Stakeholder relationships set the tone for your entire project. That’s why it’s important to start out on a positive foot. See how to effectively manage projects so stakeholders know what to expect and how they contribute to project success.
In this class, you’ll learn how to:
Brett Harned: Hi there. Welcome back to The Art & Science of Leading Projects. My name is Brett Harned and I'm the Director of Education at TeamGantt. I've been working on and managing projects for about 20 years and I'm here to tell you that I've only been recognized for a job well done by a stakeholder one time. That's right. I've managed hundreds of projects and I've received official recognition for a job well done by a stakeholder only once. I'll never forget it.
Brett Harned: My team worked so hard to design and build a website for a high-profile stakeholders' live award show. We got the work done in half the time we'd usually spend and we're on site for a 24 hours during the event. Everything went off without a hitch because our team was that good. At the end of the event we went to an after party and my stakeholder said in front of me, "This project was so great because it was so well managed." I nearly fell backward into the fancy pool behind me. Then I looked at my coworker who said, "You're right. That definitely helped."
Brett Harned: My first instinct as a PM Was to just brush it off and not take the compliment because that's what we do. We live behind the scenes and quietly guide our teams and stakeholders to make the right decisions on time and under budget, but you know what I did? I said, "Wow. Thanks so much. PM's rarely get kudos, and I really appreciate it. But you know what makes me happy? The fact that you're happy." The fact is, as a PM I never expect kudos, but it's always nice to hear when you're constantly navigating challenges around timing and scope. And the bottom line is, stakeholders expect project management to go well and they don't want to have to deal with it. That's why you're there.
Brett Harned: That also means that they have no idea how tough it can be to make them happy sometimes. Well, that's why you're here again. You've made it to class nine, which means you've taken in a lot of information about how to effectively lead projects. Now we're going to start to talk about the things that make projects even trickier, and that's people. First we'll talk about stakeholders in this class and then in class 10 will talk about how to keep your team's happy.
Brett Harned: It's true, people complicate projects. Stakeholders in particular have the ability to make projects more complicated or even slow down to a grinding halt due to changing priorities, lack of time to work on your project or worse, lack of interest. But if you're doing a great job and getting them on your side, they can make it awesome. Okay, so let me stop for a second just in case you're sitting there thinking, what the heck is a project?
Brett Harned: According to the Project Management Institute, "Project stakeholders are those individuals who are both under and beyond a project manager's authority. Individuals such as project team members and contractors, as well as customers and those directly and indirectly affected by the project's outcome, such as residents of an entire neighborhood in the case of a large construction project." Well, that's a pretty wide definition.
Brett Harned: For the purpose of this class, we're talking about the people who initiate your project and expect a specific outcome from your team. That could be one person or a group of people, but it depends on the project and where you work. If you work in a consulting organization, you might call them stakeholders. If you work in an organization that produce projects, it could be an executive, a department head or a manager. Basically, it's the person you partner with to successfully deliver your project.
Brett Harned: So now that we've got that out of the way, what does keeping stakeholders happy mean? Well, to me it means that you're effectively managing your team, your plan and scope in a way that keeps your stakeholders engaged, informed, on time and within budget. It sounds simple when I say it that way, but it's not at all simple. It starts with identifying your stakeholders, then building a solid business relationship with them, and you do that by determining how to best communicate with them, use their strengths to help get things done, manage your time with them and solve issues quickly and openly. Sounds easy, right?
Brett Harned: Well, it's actually not that difficult, especially if you can relax, be yourself and rely on the things that you learned about in the previous classes. That's right. You're going to use things like your estimates, plans, requirements and communications to make these folks happy.
Brett Harned: If you're working with a stakeholder organization, chances are that you have no idea who the top brass are or how to get in touch with them, but you want to make sure you're accounting for them in your process. Think about it. Are they concerned about your project? If they aren't, are they comfortable with someone else calling the shots? Get answers to these questions by working with your key stakeholder to help you determine key players and how the decision making process will impact your project. Whether you're working with the stakeholder or an internal team, mapping out their hierarchy and involvement level on the project will help you to make decisions on what you deliver and how those deliverables will be circulated through the organization.
Brett Harned: All organizations are different, but I'm going to talk through some high-level stakeholder groupings next. You'll find these vary from organization to organization and even project to project, but I think it's really important to think about the various layers of stakeholders that could exist on your project so you can account for how to engage in your projects and how you'll talk to them.
Brett Harned: First is the project owner or core group. These are the people who are responsible for the day-to-day success of the project. They're likely the people or person who came up with the idea for the project and likely the budget for the project. They hold most of the answers about the project so you need to get to know them pretty well. In fact, your key point of contact probably sits on this team and is responsible for making sure things go well on their side of things. So as you might imagine, it's pretty easy to identify this first group.
Brett Harned: Next are the primary stakeholders. These are the people who are most connected to the goals of your project and they have strong expectations of the outcomes. They're invested in what you're doing and want to help complete the project successfully. In my experience, working on website redesign projects with stakeholders, I'd find that the primary stakeholders were typically on the marketing team.
Brett Harned: Then there are your secondary stakeholders. This team may not have written the goals for the project, but they will be a part of making sure it's a success or maybe they have some sort of responsibility to the project. To continue with my example about website redesign projects, on many of those projects I would find that some folks from the IT team would be on this team. They're not engaged in the overall look and feel of the project or the goals, but they're there to support and make sure that things on their side are working to their standard.
Brett Harned: Then there's the management level stakeholders. These people aren't the doers, but they are the decision makers, possibly the people who oversee the primary and secondary teams or even the people who oversee a whole division of the organization you're working with. These people tend to be very connected to the vision of the organization and how your project can succeed. So you want to understand their goals, set their expectations for the project and keep them close.
Brett Harned: A level up from that group are the executive stakeholders. These people pay the bills. They make all the important decisions and they can completely deny your project if they feel out of the loop. So do your due diligence and get to know who they are and what their motivations are. These people could be the C-Suite or executive level people within the organization, they may also be on the board of trustees, directors or something similar. This means they're not in the day-to-day of the company, but oversee it and could impact your project. So you'll want to think through ways to engage them.
Brett Harned: Comparing your stakeholders' organization to that list is a good idea because you'll uncover who you need to talk to or even account for in your process, but you should always ask if there's someone you haven't met and should consider. You want to uncover unknown stakeholders who may be hiding behind boardroom doors just waiting to step in. These people could be deans in colleges, remote board members, executives who travel a lot, the boss' spouse or anyone else who may not seem obvious to you. Everyone has an opinion and it's your job to make sure they're heard at the right times.
Brett Harned: I also want to mention that there's no way you can be all-knowing when it comes to the ins and outs of an org chart and all of the politics that might come with. Make that known and ask for help when you need it when comes to identifying and understanding stakeholders or do some Google magic of your own and get information about stakeholder roles, histories and organizational roles and interests. Doing that work will help you to avoid what we call the swoop and poop.
Brett Harned: That's when a stakeholder decides to swoop in on the project and out of nowhere ruin it by giving new direction, input or feedback. It's the worst and it happens all the time. So do your due diligence and make sure you really know who's part of your stakeholders' project, from the most bottom levels all the way to the top.
Brett Harned: Download the stakeholder decision matrix template to help you identify what stakeholders exist and how you can engage them in your project. If you're running a full-scale project, chances are your team's going to conduct stakeholder interviews. These interviews with variety of people in positions can give your team a really clear understanding of goals, challenges, feature requests and even personalities within the organization. Be sure to use this time to ask the important questions about the success of the project and how you might best navigate the organization to ensure your project is discussed, understood and a complete success.
Brett Harned: If you're not conducting the interviews yourself, I suggest that you at a minimum join the meetings just to listen, observe and take notes. If you're able to sit in at stakeholder calls or meetings, that's great. Listen for details that will help your team understand the organization and how your project might roll out, listen for comments about ownership of processes documents and tools, politics surrounding decisions, opinions about similar projects, design, processes, communications, and the like, related projects, partners and possible dependecies, details about routine meetings, presentations, holidays, outages, et cetera, and details around the launch of your project like events, campaigns, meetings and things that might impact it. Lastly, mention of other stakeholders relationships or disagreements.
Brett Harned: Just listen and take notes. Anything that could be a project risk or potential issue to think about is something you should call out and eventually discuss with your team and your main point of contact. If one nugget of truth about an opinion, person, issue or process is raised and you can adjust your plan slightly to avoid a major problem, you win, and we all like winning, but along those lines I do want to talk about red flags and how stakeholders can present them.
Brett Harned: Okay, you're bound to hear some things during the course of a project that will make you cringe or giggle or just flat-out angry. I call them red flags and they're all about general project issues. And unfortunately, they're totally normal. As a project lead, you're never going to be 100% happy about everything project related, but you can do everything in your power to not make those cringe-worthy facts full-blown issues.
Brett Harned: Next, I'm going to talk through some quick stakeholder scenarios that should make you raise the red flag with your team and your stakeholders, as painful as that may sound. First up is a scary one, and that's stakeholders who have no interest in talking about how the project gets done. Everyone has to take part in the project process in order to make it a complete success. Your stakeholders don't all have to be in the weeds with you, but they should have a general interest and understanding of how things work. It's your job to keep them informed. If they aren't showing interest, raise that flag and have a conversation with them to understand why they're disinterested and come up with a plan that works for you and for them.
Brett Harned: Next is stakeholders who don't have a clear answer about decision-makers. The bottom line of every project is that there has to be an owner. Someone has to have the final say on your project. If no one knows who that is or is not taking responsibility, you'll have problems actually completing the project. Be sure to have a conversation about the types of decisions and approvals that are required to make the project a success or even just complete. This may be a few people on some projects, design, technology and content, and it might involve different people. Keep that in mind and push to discuss the process with the right people.
Brett Harned: Then there's the typical stakeholders who underestimate the time it will take to get approvals. It's always tough to estimate the time it'll take other people to review and comment on things. Project managers know this, but stakeholders not so much. If a stakeholder tells you that their team of six will have feedback to you in 24 hours, raise that flag. It may be an ideal situation that day, but what happens when one of those six people is out or in meetings? It's your job to help them think through those scenarios and make your plan realistic.
Brett Harned: Then the all-inclusive stakeholders who invite everyone to everything. You know the scenario. You walk into a room to present a design and it seems like everyone, including the interns, are there to give you feedback. It's tough to ask people to leave a meeting. So do your due diligence before meetings and walk the stakeholders through the decision making matrix or give them a suggested list of attendees before the meeting. Avoid design by committee however you can and your team will thank you for it.
Brett Harned: Just a side note here, but you should never set up a meeting without an agenda and an agreement on who needs to be in attendance. This will help your stakeholders to understand what a meeting is about and why they should be there. It can also help you to prevent them from inviting unwanted guests. You'll learn more about meetings in class 12.
Brett Harned: Okay, the next one is stakeholders who are not familiar with your type of projects. Okay, this one isn't as much of a red flag as it's a warning to you to put your educator's hat on. You might have to make some extra time to explain why how and when you do things on your project or maybe even spend some time in advance of a presentation to explain the ins and outs of your project to your main point of contact so that they can inform their team. Sure, it'll take you time to do, but if you do it well, you'll save time in the end and make yourself and your stakeholders look and feel smart.
Brett Harned: And here's another one you've probably encountered. It's the stakeholder who wants too much in too little time. It's way too typical. People always want more faster. I mean, I wanted this video done last year. Too bad. It's not possible. Sometimes you have to put your educator hat on and explain why you have to take certain steps and why they take so long. A simple description or even a work breakdown structure can help you to set the pace of your project.
Brett Harned: Lastly, you sometimes have to deal with gossipy stakeholders. Chances are you're a likeable person in your trying to build a business relationship. There will be times when stakeholders get comfortable with you and start divulging too much information about what happens behind closed doors. All I have to say is do not engage. Always keep it professional and never take sides. Your first responsibility is to your project and you want to make sure it's completed on time and under budget. Don't let any stakeholder disagreements or politics get in your way. If they do, you might just have to engage a senior stakeholder to sort out the madness.
Brett Harned: All right. I just threw a lot at you there. What it comes down to is that people are people. We're all dealing with our own work and the issues that come along with it. So you never know what's going to happen or what will be thrown at you, but you should know that you can handle any stakeholder and any issue with some solid practices in place, and that's what we'll cover next.
Brett Harned: Once you've identified your stakeholders, you need to get to work on building trust and making sure their expectations about the project and what you will and will not do are in check. The next section of the class provides some straightforward tactics to help you do just that.
Brett Harned: Let's take it from the top. You have to show that you are a project management professional who's experienced and in command of the project and all of its details because that builds trust. There's a meeting you might want to consider adding to your process and to help you get started in a positive and productive way. It's not the full project kickoff, but a way to introduce the project lead who will be working directly with the stakeholder. Essentially, you're transitioning the relationship to the next person in line at your company if someone else initiated it through an internal channel or a sales process.
Brett Harned: Doing that hand off in a way that isn't just through email will ensure that you're starting off on a positive note and covering all of the details together. This makes stakeholders feel like you're organized and ready to work and thoughtful about how you communicate and partner with them. It's great for building relationships and setting solid expectations for how you'll work together. It can also help you to clarify and agree on details around scope, deliverables, roles, timelines, tools and communication expectations. Think of this as a simple and direct way to get important information out on the table and an opportunity to educate your stakeholders on the things they might not be sure about.
Brett Harned: In general, I look at this meeting as a handoff. It's probably a meeting that could definitely happen before you even know who the stakeholders are, and that's great because it's your opportunity to make your mark early on and guide stakeholders to a way of working on your projects that works for you and for them.
Brett Harned: What we're looking at here is a basic agenda for how I would run the meeting. First, you want to keep it light, but also provide a level of project detail that shows you've got an agenda and there are things to be discussed before you jump into actual work. I recommend that the person who initiated the project with the stakeholder set up this meeting and introduce you to the stakeholder on the call.
Brett Harned: After the introductions happen, that person can step back or leave the meeting and let you discuss the details of the project in a way that helps you to prepare your working relationship. It's kind of like setting a table before a meal. So you'll cover what you know, discuss the project goals, if they've been established, and make sure that you're in agreement on them. Along with that, if you have the information ready talk about who will be on the team and the type of work they do. This can go a long way and humanizing your work and making your stakeholders know that there are people on the team with specific roles.
Brett Harned: They don't have to meet them right away or right now, especially because those people are probably busy working on other things, but it's good to talk about them and maybe even mentioning their expertise on the project and the value that they'll add. It never hurts to talk about your team. After all, they're the smarties who will be truly impressing your stakeholders.
Brett Harned: So after that's out of the way, read through your scope together to talk about what's included in the project. The reason I recommend this is because scopes can change in the initiation process and you need to be sure that you and your stakeholders are on the same page at the very beginning of the projects. You don't have to read through it line by line, but try to talk through the major phases and deliverables included. Then talk about how you'll run the project, when will your plan be ready, what tools will you use, how will you stay in contact about the project. Be sure you put it all in a table so you can set the expectation for how things will run and answer questions about it.
Brett Harned: Once you work through those details, talk about immediate next steps and that's pretty much it. It could take from 30 minutes to an hour, but I'd plan for an hour just so you can take a little time to get to know one another. Remember, focus on the stakeholder relationship early on to ensure things run smoothly, but also remember that you're not in this alone. Be sure to have someone as a backup or check-in, so if major issues arise and you're too close to them, a concerned stakeholder can speak with someone outside of the project as needed. That can be the project initiator, a manager or even a business owner. You just want another person on your side to help when needed and to give your stakeholders confidence that they have another person to turn to if things get particularly rough.
Brett Harned: Trust me, you'll want it. I've been there. I've been the PM and the manager and it's great to have someone who's unbiased but on your side, a voice of reason if you will. Having that back up and getting started on the right foot with a simple meeting like this should ensure a smooth transition, one that will make everyone comfortable and hopefully will lead to great stakeholder collaboration and project success.
Brett Harned: Next I'm going to talk about project plans and I really do believe that if it's done well and used properly, a project plan can serve you as a really solid communications tool that spells out important details that put any doubts or worries to rest. That means that your stakeholders can relax and trust that you're focused enough on the project to handle it for them. And that my friends will make those very busy people very, very happy.
Brett Harned: If you've taken class number five about creating accurate project plans, what goes into a solid plan, but I'm going to recap those things here because you know what? This stuff is really important in that crusade to make a doubting stakeholder a trusting partner. And that's mostly because plans force discussion about details. When you pull together a detailed plan, you should build it with many factors in mind. And even if you're pulling together a first draft of a plan, you'll be driven to have conversations about the things that could cause delays or issues.
Brett Harned: I always recommend talking about stakeholder teams and their investment and then ownership of a project because making them think about these things in conjunction with deadlines or seeing impacts to an overall timeline will definitely lead them to decisions more easily and hopefully quickly. These are also decisions that you can point back to when things go off track. That conversation then leads to a more granular details, like are there any dates when we cannot do any work together on the project? Are there times when you need our team to present our work to larger stakeholder groups? And most importantly, is there anything that's driving the deadline for the project?
Brett Harned: And with that in mind, are there any other related projects or goals that could impact this project? I can't tell you how many times I've managed the project where there are one or two other projects with dependencies on my project. Knowing that in advance gives you an understanding of just how flexible your plan can be and how you need to communicate with your stakeholders and potential partners about it. All of these conversations can derive from a simple Gantt chart or plan.
Brett Harned: Next, I want to show you a plan I've created in TeamGantt and some of the tactics I employ when sharing them with stakeholders. All of these conversations can derive from a simple Gantt chart or plan. Next, I want to show you plan I've created in TeamGantt and some of the tactics I employ when sharing them with stakeholders.
Brett Harned: All right. So you're looking at a plan I've created in TeamGantt. Now, if you've watched previous classes in this series, you know how to create a solid project plan using TeamGantt. If you're not so sure about how to do that, check out class five and then come back to this. Class five is all about project planning. What I'm going to do now is give you a brief overview of what I'd focus on when presenting or sharing a plan with a stakeholder.
Brett Harned: On that note, remember that you can share your plan in a few ways. You can add stakeholders to your plan by using the invite people button, which is right here, or in the footer of the Gantt down here. And you can provide levels of access to the plan within that flow. I'm going to show you that really quickly. So I'm clicking on this invite people. That will take me to the people screen, which I can also access in the navigation up here. You can see here that I've added people to my plan. So myself, Jason and Lara are part of the plan.
Brett Harned: Jason has access right now only to edit the chart. So let's see. Do I want to give him view-only access? Do I want him to update his progress? Do I want him to be able to completely edit the chart? Or is he an admin, who can kind of make other changes to the plan and to the account? Right now I think I only want him to update the progress. So I've selected that and you can see that permission has changed. I can also set task colors. So if I want to give someone a visual cue on what they're doing in the project, I can change their colors around.
Brett Harned: I like doing this with stakeholders, especially because when they're looking at the plan you want them to focus in on the places that are really important to them. All right, let me go back to the Gantt view and we'll talk about some other ways that you can share. So you can also use the sharing function at the bottom of the browser, which is right here. I'm hovering over it right now. So it's at the bottom of the Gantt and that just allows you to share your plan in its current live state via a share copy link to a chart, which is basically view-only link of the entire Gantt chart.
Brett Harned: I love doing this because I like to include a link to my plan in my weekly status reports. I just think that kind of reinforces the fact that the plan is always a part of your project discussion with stakeholders. You may also be dealing with stakeholders who don't want access to an online plan, and that happens. So you can very quickly and easily export a PDF and send it their way. You can see there are a lot of settings here that you can kind of play around with. Looking at Gantt charts as a PDF can be a little bit cumbersome, so make sure that you're creating a PDF that is actually easy for people to read.
Brett Harned: I also want to show you a couple of other things. Let's go back here into the Gantt. Okay. So back to the share view. If you're working in an organization where maybe you're communicating through social, maybe you're working with a non-profit or a team who just communicates through Facebook or Twitter, you can share your plan that way as well. Okay. So I want to talk about the plan itself. It's really important to remember that these plants can feel really overwhelming to stakeholders and you're definitely at risk for losing their attention. So you have to share as much as you can, but you also kind of have to be careful about oversharing and overexplaining things.
Brett Harned: I like to kind of do a quick overview of what the plan is, making sure that everyone's clear about where things are and then I like to check in at status reports to talk about what's been done and what will be coming next. So what you're looking at here is a fairly normal waterfall project plan and when you're presenting that kind of plan to a client or any kind of plan. I would just say that, "This is a waterfall plan." Which means that we've got tasks spelled out in a specific order, which is pretty clear to see. And that said, it's important to note that this plan is full of dependencies. You can see all of the dependencies I've created here between tasks.
Brett Harned: And that means that if a deadline is missed by my team or by the stakeholder team, the plan will probably have to be extended. So let's look at the plans from the top just so I can show you the phases in the plan and where I'll need your team or your stakeholders' team the most. So at that point, I would kind of go through and say, "The website redesign project will happen in these phases. The phases are project research and discovery, the project brief and the project plan, UX sesign, graphic design, front-end development and back-end development. So we're going to talk through all of those phases of the project equally and we'll kind of dive in at a higher level right now just to talk about the process so that you understand where things are."
Brett Harned: I like to go over the plan at a high level, then focus on the places where I need the stakeholders the most, looking at things like milestones for deliverables or presentations. And you can even see here I've got the client assigned to this task. Also, looking at feedback timing and approval. Right here, you can also see that I've added in my tasks a little indicator that says GM. GM stands for Gantt Museum. PT stands for Project Team.
Brett Harned: So my stakeholders can go through the plan very quickly and see where they're assigned. They also would know that anything purple in this plan is for them. So I would talk through the feedback cycles and make sure that two days is enough time for feedback and letting them know again, that if a deadline is missed, that the plan itself will have to be extended.
Brett Harned: Then we talk through things like approvals. And of course, then I would take a look at the final deadline and ask if there's any wiggle room just so that they understand what's really happening with the project. And this is my deadline here. You can see this is a really big plan. So, like I said, it can be a little cumbersome for a stakeholder to review.
Brett Harned: I basically use the review of a plan as an opportunity to set expectations. First, that the plan is going to be updated regularly and could change from time to time. Let them know that it's your job to do that and that you'll keep them posted about changes and impacts. Then I set an expectation about when your stakeholders will need to be engaged in the plan. Again, showing them those milestones where they'll be included and showing them the color so that they can quickly scan the project plan and make sure they're keeping up with their responsibilities.
Brett Harned: The reason I really like to do this is to set an expectation about when stakeholders need to be engaged in the plan and their responsibility to the project. And hopefully when you do it that way, they'll pay attention and be on board. At the end of the day, your plan is going to show that you have show that you have everything in order and have thought it all through, and that will be a huge relief to any busy stakeholder. All right, let's get back to the video.
Brett Harned: Okay. So those are all the aspects of a plan that I would recommend you present. But as a recap, I want to mention that when talking to stakeholders, you'll likely take a more formal approach. You want to focus on on the places that matter most to them, make sure they understand the pacing of your work and the overall process. Point out key deliverables and talk about how they'll be involved and what your expectations are in terms of feedback and timing. Make them aware of the final deadline and confirm it and maybe even ask about wiggle room if you need it.
Brett Harned: Finally, ask if they have any questions or concerns and let them know you'll be updating the plan because plans always change over time. From there, you're ready to go. Just by building a plan and sharing it with your stakeholders in TeamGantt you're likely alleviating a little bit of stress, explaining the details and providing a place to check in where there are questions. Sounds like a winner to me.
Brett Harned: Okay, let's talk about status reports. If you took class number six in this series, you know all about them, but let's talk more about status reports and how they make stakeholders happy. Generally, it's a sound practice to keep an open consistent line of communication with stakeholders. When you deliver status reports and conduct regular status meetings, you're ensuring that expectations are in check, tasks are being completed, decisions are being made and issues are being addressed. And that's a lot.
Brett Harned: I generally recommend writing weekly status reports and conducting calls with your stakeholders weekly as well. Doing that gives you an opportunity to continue to build your relationship and trust, which can be really valuable when you hit rough patches in your project. It also allows you to create an expected format and time for communicating important details. And when your stakeholders start to expect that and like it, you get them on your side, and it's always going to be a good thing to have stakeholders on your side.
Brett Harned: So even if the status meeting is short, be sure to make time to talk about non-project related things when it's comfortable find some common ground like hobbies or interests and make small talk. The only reason I mention this is because in the project atmosphere, we tend to want to be all business and formal, but you've got to be yourself. When you drop your guard, it'll show who you are as a person and make you even more likeable and that leads to easier communications and easier times when dealing with things that are less than positive, like missed deadlines, scope overages or other issues.
Brett Harned: So if you haven't already, check out the project status report template in class five, put it to use and know that when you do, you'll be keeping your stakeholders informed and happy in the fact that you have the project under control.
Brett Harned: All right. This is just a quick note to consider how you're managing your project time, whether that be through meetings, quick check-ins or even basic communications. Keep in mind that a lot of people dislike meetings or surprise check-ins because they're managing a lot of work with a limited amount of time, and that includes your stakeholders. Think about it, they might be the lead for your project, but they don't typically do a lot of work on the project. They check in, guide and approve.
Brett Harned: Maybe they do a little bit of project management on their side of the fence with the rest of their stakeholder team. That means they got a lot going on, which means you have to be strategic about how you get their attention and how you use their time.
Brett Harned: Check out class 12, which is all about how to manage meetings effectively, but in the meantime consider these things. It's your job as a team lead to organize a meeting that will be useful for all involved and in some cases replace other communications. On that note, think about whether or not you actually need a meeting. For instance, is it more effective to have a quick chat with one or two people or can you accomplish what you need over email? Determining that will help you to save time for your team and your stakeholders and make them happier because you're thinking about how you use their time.
Brett Harned: And of course be sure to go into the meeting with a goal and be sure to meet that goal through solid meeting practices, what you'll learn all about in class 12, but knowing these first two points on screen will lead you to make decisions on the time you'll need, the people you'll need and the agenda that will serve your goals. And when you take the time to think through those things and present them in a logical way, it's going to show that you're an effective lead who's invested in your team and stakeholders as well as your project.
Brett Harned: I only say that because sometimes optics are everything in project management. So much of what you do is behind the scenes, but actions also speak louder than words. All right. I think you probably get the point here. And again, when you're ready check out class 12 and pick up some tips to lead effective meetings.
Brett Harned: But now I want to get real, the thing about making stakeholders happy is based on the person the situation and you. So I think the best way to talk about stakeholders is to give you some real life scenarios and talk about how I'd manage them. So up next, I'm going to share two common scenarios that stakeholders might bring to you in projects and provide some direction on how I'd recommend handling them.
Brett Harned: The first one is your stakeholder misses a deadline to provide feedback on your deliverable. This has happened to me dozens of times and it's one that's really difficult to resolve because you really can't control stakeholders, especially if they happen to be paying clients. So what do you do when a stakeholder misses a deadline that will completely alter your timeline? Obviously this isn't your fault and it's completely out of your control. So the first thing that will probably come to mind is, why do I have to address an issue that someone else created?
Brett Harned: Well, I hate to break it to you, but that's the project lead's job. So you're going to have to address the issue. Well, here's what I think. First, you should always try to get ahead of this kind of thing. Use your plan and subsequent status reports to establish process responsibilities. For instance, when you're reviewing your plan with your stakeholder be sure that they understand what they're responsible for and when. And when you're talking through your status report, be sure to call out upcoming milestones and ask if they foresee any issues with deadlines. If you're feeling like they maybe won't make it happen, be upfront about the risks of missing a deadline.
Brett Harned: Also, make use of the Baseline functionality in TeamGantt. You can use that to your advantage here. For instance, if you go in and update your plan based on the new extended deadline, you can show your stakeholders how that affects your entire plan. Sometimes showing a simple update and how that affects your team's timing and work will make others realize the impacts they have with a simple action or inaction. And unfortunately, sometimes it takes one slip-up for people to get it.
Brett Harned: Now, that doesn't help you, especially if a deadline is set in stone. So you might have to negotiate and remove time from their future deadlines in order to make the final deadline. That's just one alternate way to make the plan work out, but you're best off discussing the impact with them and providing alternate options. Whatever you do, you have to push for the time you plan to do your work and the importance of that time as it relates to the quality of the work. It's never going to be easy, but the lesson here is to communicate early and often to avoid major issues.
Brett Harned: The bottom line here is that you're going to have to accept that what's done is done and it's up to you to come up with some possible solutions to make up for the delay. Now, it won't be an easy thing to sort out because the options are never ideal, but be honest about what's possible and talk to your stakeholders about it. This is the time when you'll require their input and partnership to make things work out positively for the project. Just know that you can always work through any issue. And while your stakeholders might not end up completely happy, you're doing everything in your power to make up for others' mistakes.
Brett Harned: All right, let's move on to the second scenario. Your stakeholders want to add a significant feature, but they don't want to increase the budget or extend the timeline. This is another stakeholder issue that will not only impact your timeline, but also your budget. This has happened to me a few times and mostly at the end of a web project where a stakeholder wants to add features right before launch, but I bet you can relate. There's always some kind of out of scope, last-minute important request to handle.
Brett Harned: My first response to this type of thing is always a frustrated sigh and the thought that this is nearly impossible, especially when the deadline was already tight or the stakeholder had already missed a deadline and I'm feeling like it's going to take a miracle to wrap up the project to begin with. This is the kind of stress we deal with as project leads.
Brett Harned: There's no doubt that this is a tough scenario, especially when you're dealing with a demanding stakeholder. The first thing you should do is question whether the new request supports the documented goals for the project. If it doesn't, you can quickly pivot to a conversation about those goals and how you might be better served addressing them later, possibly under a separate timeline in scope. At the same time, you have to prepare yourself for a conversation about the scope of your work and the level of effort included in the tasks that are already in your plan, as well as the ones that they're proposing.
Brett Harned: Work up a quick time estimate with your team and see what it'll do to your overall timeline. The more that you can educate your stakeholders and provide evidence about the work you'd be doing and what it takes to do well, the more understanding they're going to be. If they won't budge, use the Baseline feature again and show them their realistic timing using the estimate that you created. At the end of the day, you need them to understand what it will realistically take to do the work and negotiate to come up with an alternate plan for the work.
Brett Harned: Sometimes you'll make it work and it's great if you can do that, but if you do, still be very clear about the level of effort. You never want to downplay the level of effort, risks or even just the accommodations you're making with stakeholders because when you do that, it typically leads to more requests and more issues and then questioning on why you're suddenly saying no. So hold your ground and do what's right for the project. When you provide solid, realistic and honest reasoning along with alternate plans, you set an expectation for how things must work in order to be successful. And that kind of alignment is what most stakeholders are after.
Brett Harned: We could keep going with the scenarios because they're truly endless, but what I want you to know is that you can absolutely handle any issue that a stakeholder throws your way and turn it into something that you question, resolve, learn from and get better at as you progress as a project lead. I know from experience that this stuff can get tough and you might end up taking things personally, but don't. Remember that no matter how hard you try to build a great relationship and work to deliver top-notch projects on time and within scope, the friendliest of stakeholders can bring issues your way. It's just business.
Brett Harned: So be yourself, get to know your stakeholders, use the tools you have at your disposal, consult with your team and crush it. Oh, and remember that even the best project leaders face challenges just like you. On that note, let's hear what our expert panel has to say about keeping stakeholders happy.
Speaker 2: This is actually one of my favorite bits of project management. My tips for keeping stakeholders happy and engaged is to understand what the stakeholders need and what they want and give them that, give them exactly that, no more and no less. If you can match their style of communication, that really helps too, and find a cadence that works for both of you. So for example, if they prefer to talk, give them a call maybe once a week. If they prefer to have something in email that they then go on to circulate, maybe every weeks a detailed status report is something that helps them.
Speaker 2: See if you can work out which of your stakeholders fall into which matrix on the axes of important and powerful. So what that matrix does is it helps you understand who's really important and who's really powerful. They're probably in one quadrant. And who's may be less powerful and less important. They're in an opposite quadrant. The ones who are in the very important and very powerful quadrant, match what they need, do what they need because they are going to be your greatest allies on this project and they're the ones that will help you get through all the things that you need to, because ultimately you do have to keep them happy.
Speaker 2: The others in the opposite quadrants or the other quadrants, maybe they just need to be informed of things and you may let them know updates a bit less often, but it's good to work it out because it helps you then focus your efforts where they really need to be spent.
Speaker 3: Well, this all starts pre-project. It starts right at the very start before you've even created a plan. One of the things that we forget to do these days is build a team before we build the plan, and it's always in that order. Engagement starts before you collect the data for the plan. So for me, we used to bring people together for two days. We'd set a vision for the project, we'd agree a set of behaviors that we could all hold each other to and some principles of the way that we would work together.
Speaker 3: Setting that culture is so critically important because it's the thing that binds you together throughout. Even when you have a proble,m you can come back to the culture that you've created. When you set the culture up at the start in this way, stakeholders are naturally engaged. Because all of a sudden threy're being part of creating something and they want to see it succeed because they've been involved in the creation of it, so they have a vested interest in it.
Speaker 3: Now, along the way one of your jobs as a project manager when you start delivering is to consistently check in with stakeholders to make sure they're happy with the project experience. Projects don't always deliver on time and cost, but providing you can provide the very best project experience, stakeholders will always be happy with the outcome of the project. So it starts at the beginning with setting the culture and then demand your personal attention throughout the delivery of a project to make sure every stakeholder is getting what they need and in the right way.
Speaker 4: If you can be an ally not only to your teammates, but also to you the other decision-makers on your project, that's going to give you a powerful ability to get in line and communicate better. Kind of like putting in the extra care to show them that you're not just concerned about the deadline or the project budget, but also that they're human beings, they have fears, they have goals and desires on that project in their own company and you can help to create alignment along the way by supporting where they personally need to go in their lives as well. You can do things like treat them to a thoughtful gift or just send them like a card, just because sometimes is good enough reason.
Speaker 5: All stakeholders start a project wanting to be happy and they want to be engaged and they want to be successful in the project and something derails that along the way and a lot of the times that, I think, comes down to fear. Something happens in the project and they're no longer sure that what they're doing is going to be successful or they don't know what's happening on some particular phase of the project, they don't know what they're going to be able to communicate to their boss, but it's all around fear. So we have to work really hard to eliminate that fear to identify where it happens and to work to getting rid of it.
Speaker 5: So a lot of that comes down to two things, is setting expectations and communication. So if we can let people know what's happening along the way and paint a picture for them so they're never lost, and if we do feel like they're getting off a little bit and not feeling comfortable with where we are, then we have an open dialogue with them to get them back on track. So some of that can happen with status reporting and things like that, but really it just has to be an open communication so that they don't have to wait for their bi-weekly status report, that anywhere that they feel a little uncomfortable, we're there to jump in on that.
Brett Harned: That's all I have for this class. I hope you picked up some tips and tactics to add to your toolkit. Be sure to check out the class downloads to dig into more about stakeholder management and check out the next class to learn some techniques on managing teams. Oh, and if you have any questions, comments or additional ideas, drop them in the class comments. I'd love to discuss things with you there. Thanks.