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Beyond Crisis Management: Are You Breaking Bad Stakeholder Habits?

The only thing that is certain about stakeholders is that they’ll never leave you alone. Sounds encouraging, right? It can be helpful at times, such as when stakeholders are supportive. But there are as many types of stakeholders as there are ways to deal with them, which is why Lynda Bourne discusses for Voices on Project Management which approaches work effectively, and which are a recipe for disaster.

Approach One: Allow for Crisis

The worst thing you could probably do is nothing. Just wait until a problem becomes unmanageable and then alert the stakeholder – kaboom! A crisis erupts, and now you are in the precarious position of one who must extricate the project under hostile conditions before alternatives are even attempted.

Approach Two: Manage Stakeholders

A middle approach is to proactively identify important stakeholders, to actively seek out their needs and expectations, and to construct a sound communications strategy. This is considered “managing” the stakeholder community. Issues are identified in advance, support is continually cultivated, and opposition stemmed. Often, stakeholder management involves some combination of public relations (PR), reporting, or customer relationship management (CRM).

Approach Three: Stakeholder Engagement

If you want to take this activity to a whole new level, try stakeholder engagement, writes Bourne:

Rather than trying to manage stakeholders to achieve the predetermined outcome your project was established to deliver, stakeholder engagement invites stakeholders to become part of the process designed to fulfill their requirements.

This is easier said than done; with an engagement approach, solutions evolve with each project, meaning that no single “answer” to a problem is obtained. If you’re picking up on the scent of the agile mindset, you’ve got a keen nose for project methodology. Stakeholder engagement definitely is central to agile, but not limited to it. In any case, a departure from the old command-and-control model will benefit your stakeholder interactions. Let go of “hard contracting,” embrace the power of collaboration, and watch your stakeholder relations improve markedly.

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About Eric Anderson

Eric Anderson is a staff writer for CAI's Accelerating IT Success. He is an intern at Computer Aid Inc., pursuing his master's degree in communications at Penn State University.

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