Project stakeholders are the people who fund, provide workers, provide resources, are affected by the project’s outcome, and/or oversee the project from a legal or compliance perspective. As a Project Manager, not having an agreement with any or all of your project stakeholders can have disastrous results for your project and potentially for your career.
Communicating with and getting agreement from these diverse types of people can be difficult enough when everyone is at the same physical location. However, when these people are geographically located around the block, around the country, or around the world, getting everyone on the same page becomes even more complex. Distance can bring a lack of communication, cultural differences, organizational divide, and dramatic time zone differentials. All this said, no matter where they are, stakeholders are stakeholders and must be dealt with properly for the good of your project and the good of your career.
As the Project Manager, there are a number of things that can, and should, be done to help assure your stakeholders are properly aligned. These activities include:
- Getting to know stakeholders personally
- Assuring they understand the project’s purpose and importance to the organization
- The costs and/or benefits of the project to each stakeholder
- Verifying that each stakeholder knows his/her role
- The specific resources to be provided
- The specific timing of them and where the resources are needed
- Assure that all stakeholders agree on the project’s priority relative to other projects
This previous list certainly contains important business strategies and organizational politicking that is needed to assure everyone is in line, but below is a list of steps that can assist you in creating a strong and supportive stakeholder group committed to project success.
- Prioritize your stakeholders from most important to least important based on your project’s critical success factors, including funding, resources, and those ultimately judging project success.
- Individually meet each stakeholder with the goal of understanding their project needs, costs and benefits.
- To the extent possible, establish positive working relationships with each key stakeholder. Meeting with them in person is ideal. If that’s not possible, try to speak with them via Zoom or other video-based technology. As humans, putting a name with a face is the best way to establish a trusting relationship.
- Create a communication plan outlining what information each stakeholder requires and how they would like to receive it. For example, one may require a weekly status report, while others simply request an occasional telephone based update.
- Try establishing a monthly call with all key stakeholders. The goal of the meetings is actually twofold. First, as a communication vehicle to keep stakeholders updated on project status and committed to project success. Second, as a way to get them to know each other. This familiarity among stakeholders will help cultivate a culture of joint commitment to project success and help resolve cross-stakeholder conflict should it occur.
At the end of the day, whether managing a group all located in a single location, a diverse group around the world, or with everyone working from a home office, the goal is the same. This goal is quality ongoing communication between you and your stakeholders and, if possible, between your stakeholders and each other. The difference is that you, as the Project Manager of a virtual team, must facilitate this cross-location communication since it will not naturally happen on its own because of the physical distance between you, your team, and your project’s stakeholders.