The Absent Project Stakeholder
By Ksenia Woodgate
Your stakeholder has gone missing! A senior executive who holds many budget strings for the whole organisational unit of your corporate firm, he is not answering your emails, not attending project meetings, and since his corporate diary is not visible to you it’s not possible to judge his whereabouts or reschedule to a different slot. He sits in a different building so you are unlikely to see him in the corridor to say hello and remind him of the next scheduled steering group meeting. But you know he’s senior and busy, so maybe that’s to be expected. Perhaps you are a bit in awe of him and don’t dare call him directly – your one voicemail has gone unanswered so you don’t dare pester him again.
The project is already underway and analysis is getting into full swing. It’s your first large software project and you are keen to impress your VP with how capable you are. Your ultra-busy VP has told you that there is budget for this initiative and it sounds like it has been approved by your stakeholder. You don’t know – you were not there – but you trust her. So far no ongoing issues, you report on your weekly report – on track with analysis and no complaints – the analysts are working hard and future users seem cooperative in discussing requirements. And yet you have this dull, nasty, worried and annoying feeling in the pit of your stomach just thinking of your stakeholder. Why is he ignoring you? It is personal?! Does he not care all the trouble you’ve gone to to get this far? Yet since all is quiet you carry on.
This PM is right to feel concerned. What a potential disaster waiting to happen - and this PM is not really seeing it coming. No news is not good news with stakeholder engagement. The team might well be heading for a project that is stopped and all funding pulled, or they could end up deliver something no-one wants, or there could be a massive row with the sponsor about the current lack of proper engagement.
I’ve seen projects in that boat and it never ends well. Money and time gets wasted, reputations suffer, relationships between organisational units get strained. Deal with this emergency situation immediately: you’ve lost the attention of your project sponsor and it needs to be regained at all costs. Or perhaps you never had the right person; the correct senior executive must be engaged asap.
Communication and engagement are two cornerstones of a successful project. Get these right and you are well set for the rest of the process. Chances are that faulty or absent communication, as well as shoddy stakeholder analysis, are at the core of many troubled projects.
There are several things a PM must do to rescue the situation:
- Communicate: Check you used the right communication methods with your stakeholder. A phonecall is far better than an email. A face-to-face meeting is far better than a phonecall. Call your contact and schedule a meeting in his diary via his PA. You will find that a meeting might well achieve where a dozen emails failed. You should agree ground rules for working together to ensure project success.
And whilst you are at it, check that you know and use the best way to communicate with all your project participants.
Engage: Review your stakeholder engagement map. If you don’t have one already- write it up. It is essential to know your stakeholders – have you got the right people involved? What do you need from them, and what do they need from you? Are they going to assist you or block your progress? Do you need to influence them to convert your blockers to supporters?
Map it all out and link your stakeholder mapping analysis into your communication plan.
Recognise potential issues: Tell your manager about this problem, don’t sit on it until it’s too late.
I am not suggesting that you escalate to get your boss to deal with the problem instead of yourself, but in some hierarchy-conscious organisations someone might be seen as too junior to deal with senior executives and gets ignored. It’s a terribly unprofessional practice, of course, but it’s something to be aware of.
Ksenia Woodgate has over 10 years’ experience in the investment banking arena and is currently the director of PointBeyond, a company specialized in managing MS SharePoint implementation and customisation projects. PointBeyond is located in London, UK.