In theory, stakeholder management looks like an easy and logical process. It is not all unicorns in real life though! Books and articles will hardly tell you that it is ugly and quite often involves manipulation, misleading, sabotage, and framing.
Think about it for a moment.
There is a separate term. A stakeholder. It may include a customer, a sponsor, a member of your team, a functional manager, an expert or a department within your company.
Aren’t we all going to do the same project? The success of the project will bring value to the performing organization, to the customer and the sponsor, all of us, won’t it?
So it seems like a logical assumption that all these stakeholders should team up and work towards project’s goals.
Well, I understand that there will be someone who will be negatively impacted by the project outcome. They can be resistant. And you should expect that.
What seems repulsive at first that there are always behind the scene political intrigues within any organization. For example, there might be a problematic stakeholder. His or her authority and power will be negatively impacted if you just finish a project successfully.
Or you can simply integrate a better approach or a tool on your project. That will diminish someone authority and expertise at the top. So, the problems will come for where you expect them the least.
Politics is Inevitable Part of Project Management
Get this right. It is human nature. The desire of acquiring power and status are two of the most powerful core human drives.
A constant confrontation for power is present in the corporate world on all levels. The older the organization, the longer the top management is holding the same positions, the more politics is behind the scene.
A company that does not have a strict organizational hierarchy is doomed to political intrigues.
It starts when two persons in a position of power and authority can no longer agree on a matter. Even if it is to the good, they tend to focus on differences in their approaches rather than a common goal.
If they won’t be able to find common grounds for long enough and if there is no one to mediate the conflict, both parties will start looking for alternative ways to overcome the obstacles of the conflict. Hence, the politics begin.
Be prepared to be a pawn in someone’s game just within your own organization or even your team.
Political awareness is a crucial skill. You need to know difficult stakeholders, their desires for power and authority, personal goals, their allies, and foes. While it is a good idea to keep away from anyone’s affairs, it is usually impossible to finish a project out of the political context of your environment.
Personal Conflicts Can Ruin any Project Plan
There are personal conflicts and enmity among stakeholders. What’s worse, you might not conflict with any party at the beginning. But sooner or later, you will have to take someone’s side. Just keep pushing your project to its goals. You cannot be neutral.
Some conflicts are rooted so deeply that they even do not remember why they had started. However, they impact everything related to the parties involved for years after.
You need to take personal conflicts into account during planning. They are the source of many risks. And you have to be prepared to handle such situations with a cold heart and head.
Your goal is to reduce the amount of fuel you put into the hearth of the conflict.
By following all policies and procedures to the letter, you can minimise the output and appeal of any prolonged confrontation with you and your project.
Keep in mind that the easiest way to undermine a leader’s authority is to highlight the mistakes of his subordinates. It applies to you as a project manager of your team, as well as to your direct management.
Indulge People’s Desire for Recognition
There are people in each organization who live and proof their necessity mere by public criticism or reporting on others. They are always against any constructive idea but never give any valuable feedback. I believe you know what I’m talking about.
People in such roles are usually a rudiment of some hastily adopted policy or procedure. They still possess power but have lost their legitimacy over time. Nevertheless, they are still a part of your organization’s environment. Moreover, they will last for long after you.
They will pile up, and someone at the top will notice it. No one will want to dig up to know the truth. So you will be asked to explain. And then, you will waste a lot of time.
The most unpleasant part is that you have to deal with such people in the end. You will have to indulge their role and “responsibilities.” Just because it is a policy.
The Best Strategy to Deal with Problematic Stakeholders
I hope you will never get in the organization where an internal warfare is raging on all fronts. And you will be dealing only with all sorts of constructive, goal-oriented, and helpful internal stakeholders on your projects.
However, forewarned is forearmed. You need to be prepared to deal with difficult stakeholders.
Keep in mind that your primary responsibility is to finish a project successfully. It includes meeting expectations of all major stakeholders.
Don’t ignore influential people just because they cannot contribute to the project.
Note that they might have requirements beyond your project or the product you will create. It might be a process or technique you have to use, mandatory reporting or consulting directly with them, using specific tools or templates.
You need to ensure that you identified key stakeholders correctly. You don’t have time and efforts to engage with everyone who seems important. You need to work only with those who can impact the project.
If you are not sure at the moment, put a stakeholder on the list and reassess it regularly.
Do you what to know more about identifying and analyzing stakeholders? Here is an informative article: Project Stakeholder Management: Identification, Analysis, Register
Then, you need to approach key stakeholders strategically.
You can’t afford to manage them reactively. You need to take the initiative, define their expectations and requirements (or ultimatums), decide whether they are reasonable and plan how to achieve them.
If their requirements do not impede the project, consider including them in the plan. However, be sure to get a verification and approval that you understood the requirements correctly.
If in spite of all your efforts you cannot achieve any constructive dialogue, you need to seek for mediation.
You need someone, preferably a peer to a difficult stakeholder, who can listen to both parties and find common grounds. Trying to deal with a deadlock situation on your own usually deepens the opposition.
In the long run, you will come up with the requirements or a plan to isolate a problematic stakeholder from the project. You should not be wasting time and money on little debates.
Once the requirements are confirmed and approved it will be hard to change them for both parties. So your goal now is to fulfill the plan.
In some sense, one of the primary project manager’s responsibilities is to resolve conflicts on the project. It should be just a part of your work. Nothing personal.