Relationships are the key ingredients in successful projects and programme management. Another name for relationships in project and programme management is “Stakeholder Management.” It has been added in the latest PMBOK® or PgMBOK® Standards as aknowledge area. It is also important to note that the programme manager is responsible for identifying those stakeholders that may influence or impact the programme. If you remember from our earlier article from the Levin-Ward Compentency series, mastering communication was the first Programme Management competency, and this skill comes in very useful when building relationships. After all, communication is a huge part of building professional relationships.
Based on the Levin-Ward Competency Model, the key personal competencies for programme managers are:
- Building Relationships
- Thinking Critically
- Embracing Change
(and there is and will be an article for each topic in this series)
From personal experience in several programmes I have conducted, good relationships will help you to get problems solved, and you get the necessary support when you need it. Unfortunately the reverse can also be true: if you don’t have great relationships, or if you communication skills leave something to be desired in your team, it can have a huge effect on your project. If you have a bad relationship, any small mistake or deviation from the contract can cause a big blow-up between you and the stakeholders. This is why building good relationships is so important: simply follow the processes as provided in the PgM Standard from PMI and start building these relationships as early as possible in the programme. It is the job of the programme manager to initiate Stakeholder Management. Here are some tips that can support you in doing so:
- Develop the Stakeholder Management Plan
- Brainstorm with the team the potential stakeholders
- Analyse each stakeholder’s influence and interest
- Each Stakeholder will have specific needs or requirements; know what these are and support them in getting what they need!
- Based on the above, you can develop a communication management plan to satisfy the majority of the stakeholders based on their interests, needs and requirements.
- Your Stakeholder Management Strategy should include the communication management plan and how to engage the key stakeholders throughout the programme’s life cycle.
- To optimise your efforts, have a stakeholder list which is managed by the programme team. Keep your own list of “special cases”. These stakeholders will require significant time and effort to build and maintain good relationships. But the additional time and effort will go a long way in terms of keeping the project on time and in budget.
To keep it simple, the communication management plan should encompass all stakeholders and their needs. This list should be kept in a way that if it leaks out from the team, that there is no harm to anyone; so tact and discrepancy is of the upmost importance. Of course, the stakeholder list should be P&C, but leaks can happen; make sure it isn’t detrimental to you, anyone else involved or the project.
For the key stakeholders who might have very special requirements or those with high influence to the programme, you may need additional information. This information – usually very sensitive – you need to keep in your own books or database which absolutely cannot leak to anyone.
The standard measures for stakeholder management are the set-up of regular meetings (face to face or online), meeting records, progress measurement and reporting, project dashboard, correspondence, presentations, education etc. I just wish to comment here that a project needs action towards the future to get the job done. Too many meetings – especially badly organised meetings and huge reports do not really contribute to project success. Don’t get me wrong – communication is important – but it is a double edged sword. Too many inefficient meetings can cost you time, money and your whole project.
Whatever communication content and media is used to satisfy project stakeholders is crucial, but this does not necessarily build good relationships. From my point of view, a good or even a great relationship is built over time when project teams and partners work together, occasionally have lunch or dinner together, know each other professionally and slightly personally, and can trust each other that what is said and promised will be delivered. This requires daily and weekly follow up, honest and true communication and I usually add a gist of humour to it.
Please be aware that the relationships and the need for stakeholder management changes throughout the project. Those people who promise you things at the beginning of the project usually are not the same people present when the project should be commissioned or finished. Key topics and requirements need to be in writing, regardless of how much you trust a person. Those people who will finish the project with you are the key stakeholders, as they most likely will deliver and sign the project either from the contractor or employers side. It’s all about project completion and the money involved.
One more topic on relationship management is the fact that you most likely work in a specific industry. You may most likely meet the same people again in your next project. Keep this in mind when working with people. Do what is necessary to keep and foster your current clients. Positive relationship management is of the essence if you want to continue in the same industry. In projects it is always a challenge to get the right people for the job. If you have a good relationship management skills, you can pull talents into your project when you need them. Make sure, people like to work with you, or at the very least, have a mutual respect for each other. How does one achieve that? By having a vision, a plan, by sticking to the plan and by keeping your promise. Remember to be tough but fair and clear.