I was recently asked to give a presentation at an interview based on providing project best practice and guidance. One of the questions asked was “How would you work with a group of project managers to ensure the projects are well run?”

I started off by highlighting that I am passionate about effective engagement and why it is so important to get this right, to work in close collaboration with team members to be sure that all customers needs are addressed and, by way of introducing this I used a collage depicting some of the insights and experiences I have had working with global teams, covering sessions from team effectiveness through to problem solving and celebrating success!

Engaging with stakeholders is all about building relationships with people who you affect through your work, or who could make an impact on your success and it is therefore crucial that we get this right.

Identifying stakeholders at various levels determines the appropriate level of engagement and this should be built into your processes throughout the lifecycle of the project. I co-facilitated a stakeholder mapping exercise with a large cross-functional team that was preparing for a key investment decision for a project. After brain-storming, we used a 4 quadrant grid to help identify individuals extremely interested in the future of the project and who would have the power to enable progression or remove blockers i.e. the high interest / high influencers.

 

By doing this exercise it brought the team to an aligned view for setting expectations on four categories for how to engage;

  1. Manage closely
  2. Keep satisfied
  3. Monitor
  4. Keep informed 

This allowed us to develop clear plans and identify accountable owners, which made significant contribution to the projects delivery and decision making. It enabled an effective governance interaction to take place having identified key 1:1 interactions. The end result was a win / win situation; the project team understood the customer’s needs, these needs were addressed and the formal governance output was a success leading to a real feeling of partnership.

There are many methods of engagement, ranging from focus groups or task teams that consist of a small group of representatives to discuss relevant issues or gaining different perspectives for the project, to questionnaires and electronic tools, which provide structured methods covering larger communities to communicate progress or status. Holding face-to-face 1:1’s with individuals enables a more in-depth discussion to take place whilst interactive events or workshops are great for bringing people together for bouncing ideas off one another but the key is about creating the right environment, making sure these sessions are interactive in a way that everyone feels able to provide their input. I’ve used all four methods, as I am sure most Project Managers have, but tailored to suit the needs and expectations for all stakeholders. Being part of a global virtual team, co-located across UK, Sweden and the US, has proven a challenge to hold such privileged face-to-face workshops but, these have proven to be priceless when they happen!

It is also conducting yearly reviews, looking at each group of stakeholders and asking yourself and them how they have a voice within the organisation or project and whether the current mechanisms are working:

What’s working well…

Even better if…

To summarise, stakeholder engagement isn’t something to do from time-to-time. It is something that should be built into your processes recognising that some individuals will need to be more actively involved than others BUT… it is important to note that you won’t be able to engage with everyone all of the time!