For many project managers the most difficult part of the job is that which involves dealing with the stakeholders. In many ways this is completely understandable but it doesn’t have to be something which makes you miserable. Here are a few of my suggestions for making this part of the role more enjoyable and more productive.
Get Them On Board
One of the biggest risks for any project is of having stakeholders who aren’t on board. If they feel that they have been left out of the overall process then they could become a disruptive influence in your work or simply not contribute anything. The best idea is to try really hard to make them feel part of the project. This means inviting them all of the right meetings, giving them regular updates and asking for their ideas and opinions. Once they feel like they are part of the project they should stop causing you problems. In fact, some stakeholders end up getting really involved in the project and adding a lot of fresh ideas once they realize that their ideas and experience are welcomed by the project manager.
Tell the Truth
A big temptation with difficult stakeholders is to try and give yourself an easy life by not telling them anything which you know they wouldn’t be happy with. This might give you an easier life in the short term but it is likely to lead to problems in the longer term. Telling the truth isn’t always easy but it should be your first choice every single time. If you have come from a sales or customer service role then you will possibly find that this part of the job comes to you naturally anyway. Those project managers who have a more technical background could find it more difficult to get used to the role of handling lots of people in different roles while they control the project as well.
Find the Problem
If neither of the previous points is the problem then what is? A difficult stakeholder will always have some sort of reason for proving awkward to deal with. And finding out what it is will make your job a whole lot easier. You might do this by simply thinking about the things they have said and done recently but you could also come right out and ask them what the problem is, as long as you do it in a polite and professional way. At the end of the day, if someone has a problem with something you are doing and are causing you problems then you are quite right to try and find out what it is.
Don’t Let It Get Personal
One thing you really need to avoid is the situation in which a problem between you and the stakeholders developing into a personal issue. You need to always remember that you are in a professional relationship with your stakeholders and that can’t be allowed to change into anything else. If the stakeholder gets personal with you then it is your job to remind them of this fact.
Make Communication a Priority
One of the big failings in a lot of projects is around the issue of communication. You might be doing everything perfectly but if you don’t let your team and your stakeholders see what you are doing then this is a problem. Getting the job done as well and as efficiently as possible is great but you can’t afford to let the project communication take a back seat. By keeping everyone involved every step of the way you will ensure that they feel a part of it and you will avoid problems building up for later on in the process as well.
Find Out Their Needs
I have put this at the end of the list but in chronological terms it should be one of your very first tasks. If you don’t know what people want you to deliver then you stand very little chance of delivering this. A series of professionally run workshops at the start of the project will help define their needs and will also build a relationship between all of the key players in the project. It can be easy to forget that the stakeholders are your customers and that they should be treated as such. If you keep this in mind all of the time then you should be able to keep up your side of the bargain and successfully deliver the project which you have been put in charge of.