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How to Deal with Project Stakeholders [Problems and Solutions]

Imagine running a project where your team members don’t communicate with each other, or where you have no idea what project stakeholders want from you. A lack of communication on any level, but especially with project stakeholders, can hinder the growth of any business.

Part 1

First Things First: What Is a Stakeholder?

Stakeholders are individuals or groups that have a stake in a project. The stake doesn’t necessarily have to be financial.

More often than not, stakeholders also put their reputations or infrastructure on the line.

Board of Directors members, sponsors or creditors aren’t the only individuals with stakes in a project or company. Employees, suppliers or even customers are also stakeholders.

Part 2

Thorny Stakeholder Problems and How to Solve Them

Because stakeholders may have different interests, project managers can encounter numerous problems when communicating with them. Here are some of the most common challenges and how you can turn a difficult stakeholder relationship into a trusted partnership.

  • Challenge: Your Stakeholders Are Reluctant About Sharing Important Information

    One of the most frustrating problems project managers have to deal with is trying to coax vital information out of a stakeholder. Stakeholders might attend meetings and engage in developing a solution, but it takes a gargantuan effort to persuade them to share any relevant data with you.

    Several reasons may cause stakeholders to behave this way. Perhaps they had a negative experience in the past and don’t see the importance of communicating openly anymore. Maybe they are comfortable with the way things are going right now and don’t see the need for change. Or, maybe the stakeholder is aware of certain issues in office policies that he doesn’t feel he can share with the project manager.

    Whatever the case may be, there are a few tricks you can try to fix this problem:

    Try to gain the stakeholder’s trust by engaging in open and frequent communication with them. Give them the opportunity to voice their concerns or address issues that they find important. Be clear about their role and purpose in the project and let them know what’s expected of them. Let them know how their contribution impacts the success or failure of the project and, ultimately, the organization’s goals.

  • Challenge: Their Vision Is Not in Line with the Project’s Budget

    If you’re a seasoned project manager, then you’ve probably encountered more than once the stakeholders whose dreams and ambitions are higher than what the organization can afford at the moment. They want to implement bold business solutions but can’t seem to understand that the costs far exceed the company’s resources. They may try to convince you that there are ways to implement the solution cost-effectively without compromising the quality of the product or service. Unless they can provide real, accurate data for those claims, hold to your position.
    Trying to convince a stakeholder that their vision is not in line with the direction of the organization can be difficult. This is where facts and numbers help. Try to identify past projects with similar features and use this data to support your position. They will have a more difficult time arguing with you when you have solid evidence showing why the company can’t implement their idea.

  • Challenge: Your Stakeholders Are Impossible to Satisfy

    You and your team put blood, sweat, and tears into developing business solutions that your customers are going to enjoy. You work your pants off to deliver the project on time and to ensure it meets all the requirements. But, despite of all your efforts, it seems impossible to satisfy all the stakeholders. Whether they don’t like the budget estimates or are not fully happy with the features, there’s always something that they complain about when you deliver the project.
    When that happens, try to figure out what it is that really bothers your stakeholders. Maybe you didn’t communicate with them as effectively as you thought you did and they felt left out of the process. If that’s the case, address the issues and make sure to fix the communication channels as soon as possible.

  • Challenge: You Disagree About the Project’s Requirements

    Perhaps one of the most common problems managers face is not seeing eye to eye with the stakeholders on the project’s requirements. Especially when the project requires the participation of numerous people, all with strong egos and different opinions where it can be hard to reach a consensus.
    One of the best ways to deal with this problem is to ensure that every voice is heard. Meet with your stakeholders and allow them to share their concerns and present their arguments. Let them know the goals of the project and the role they play in the process to try to get everyone on the same page.

Part 3

Best Practices: How to Deal with Stakeholders

Despite your efforts to keep the lines of communication open and involve everyone in the development of the process, some stakeholders just seem impossible to work with. It doesn’t mean that you should throw in the towel and just ignore them. Running a successful business is not a “you vs. them” game. You need to put your differences aside and find a way to defuse the situation and continue working with the stakeholders.

Here are some strategies that may come in handy.

  1. Identify Their Behavior

    Difficult stakeholders usually fall under one of the following categories:

     

    A. The Passive Aggressive: Passive aggressive stakeholders claim that they support the project, but they find or create ways to delay its development. They either always point out unnecessary flaws or issues or constantly change the requirements of the project.

     

    B. The Antagonist: These stakeholders tend to create a tense environment that affects others’ capacity to work and focus.

     

    C. The Victim: Whatever happens, these stakeholders are quick to blame it on others. While there may be cases when the failure of the project is not their fault, they never take responsibility for their actions.

  2. Determine the Cause of the Behavior

    The first thing we need to do when dealing with difficult stakeholders is to try to figure out the motivation behind their behaviour. Address the issues head-on and discuss them with the stakeholder to get their input on it. Let them know how their attitude affects others and the direct impact it has on the success of the project. Try to be calm, respectful, and professional. Stress the fact that it is not a personal issue and that you’re only addressing this problem because you care about the success of the project.

    Involve the stakeholder in the resolution and let them help you find a solution.


Part 4

How to Communicate with Project Stakeholders

Managing and ensuring effective communication with project stakeholders can be a daunting task. However, the success of your projects depends on your ability to get everyone on the same page and keep stakeholders engaged.

Here are a few quick tips for learning how to communicate effectively with project stakeholders.

  1. Set Your Objectives:

    What is the goal of your communication efforts? Are you just trying to keep stakeholders in the loop about the project’s development or do you want to involve them in the process?

  2. Have a Clear Message:

    Make sure that your message considers your audience and their needs. If, for example, you want to engage your local business community in an initiative, let them know the benefits they can enjoy if they take part in this action.

  3. Choose the Right Communication Channels:

    Some people favor communicating via email, others prefer one-on-one conversations while others feel more comfortable talking on the phone. Figure out what the best channel for staying in contact with project stakeholders is and adapt your message accordingly.

  4. Ask for Feedback:

    One of the best ways to ensure the effectiveness of your communication efforts is to ask for feedback from project stakeholders. Try to determine if your message worked and if it triggered the desired result.

Effective communication is the key to a project’s success