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Do You Know Who Has Influence on Your Projects?

I have seen too many project managers who don’t understand their stakeholders – and, specifically, the influence stakeholders may have on the project. One project manager, who works for a pharmaceutical company, is working on a major project that crosses a number of divisions within the organization. I have been working with him from the perspective of helping him to set up his change plan (this is a change project requiring changes to a number of processes within the organization.)

When I asked him about the stakeholders, he ticked off their names. I asked him what he knew about each stakeholder. He provided their titles. Then he said, “I’m only concerned about the leaders and the sponsors. The rest are not as important to me.” That’s a mistake I told him! He should be concerned about every stakeholder! Especially for a project that will require changes to processes, he is going to need every employee impacted engaged in the project – after all, they are the ones doing the work and utilizing those processes!

We went out for coffee and talked further.  I asked him about some of his past projects and specifically challenges he may have had with them. In the conversation it became apparent to him that he hadn’t really engaged any stakeholders other than those who considered the “important” ones – senior managers and leaders in his organization. The challenges he noted were often due to “hiccups” from not being able to get what he needed from individual contributors, supervisory or middle management level employees – all those individuals he ignored.

More individuals that most project managers realize have influence on their projects. The inability to understand this influence can have a negative impact on a project. For example, let’s consider process improvement projects. It is quite likely that if I was managing such a project I would need to communicate with and gather data from individuals who actually use the process being impacted by the project. It is also quite likely that those users of the process are not senior leaders in the organization but rather individual contributors and others doing the work of the business. If I want to get the information I need, I need to engage those individuals in the project. They have the power to provide me information I need, or delay it, or not provide it at all. They have influence in the organization.

When we engage all of our stakeholders, regardless of their status in the organization, our projects are so much more successful! And stakeholders feel like they have been heard, their ideas shared and their concerns addressed. We can’t make that connection with all stakeholders if we focus only on those who are part of the leadership team.

When we engage all of our stakeholders, we develop stronger relationships and are much better able to accomplish our goals. It doesn’t matter how much or little influence we believe a stakeholder has in our project, we should engage them all. Because they are all able to influence our projects in some way or another.

Back to our story – the project manager and I went back to the office and developed a plan to engage all of the stakeholders in a variety of ways – one-on-one meetings, small group meetings, department meetings and through informal conversations as well as through emails and via the company internal site.

How about you? Are you treating all your stakeholders as essential and priority stakeholders?

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