A recent study of 30+ Fortune 500 companies and nearly five hundred project managers was conducted by the CEB and it was identified that the number one driver of Project Manager effectiveness is Stakeholder Partnership. So the big question is how do you become a good partner? Below are the top 5 ways identified below based on feedback from business sponsors, PMO executives, and project management managers.
1) Trust. Earning the trust of business stakeholders is monumental. Building trust is something we learn to do early in life. The principles they teach in kindergarten are building blocks for trust. We learned to tell the truth, say please and thank you, keep our hands to ourselves, do what we say we will and treat others like we would like to be treated. Fast forward to your career in corporate America and those building blocks still apply. When you genuinely focus and work diligently to understand and deliver for your business partners then your business values and trusts you. The easiest way to earn trust is to deliver. Be able to execute and complete your projects. The truth is we all know the quagmires of project delivery. There are risks looming around every turn and issues waiting to jump up and create roadblocks for you. Establishing a good communication protocol is key to building good relations. You don't want to be known as Chicken Little who cries the "sky is falling" all the time. You have to learn when and how to communicate risks that are triggered and issues that come up. Being able to deal with issues properly, keeping composure and mitigating and handling risks when they are triggered come with experience and earn you credibility with your business partners.
2) Respect your business partners time. Another important way to score points is to efficiently use your business partners time. Spend the right time planning your meetings and make the meetings impactful. Each successive meeting that is meaningful translates into goodwill and trust earned. It also is a sign of incremental forward progress. Learn how to include the right people in the right meetings and be sure they are prepared to contribute. Learn when to communicate key information and when to elicit feedback and guidance. This is an art and should be cultivated early in the project lifecycle. Be ready and prepared to review key documentation and allow enough lead time for participants to review materials in advance. Additionally, I find scheduling a recurring 30-minute meeting each week with my key business partner goes a substantial way in sharing the right information and building the relationship.
3) Secure the right resources for project delivery. One way to earn credibility is to ensure the proper resources are secured for achieving project success. Be sure there is pause and a concerted effort with key business and technology partners to properly plan the project. Always be strategic before running to tactical. So often there is a push to begin running and executing that it is almost comical (not really) when everyone begins to wonder why things are not going more smoothly than they should. I call it running with scissors. There needs to be the right amount of energy focused on the WHAT needs to be achieved. Identifying all of the scope items and the key features and functions of each major scope item enables sizing to take place. This sizing equates to securing the right resources. Based on resource allocations, a schedule can be formed and you have your triple constraints outlined and agreed to, allowing of course for adjustments once the final technical specifications are complete.
4) Be clear and concise. It is important to convey the proper information to your business in a manner that makes sense. Preparation and practice both go a long way to being successful here. Early on in my career I was not as prepared to have discussions with executives. I would get nervous and lose concentration in those big moments. But I found that proper preparation combined with confidence by experience works wonders. I became proficient at Microsoft Power-point and creating presentation decks to clearly articulate my messages. Another trick is to actually pretend the CEO is going to be in the audience along with your other senior business and technology leaders. It forces you to think like an owner and pull the information up to the right level. Use of bullets and visuals is a great way to convey a message. Showing a timeline diagram is an effective means to discuss and demonstrate delivery over time. For example, take a complex financial spreadsheet with all estimated project costs. If you need to review this information with your sponsor for approval it makes sense to summarize this information and put it into a presentation format. This is an effective way to review and gain funding approval. Also, take the time to learn to use business terminology and become familiar with the subject matter of your business.
5) Broker consensus among stakeholders. Throughout the life of your project you will encounter many crossroads where you need a decision. It may be an issue that has presented itself. You outline pros and cons to multiple options to resolve the issue, now the hard part is gaining consensus. Certain key decision makers may not be in agreement. How do you proceed? I have found that the best place for brokering consensus is NOT in big meetings or by dropping these issues on these key stakeholders without advance notice. The first key to success is no surprises. You need to learn what topics may be sensitive and navigate accordingly. Schedule some smaller meetings to communicate in advance. In these smaller meetings you can discuss, collaborate and broker agreements before pulling into a larger meeting to formalize. This is always a best practice and you will find you have earned trust and respect of your partners along the way.
There are numerous other means to building stakeholder partnership, such as effectively communicating with your project sponsor and facilitating large stakeholder meetings, but the key point is to be focused and vested in delivering for your business. This all starts with you following some of the key tenets above and genuinely caring about positive business outcomes. The late Steven Covey described it best. No one is perfect. We will all make mistakes. But if you have made enough deposits then when you need to take a withdrawal you will not overdraft your account. Goodwill goes a long way and being long on credibility and successful delivery will serve you well.
Written by Jason Hilliard