insights that are important, change your focus or scope and fine-tune it. So prioritize the expectations of key stakeholders.
Sometimes it is better to give in in order to keep your relationship good and achieve the end result easier and / or faster. For example, it may happen that a specific stakeholder attaches great importance to a certain (less relevant) functionality. If the addition of this functionality to your scope ensures that your project is adopted more quickly by the department of this stakeholder, then this is worth considering. Do not give in too quickly, because then your stakeholders will know how to find you too quickly.
7. Be sincere
You can’t always satisfy everyone, but it’s “key” that you’re sincere about what you’re going to deliver. Do not make your project more beautiful or grander than reality and especially substantiate why you have made certain decisions in determining the solution and scope. It is not for nothing that people say “honesty lasts the longest”; projects usually have a longer lead time and along the way you will need many of your stakeholders. Don’t play politics, don’t lie to anyone, and be honest.
8. Resolve disputes proactively
There will always be hurdles in your way, regardless of your good intentions and clear communication. Having “conflict management” skills comes at the right time. The starting point is quite simple, but is often ignored: listen.
An effective technique is to translate and feed back the comments of your stakeholder in your own words. This way you show that you have heard and understood his concerns. Based on this conclusion, you can explain your own perspective and work towards a “middle ground”. If tempers are so high, creating a situation in which an impartial moderator brings you together and works towards a solution.
9. Create trust
Every collaboration relies primarily on one thing: trust. If you as the main contractor (and face) of the project do not enjoy the trust of your stakeholders, then you will not get a buy-in. It is a fact that you have to have your stakeholders on board to get the right insights, to be able to mirror, to gain more support and thus to accelerate the adoption of your project in the operation.
An important way to create trust is to take responsibility. If you stand for your project and take ownership of the creation and the end result, you will see that this takes away concerns from your stakeholders.
10. Build your relationships
And the circle is complete. By continuously building your relationships, it will be easier in the future to identify the right stakeholders in new projects. It will be easier to gain trust and engage in dialogue while making decisions about scope, focus and progress. After all, where there is trust, people work together more easily and effectively. Efforts in maintaining your relationships will increase trust, minimize uncertainties, and will speed up problem resolution and decision-making.