Project ManagementTom Swider

You Need to Keep Stakeholders Happy


1.       The 5th edition of PMBOK includes a new knowledge area for Project Stakeholder Management, recognizing the importance of the role of politics.

2.       Awareness of stakeholders and their numerous and conflicting needs can reduce project risk.

3.       Stakeholders want to be heard and acknowledged.

4.       PMOs, although stakeholders, can also be allies in managing stakeholders.

Stakeholders Acknowledged

Projects do not take place in a vacuum, but rather in the rich context of the real world. Your version of the real world will vary and will include a wide variety of characters and groups. These stakeholders have the ability to sponsor your project, provide resources, raise issues, or cause your project to come to a screeching halt.

The fifth edition of PMI's Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) formally acknowledges the importance of stakeholders and provides four new process groups: Identify Stakeholders, Plan Stakeholder Management, Manage Stakeholder Engagement, and Control Stakeholder Engagement. Based upon past projects and other organizational process assets, project managers create a stakeholder plan that includes a register identifying stakeholders and their attributes and attitudes. Armed with this information, project managers are in a better position to negotiate and communicate. The approved project plan should be one that makes the most influential stakeholders happy while minimizing the dissatisfaction of all other stakeholders (to the degree to which that is possible).  The stakeholder plan and register, and the project plan, are updated throughout the project as stakeholders provide feedback and change requests.

Exposing the Unknown

I believe “stakeholder management” is just another way of saying “politics.” If you successfully manage your stakeholders or constituents, the project will be successful. It will receive accolades from those who have the most to benefit. There will be some individuals or groups that are either neutral to your project or may be against its completion; it would be prudent to know of these forces so that you can discover their interests. In some cases, you may be able to change the scope to obtain some degree of support, or address misconceptions that may change stakeholder opinion. You may also discover that some stakeholders cannot be won over, and that you will need to mitigate or neutralize any negative impact they may have on your project.

The object of the project planning process is to having a working project plan. Not only must it be technically correct, but it must be politically correct. For example, building a pipeline may be beneficial to an oil company, but they cannot ignore community, business and environmental stakeholders. The project manager attempts to create a project plan that represents a compromise amongst the stakeholders. When the stakeholders communicate their agreement with the plan, the odds of project disruption in the form of late requirement changes, issues, and the removal of support and resources is less likely to derail your efforts.

You Mean All This Time We Could Have Been Friends?

Communication is 90% of a project manager's job, and that includes time spent on stakeholder communications. If you ignore stakeholders, you may find yourself run over or thrown under the bus.

Most people like to have their opinion's heard, and making an effort to open communication lines is something I hope all stakeholders would appreciated. They would also appreciate it even more if they knew that somebody was listening and responding.

As the pace of business accelerates, people either expect that you either respond quickly or that you are ignoring them. As the interconnections between people and organizations increase, projects will have more stakeholders with whom to communicate. It is difficult to maintain effective communications on all projects, let alone resolve their conflicting interests in a fair and equitable manner.

The PO+: Your Project Communications Consultant

Organizations that have partnered with CAI's Project Office Plus (PO+) experience the benefits of a corporate communications consultant. PO+ can distribute questionnaires to all of your project stakeholders, whether they are internal to your project or program, or external players that can influence your project one way or another. Responses are collected in a way that echoes the Delphi method but electronically. Their input can be weighed against your organization's hard data, enabling better decisions about what projects to initiate, and how they are being planned and executed. Most project managers and PMOs can benefit from enhanced communications, especially if their third party status provides a neutral observer who can help stakeholders who are really on the same team arrive at mutually agreeable decisions. PO+'s ability to help obtain honest and frank answers can even lead to better project outcomes than were originally anticipated.


Thomas Swider, PMP

Tom’s interest in project management started while working at Primavera Systems in technical support for SureTrak Project Scheduler. Although mastering the intricacies of GANTT charts and resource leveling were challenging mental puzzles, Tom learned that there was a lot more to project management than the charts, and sought opportunities to work on and lead projects while working at Computer Sciences Corporation. He was able to act as project manager for both training and support desk projects.

He has been with Computer Aid, Inc. since 2004. His expertise in eLearning Project Management helped in the successful delivery of internal training courses and CAI University.

Tom holds a Master of Project Management degree from Keller Graduate School of Management, which was earned entirely as a virtual learner, completing his work while on buses, planes and hotel rooms. He earned his PMP credential in 2011, and is currently a consultant for CAI’s Virtual Project Office service offering.

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