The first competency we are going to look at under Relationship Management is Stakeholder Relationship Management. The goal of stakeholder relationship management is to strategically establish meaningful 1-on-1 relationships that are going to do the following:
- Increase our likelihood of success on the project.
- Provide some cushion to weather the inevitable storms that occur on every project
- Provide an environment which is personally satisfying
We are also going to see how the 3 previously discussed emotional intelligence domains (self-awareness, self-management, and social awareness) contribute to Relationship Management by helping us to build effective stakeholder relationships.
Are these simply outlandish claims or are these realistic goals for project managers? I recommend that you try the techniques and find out for yourself.
What exactly do we mean when we talk about Stakeholder Relationship Management? It is the process of systematically developing stakeholder relationships that help us with the project. We can break it down into the following 4 steps:
- Identify our project stakeholders
- Collect and Analyze information about the stakeholders
- Use that analysis to develop relationship strategies
- Manage the ongoing relationships with the stakeholder
This post is going to focus on the first two items, identifying our project stakeholders and collecting information.
#1 Identify Project Stakeholders
Who are the project stakeholders? The simplest way to think of them is that they are the individuals or organizations who can make or break the project. This is an area where the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) provides some guidance. The PMBOK defines stakeholders as:
Project stakeholders are individuals and organizations that are actively involved in the project, or whose interests may be affected as a result of project execution or project completion.
The PMBOK goes on to identify & define the following groups of stakeholders present on every project:
Project Team Members
Project Management Team
The PMBOK also mentions other stakeholders such as owners and investors, sellers and contractors, team members and their families, government agencies and media outlets, individual citizens, lobbying organizations and society at large. I don't think it worth going into that level of detail, I mean, pretty soon you have All Earth Dwellers as your set of people to worry about. That said, I would try to cast a wide net to make sure no significant stakeholders are overlooked. I think that the PMBOK should have included the following:
- Senior Management of the customer and performing organizations
- The Program Management Office of the customer and performing organizations
- Functional Management or Resource Management of the delivery organization
- Vendors (break into subcategories as appropriate)
- End Users of the project deliverables
I took these additional categories and updated the PMBOK diagram for stakeholders to include the ones I thought were relevant. For those of you following along in your PMBOK at home, this was figure 2-5 on page 25 of the 3rd edition.
Using the diagram and descriptions above, can you identify the relevant stakeholders for your project? Start with the categories of stakeholders and work out who the specific names are for each category. It is going to be important to drill down to the name level for us to be able to manage the relationships.
#2 Collect and Analyze Information about the stakeholders
Once we understand who the stakeholders are, what do we do next? Well, we start by collecting and analyzing information about those stakeholders. Consider the analysis the background information you need to be effective.
Be like Jack. Fans of the TV show 24 know exactly what Jack Bauer would do instinctively when he ran into some new character on the show. He would immediately call Chloe and say, "Chloe, give me everything you've got on Dr. Evil. Just do it Chloe!".
Perhaps you don't need to be so dramatic. You do need to find out what you can about each stakeholder. The more you know the better you will be at managing the relationship. Start with some of the information below which starts out easy and then gets more difficult. Some you can obtain by asking around, others will require a conversation with the stakeholder.
- Priority - Identify the priority of this stakeholder to the project. This should be based on the ability of the stakeholder to impact the outcome of the project. You can use a simple High, Medium, and Low or you could use a scale of 1 to 5. We will use this to prioritize among the stakeholders.
- Role on the Project - This is the role that particular stakeholder is playing on this project (e.g. vendor, end user, senior management).
- Position Relative to the Project - The position toward the project could be Positive, Negative, or Neutral. Of course you can use a more elaborate scale for this including strength and direction (e.g. strong positive, weak negative). The idea is to understand where the stakeholder stands in relationship to the project outcomes. If you don't know, that might be an issue. Make it a priority to find out.
- Stakeholder Objectives - Describe as succinctly as possible what it is that the stakeholder wants the project to achieve. You might be guessing at first but put something down and then check it out when you have the opportunity. Ask the question of the stakeholder, WIIFM? Examples of stakeholder objectives include reaching their personal or professional goals, getting promoted, reducing labor costs, increasing market share, and providing productivity tools to their staff. Each stakeholder has some objective. You stand a better chance of connecting with that stakeholder when you speak their language, that is, when you understand their objectives and how the project relates to those objectives.
- Facts, Passions, and Areas of Interest - This is an area where we do a somewhat subjective analysis of the person. Use caution; anything written here should be factual and written accurately but in a way that is as inoffensive as possible. Examples could include communications style, conflict style, membership in certain clubs or professional organizations, sports, or other personal information.
A word of caution - there are several categories of information that you should avoid documenting or document only with much thought. This would include things like drinking habits, ethnic/racial/religious background, political tendencies, and sexual orientation. For example, the fact that a major stakeholder is having an affair with one of the project team members may be important to know; I just don't recommend documenting it. This type of information has the potential to cause a lot of harm; proceed with extreme caution.
- Communication Style - Do these stakeholders prefer email, voice mail or phone, or 1-on-1 communications? Do they want to hear from you regularly or only when there are problems? This topic can tricky. It is often helpful to have face to face meetings whenever possible but some stakeholders will guard their time. We also need to be aware of our own preferences and use caution not to overlay that on our stakeholders. Try to be as objective as possible.
- Emotional Intelligence Checklist - Several posts back, we discussed Social Awareness and introduced a checklist that could be used to evaluate the emotional intelligence of an individual. Going through that exercise for each stakeholder could provide additional insights.
There is a template that you could use to capture this information. Click here to download a MS Word template for stakeholder management.
You might be overwhelmed by the list of information that I have suggested. How can anyone collect all this information? First, you don't need all of this information at the same time. You should start at the beginning of the project with the highest priority stakeholders. Then, build your database slowly. Use every meeting with a stakeholder to gather a little more information about them. View this as an ongoing activity throughout the life of the project.
Collecting this information requires you to learn to ask the right questions and then listen with empathy. Write things down or focus on remembering it and then writing it down as soon as possible.
I personally like to get out of the business or project environment and discuss things over lunch or dinner. I try to ask a lot of questions and listen a lot more than I talk. Ask questions of each individual about themselves as well as what they know about the other stakeholders. People love to talk about themselves. This is not a time to TALK about the project, what it is going to do, and how smart and important you are. There will be plenty of time for that later if things go well.
You can show a lot of interest by gathering some of the information prior to meeting with the individuals. When they see your initiative and interest, they may be flattered. and respect or trust you more because of it. They may also be more open and less guarded about sharing information with you.
If you think learning as much as you can about your stakeholders is a little over the top, consider this story about Lyndon Johnson as told by reporter Christopher Matthew in his book, Hardball; How Politics is Played Told by One Who Knows the Game. Lyndon Johnson first went to Washington DC in 1931 as Secretary to Congressman Richard Kletzberg. He stayed at the Dodge Hotel which was the home of many of the congressional staffers of that day. On his first night and the following morning, President Johnson did something very strange that he kept a secret until just months before his death:
"That night, Lyndon Baines Johnson took four showers. Four times he walked towel-draped to the communal bathroom down along the hall. Four times he turned on the water and lathered up.
The next morning, he got up early to brush his teeth five times, with five-minute intervals in between. The young man from Texas had a mission. There were seventy-five other congressional secretaries living in the building. He wanted to meet as many of them as possible as fast as possible.
The strategy worked. Within three months of arriving in Washington, the newcomer got himself elected Speaker of the "Little Congress", the organization of all House staff assistance.
In this, his Washington debut, Johnson was displaying his basic political method. He was proving that getting ahead is just a matter of getting to know people. In fact, it is the exact same thing."
I am not advocating that you get naked with your stakeholders or that you employ the same hardball tactics that President Lyndon Johnson did during his presidency. I do want to encourage you to think strategically about relationships, learning about others, and connecting with others.
In our next post, we are going to talk about steps #3 Develop relationship strategies and action plans, and #4 Manage the ongoing relationships with the stakeholder.