Stakeholder engagement is the practice of interacting with, and influencing project stakeholders to the overall benefit of the project and its sponsors. The successful completion of a project usually depends on how the stakeholders are managed.
Their requirements, expectations, perceptions, personal agendas and concerns will influence the project, shape what success looks like, and impact the outcomes that can be achieved. Successful stakeholder engagement is therefore a vital requirement for professional project management.
Stakeholders can be internal and/or external and include anyone who will be impacted by a project however big or small.
Change Manager Responsibilities
As a Change Manager, one of my primary responsibilities was stakeholder engagement which is something often overlooked as well as its importance. Stakeholders facilitate change to happen and therefore need to work with you to make change effective and successful. If your stakeholders are not on board, implementing change will feel demanding and tiresome. If your stakeholders are on board, implementing change will feel far more satisfying especially as it often helps achieve the company’s goals and vision. Working together with your stakeholders is therefore critical.
Before engaging with stakeholders, it is crucial that an analysis is undertaken of who will be affected by the Project. If a stakeholder group is overlooked it can have devastating consequences. At the start of any project, I conduct stakeholder interviews and this is done to firstly understand the project, to understand the impact of the project, to identify stakeholder groups and to get a feel for the organisation and the challenges ahead. These interviews give me lots of information on how the organisation views things like:
- Communication Channels
- Training Approach
- Training Needs
- Key Stakeholder Groups
- Key Stakeholder Managers
- Possible resistance
- Change networks
- Change plans currently underway
- Numbers of people affected by the change in each Stakeholder Group
- Scale of Change
Everyone wants to be able to contribute to success. Having these discussions early on in the project with key stakeholders allows you to ensure their contributions are taken into account, valued and implemented, and in so doing, engagement is thus already underway.
Having now met your key stakeholders, it is important you decide which key stakeholders you would need to continue to meet and the regularity. Some groups may need to be seen more often because of the impact, others less so. Either way, these meetings enable you to develop the relationship with each. In the initial discussions, there may not be too much to cover but the important thing here is establishing trust between you and them, and that you will work with them to help implement the changes.
As you start your Change Impact Assessment (here is a template for your to use EC Change Impact Assessment Template ), there will be lots of discussions about the impact to your stakeholder groups, possible actions for you or others. Engagement is therefore seen as a team activity. They in turn may need to discuss and clarify with their peers and managers. As times goes by, more and more people become aware of the changes and the project objectives are better understood.
It is surprising how often stakeholder groups can be missed at the start of a project, but frequently rectified by carrying out a detailed Change Impact Analysis, another critical task for a Change Manager.
As you develop your relationships with your key stakeholders, there will be a time when you will need to discuss how to communicate with all of your stakeholders in numbers and the following image gives you some suggestions on how you can engage with them.
Whatever you decide, a joint decision on approach is important to ensure multiple events and channels are used to ensure messages get through to everyone and more than once.
Stakeholder Engagement Plan
A Stakeholder Engagement Plan also known as a Communication Plan is a formal strategy to communicate with project stakeholders and to reassert their involvement directly and indirectly.
It specifies the frequency and type of communications, media, contact persons, and locations of communication events. It is created at the beginning of the project and updated frequently as stakeholder communication needs change and stakeholder groups and messages identified.
Stakeholder engagement takes energy and dedication which results in many benefits invaluable to project success. Here are the main ones.
- Communicating directly with a stakeholder allows you to learn not only their perspective, but can provide new insights on a product or issue, team and organisation to help you and them to gain an advantage.
- Effective Decision Making. Decisions are rarely made solely within the project and more often with the business agreeing to the approach allowing change to happen.
- Too often, change is imposed on others. Working together naturally builds relationships and trust to ensure the right things happen at the right time, reducing resistance.
- Cost Savings. If change is managed effectively, ultimately performance is sustained and therefore costs averted.
- Risk Management. Engaging with key stakeholders allows the Change Manager to identify and mitigate risks throughout the project.
- Having a shared responsibility within the project and the business, a sense of responsibility and ownership is established which will naturally drive success through teamwork.
Stakeholder engagement helps to implement change successfully and succinctly. Working with stakeholders from the outset at the start of a project will makes things easier in working with them throughout the project life cycle through to implementation, mitigating risk as they are identified and resolving issues as they occur. The human side of change if managed properly will bring about more positive results in all IT projects, something which should never be underestimated or under financed.
6 July 2020