Recently I was asked about my experiences for managing stakeholders. The term “Stakeholder” is rather broad and I’ve seen it loosely defined as anyone with an interest in the project. Technically this may be true – but really I believe a more accurate definition is anyone who has influence on the outcome of the project.
Stakeholder Management is a very complex topic because of the people involved and the uncertainty around the situations of their involvement – it deals specifically with “what can be encountered.” A skilled manager is someone that can read the situation, dig into the reasons or rationale behind a stakeholder’s position, and then negotiate a successful outcome to new encounters.
Stakeholders change too during the life of project. Those that were influential on the scope of the work may not necessarily be the ones signing off on it as an example, or discoveries during the execution of the project may result in new stakeholders being identified and they will need to be on-boarded into the project.
So how do you manage them? One of the things to remember is that their influence is greatest at the start of the project or the initiation of a new phase. Key stakeholders also need to be incorporated as needed – especially as the project develops so that they can provide the appropriate input needed for project success.
Balancing Stakeholder Interests:
- Get to the why. Each stakeholder will have a different take on why the project is being done. – Does if fulfil a business need? Are market conditions at work? Do processes need to made more efficient?
- Find out what should be done. Viewpoints on this will always be different between stakeholders and understanding their unique views may lead to a greater understanding of any hidden requirements.
- What does the project management plan say to address points one and two above?
Balancing interests also means that a formal change control process needs to be established. Practical thoughts aside - following a good change control methodology will help negotiations with stakeholders. This helps the manager to listen to what stakeholders want and help identify what cost parameters or time frames will be needed to meet these needs. If changes are required and agreed to, then the project management plan can be updated accordingly, reflecting not only the outcomes of the stakeholder’s interests but also the work and costs necessary to make it happen.
Know your Influencers:
None of this can happen though if you don’t know who has influence on your project and when they might exercise it. The analysis work has to be done up front at the beginning of the project and periodically as the project rolls out. Build a Stakeholder Register and schedule both formal and informal meetings, workshops, etc. to get their input. Also try questionnaires and surveys. Don’t be afraid to build prototypes to get feedback and ideas. It can only result in a better chance to complete your project successfully!
I was asked a little while ago what were some good tips for managing teams remotely and these days it’s not uncommon to have teams spread out in different locations. We no longer need the office surrounding to get projects done or to gel as a team, thanks to all the technology that is available to us today. Still there is a certain art in managing a team remotely and establishing an environment where team members feel the same level of support and involvement as they do if their manager is right there with them in the office.
Make use of tools. Video conferencing, email, chat programs like Skype or MSN Messenger, and web conferencing like Webex, or joinme…the choices are out there and all these tools should become part of the day to day management of a team. There isn’t as much need to be in the office with your team every day when you are able to see them and interact with them “face to face” via your webcam. Most people prefer to work independently for the most part, but like to have regular check-ins with the team to align their expectations and make sure they’re on the right track. Video conference while sharing work via Webex as a weekly project update meeting can allow each person to give their update, share their own desktop and have a captive audience on the line. These tools must become part of the company culture just like a desk and a phone might be.
Communication. All the best tools in the world won’t work if we don’t communicate with them. This is no different than managing a team in the office – the key is to bring the team together on a regular basis, allow each person to contribute, and moderate the discussion. Working remotely requires you to make a bit more effort in communication – you can’t just stand up and walk over to someone – you have to find other ways to get your points across while you’re not there. This may seem awkward at first if you’re working with a team that is used to everyone being in one office, but with it doesn’t take long for people to thrive in this new environment.As the remote manager, you have to make sure your team feels your support and leadership without seeing you in person every day.
This can be done with frequent check-ins (even a quick call/chat to see how people are doing) and regularly scheduled update meetings that you don’t cancel / change / skip. The regularity of communication must be consistent and required by all team members for the team to gel. For example, instead of one-on-one meetings, try meeting as a team so that the team members will feel more supported by each other. That allows them the confidence to seek help from one another and not just from their manager.
Take responsibility. Often a company’s dynamic stems from the culture within, generated by the enthusiastic employees and the passionate leaders. When you are remote, you have to tap into that somehow. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself feeling disconnected and out of the loop. It’s incumbent upon you as the remote manager to contribute to the company culture by making your presence known and heard. Schedule regular update meetings with peers, the management team, other departments you rely on. The more people hear from you, the more top of mind you’ll be as someone that needs to be included in certain discussions. This would normally happen organically if you were in the office so you have to replace that, not lose it.
Once other departments or your own team gets the hang of it and they include you in meetings, make sure you always attend. It’s too easy to tune out in conference calls, or skip them all together if you think it’s not valuable – but the more you participate and contribute, the more people will think to include you. It’s inevitable that you’ll miss out of many of the spontaneous discussions that solve problems because people aren’t likely going to stop brainstorming to get you on the line, but you can keep yourself in the loop with frequent check-ins and scheduling on-line brainstorming sessions of your own.
My last post noted we’re creating a Cultural Shift in the organization – I’ve instigated moving to Agile Methodology for the development of our products. I’m happy to report that the development team likes the advantages we’ve seen. There’s more focus and discipline on estimating work as we plan for sprints, we formally review sprint success and daily troubleshoot challenges, and formally capture the lessons learned after doing the work. All these are good things to the ordered minds of engineers and for managers too.
What was unexpected in all this is the discipline that other areas of the organization are developing to support the process. The original intent was simply to develop better – better quality, better testing, having a common definition of “done” etc. The advantages of having shippable product delivered in a relatively short time frame can’t be ignored and other areas of the business are examining their methods to getting the work done.
- Requirements are becoming more tightly defined and we’re receiving them without value statements. Instead they are becoming goal oriented without any references to subjective terms ( i.e. simple, intuitive, user-friendly).
- The dependencies external to the development team are handled more efficiently. Given that we have tighter development windows, other verticals are delivering more quickly to feed their information into the development team.
- Having a set development window means the desire to add last minute requirements to a product release has decreased significantly. We can always do another sprint and take the time to implement correctly.
- We’re able to allocate resources far more efficiently and the organization can prioritize efforts. This is the Biggest Win!