Stakeholders bring wisdom of the crowds
Whether it is a major platform selection and implementation or simply a refresh of an existing design or user interface, garnering the input, buy-in, and/or support of affected teams and individuals in your organization – your project’s stakeholders – is essential to your success.
“Groups are only smart when there is a balance between the information that everyone in the group shares and the information that each of the members of the group holds privately. It’s the combination of all those pieces of independent information, some of them right, some of the wrong, that keeps the group wise.” – James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowd
Identifying who the project’s stakeholders are, and how they fit into the effort is an important task to complete early on in the project process. Get too far down the path without engaging the right people, both from informational and political perspectives, and it may be too late to right any wrongs or mend bridges that have been damaged or burned.
Like most things, not every aspect of stakeholder engagement is rosy as there are advantages and disadvantages to opening up your tightly knit and well-managed project to a larger audience.
Advantages of Stakeholder Inclusion
In the case of stakeholder engagement, there is typically more upside, than down, in bringing in a larger fold of people to the process. Some of the key benefits of including stakeholders in your decision-making process include:
- Build creditability for project and its outcomes. People are typically skeptical of anything new or that requires a change. Involving stakeholders from the get-go, whether they are supporters, nay-sayers, influencers, or approvers, is a way of paving the way for their buy-in and support when it is needed.
- Provision of unique and diverse insights into issues. Stakeholders can provide the project team a more comprehensive and complete view of the issues to be addressed, and success factors to consider.
- Access to resources (all kinds) that may not have otherwise been available. The old adage “if you don’t ask, you won’t get” applies here. By bringing other influencers into play, they may be able to help secure the resources you need – both during the project and beyond into maintenance mode or future phases.
- Facilitate decision-making and approval process. By laying the groundwork and involving, or at least keeping the decision makers in the loop of the project, its goals and progress, getting their sign-off and agreement will be easier when it is needed.
- Increase transparency for better decision making.
- Starts an organic change management process. Just by including people in the conversation and involving them in the discovery, a natural, organic conversation will start within the company that you can drive.
Disadvantages to Stakeholder Involvement
With any upside, there is usually some kind of downside. Stakeholder engagement in a project is no different. Some of the potential drawbacks to involving stakeholders are:
- Delays and initial lack of progress: If the project is already on a tight timeframe, your ability to properly engage stakeholders may be hindered even further. Complicating this is that they, the stakeholders, may not understand why they are not being involved, so good communication is critical here to help avoid trampled feelings and egos.
- Impairing perception of leadership capabilities: Asking for input can be seen as a lack of confidence or indecisiveness – not qualities people generally look for in project managers and leaders.
- Mismanaged expectations: Asking for input and then, seemingly, ignoring it, can impact long term working relationships and reputation. Be clear when engaging stakeholders that you value their opinions and input, but not all suggestions and requests can be executed. Without this caveat, you raise expectations that when not met, can lead to distrust and hamper morale.
So great, now you understand why engaging stakeholders, early and throughout, the project process is important. The next question you are asking yourself is, how do I decide who to engage and when. Great question.
Understanding Your Stakeholders, and When to Bring Them In
The following chart shows the various steps to both identifying who your stakeholders are, and when you should engage them.
A simple tool, such as a Stakeholder Analysis/Mapping spreadsheet will allow you to bring together the information identification and assessment pieces above into one spreadsheet view. This type of tool can help simplify and add clarity to understanding project participants by laying out information about all your stakeholders such as:
- Who they are: name, title, work location.
- How they are impacted and/or will impact the project: their interest in the effort, their area of expertise, their relevant history – are they an advocate or naysayer that needs to be brought onside.
- What role they will play in the effort: PM, project sponsor, interviewee, focus group participant, general audience for updates.
By laying out all possible stakeholders at the outset you can ensure that there is representation from all the relevant factions (business units, departments, geographies, tenure, levels of employees and management), and identify what project role they will play.
Wisdom of the Crowd
Engaging a variety of stakeholders, not just the obvious and usual suspects, can help you gain valuable insights and perspectives that you might have otherwise missed. Also, directly or indirectly, bringing the wisdom of the crowd to your initiative can expedite decision-making and ensure accountability of the project, helping carve the way to project success on all fronts.
Have a project where you could benefit from some help engaging stakeholders? Give us a call or send us an email – we’d love to help you garner the wisdom of the crowd to help drive your project’s success.