We are living in exciting times for project managers. Businesses are experiencing enormous transformations, from the automobile industry, to the revolution of healthcare, to the way we interact on social media. Behind all these transformations are project plans, typically managed by a project manager.
The project plan measures the health of the project. Will it be successful, or not? Will the project manager deliver the project on time, within scope and on budget? For the sake of the project manager and associated team, it better. Their hard work, reputation, performance and associated reward depends on it.
When the project closes, the team celebrates. The champagne bottles are cracked and high fives are given all around for a job well done as this particular project is over. But is it truly over? Is it truly a job well done? Is a project successful when it’s delivered on time, within budget and scope, but none of your stakeholders are using the new product, system, process, or whatever it was your project was designed to do?
Project management training consists of schedule, budget, resources, risk, procurement and contracts, all necessary learning objectives, but what is sometimes missing or under emphasized is change management, the human part of change, how people respond and react to something new. Most project management training does include the change requests and stakeholder management elements of the change management discipline, but the focus is more about process and less about how to engage stakeholders. Because of this, more and more organizations are realizing the value of integrating project management and change management, going beyond change requests and the stakeholder management process.
Prosci research suggests that participants who integrated these two disciplines were 16 percent more likely to meet or exceed project objectives than those who did not integrate. Still, too often project managers focus on the creation and delivery of a product or service with little thought given to how people will respond to it.
Stakeholder management is a key element of change management and has many components. It’s one of the most crucial factors for managing the outcome that project managers want and are expected to deliver.
Stakeholders are all the people impacted by the project, the end users and customers. They are the people who will welcome what the project outcome has to offer, call for mutiny or lie somewhere in between. Stakeholders come with varying degrees of power, either by position or by sheer numbers. This stated, businesses must make critical decisions, sometimes unpopular decisions, to enable the company’s success. Businesses should not shy away from such decisions just because stakeholders may not like them.
It’s the way we engage and manage stakeholders that makes all the difference. Are people being informed and listened to, or are they being dragged across the finish line with the thinking that they can like it or they can leave? If project managers feel that the latter is a perfectly acceptable way to manage stakeholders, it’s almost guaranteed that their project will not be met with the success they are hoping for.
Six Tips to Enhance Training
If your current project management training does not include change management, here are six things you can easily incorporate now to enhance your training and increase your project managers chances of success:
1. Ensure you have a strong executive sponsor
It is important for project managers to have an ally on their side who understands the project goals, timelines, financials, scope, benefits and the people impact. The executive sponsor holds the business accountable to execute within the project parameters and is empowered to make tough business decisions. The sponsor enables the project manager to do his job effectively, shielding him from being labeled the “bad guy.” This helps to create and maintain collaborative, healthy work relationships throughout the span of the project.
The sponsor must be willing and able to be the face of the project, being visible when needed. How a sponsor is selected truly depends. Some sponsors are appointed, some are self-appointed as the project impacts their business. Some project managers may have a say in who the sponsor is, some may not. No matter the situation, the project manager should contract with the sponsor to ensure alignment of the role. It is important to align with the executive stakeholder on their role prior to the start of the project.
2. Have an expert handy
When holding discussions with various stakeholders they may have requests that are out of scope or down right outrageous. It’s important to navigate these conversations carefully. The project manager’s job is to flesh out what the nice to haves wants are versus what the business-critical needs are. They can do this by asking stakeholders questions such as:
● Why is this important for you?
● How do you do this today?
● What would happen if you didn’t have this?
● What other options can we explore?
It may be hard to believe, but project managers don’t know everything, so they should consider bringing an expert with them when discussing topics that are outside of their wheelhouse. If they’re having a technical conversation, bring an IT professional. If they’re having a security conversation, bring a security expert. Having experts engaged in the conversation with the project manager opens up numerous possibilities and can quell a stakeholder’s anxiety. This opportunity also gives the expert visibility to senior leaders and helps to further establish them as a subject matter expert in their field.
3. Create an escalation process
People tend to hold on tight to what they have in front of them. It gives them security, it’s comfortable and familiar. It may not be perfect, but it works for them. The fear of the unknown, the new, can cause some conversations to become emotionally charged or volatile. Even with an expert and facts in hand, things may go south, which could negatively affect the project, reputation and work relationships. An escalation process is necessary to have in place before things get out of control, including when to escalate, to who and in what way.
An escalation process can simply entail a stakeholder pleading her case to the executive sponsor, and in some cases a level above, as to what she requires that is outside the parameters of the project and why. Another escalation process could involve a committee consisting of key stakeholders also impacted by the project who will hear and decide on any requests made beyond the scope of the plan.
4. Know your stakeholders
Not all stakeholders are created equal. They will have different points of view and the project may affect them in various ways. So, why not make them part of the project from the start?
To help manage their expectations and specific needs they should be grouped into categories, for example: People managers, individual contributors, leaders, executives, and HR. All stakeholders will have thoughts, feelings and opinions about the project. Some stakeholders may be more vocal than others, which adds a level of complexity when managing them.
5. Engage your stakeholders
There are several ways to involve, educate and engage stakeholders and bring them along for the ride, including:
● Town halls and all hands meeting
● Coffee corners, team huddles, lunch n’ learns
● Surveys and focus groups
● Rallies and discovery fairs
● Communications via websites, intranet, internal social media, videos, gamification, emails and podcasts
No matter what method is chosen, there’s a common formula you should consider:
● Be transparent to the extent that you can.
● Listen as much as you tell. Always leave time for Q&A.
● Ask for feedback. If you ask, you better follow up or you will lose credibility.
● Don’t avoid the hard questions, sugarcoat or dance around certain subjects.
● If you don’t know the answer to a question, say that you don’t know. Record the question, commit to getting an answer and follow up.
● Make it fun, provide food, beverages and prizes.
● If there is an opportunity for stakeholders to help make decisions, let them, no matter how small the decisions may be. They will feel more ownership; feel more part of the project and accept the outcome.
Always keep in mind that what people want is to feel valued, heard, seen, acknowledged, understood and respected. They want to feel that they matter, especially during a time of change. This does not mean they always get what they ask for. What this does mean is that the project manager will genuinely listen to them, consider their feedback and explain why something can or cannot be done.
6. Create a change network
Project teams are often short on resources and because of this, the change management piece of a project is missed or considered “nice to have.” Whether this is the reality or not project managers should consider a change network. This is a group of people, often referred to change agents, change ambassadors or change champions.
The benefits and duties include:
● Help disseminate information.
● Be the eyes and ears of how people are really perceiving your project.
● Dispel rumors with facts.
● Help and support people who are anxious or nervous about the project.
● Work on sub-projects or initiatives related to the overarching project.
● Provide insight to the project team that may have been missed.
● Assist with training.
● Act as a reference group to help with decisions and resolve challenges.
The change network are stakeholders who are excited about the project, but also have a balanced view. They hold a critical eye, can spot flaws and are not shy about communicating said flaws. Look for people who are respected by their peers and colleagues. They should represent all levels in the organization to ensure the project manager and associated team are provided with the true voice of the end users, not just those of certain groups. Look for people who have a positive attitude and who are approachable. Some people may feel more comfortable speaking about their concerns with a peer rather than with a manager.
There should be something in it for the change network members, as it is additional work, above and beyond their daily job. Consider what perks can be offered. They could be motivated by having visibility with senior leaders, being the first to know information, having the opportunity to shape aspects of the project, and receiving recognition for their efforts.
This is a lot to consider and you may find that some project managers feel a bit overwhelmed. Asking powerful, thought provoking questions may help put it all in perspective. Ask them to think about the last project they worked on. How successful was the outcome? How was the product or service used? How much focus did they place on post project initiatives? Did they ever initiate a post-project survey? If so, what was the response of their stakeholders? How do people speak about their project? How did they feel when the project ended, defeated or accomplished? What would they have done differently?
Imagine that the team and stakeholders from their last project were having lunch and their name came up. What would they say about them? Does it match what they would want them to say?
Ask them to consider the project they are working on now. What’s missing? What is one thing they will do that will benefit the project, the team, the stakeholders and most of all, themselves? With these questions asked and answered, they will see the value in the people part of planning which will dramatically increase the success of their project, enhance their reputation as a project manager and set them apart from others in their field. Similarly, if you integrate change management principles to your project management training, it will do the same for you!
Jamie Graceffa is the director of learning and organizational change for Philips and the author of the book Career Control. Email Jamie at Jamie.firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him at @JamieGraceffa.
Remco van den Breul is the director of program management for Philips. Email Remco at RemcoBreul@gmail.com and follow him at @RemcoBreul.