How to Create a Project Communication Plan

project communication plan
Creating a Project Communication Plan

Communication is one of the most difficult things a project manager has to manage within an organization. Meaningful information must be gathered and distributed among the many stakeholders on a project. Because of this, it is important to create a project communication plan at the beginning of a project. It should be updated as stakeholders and other variables change throughout the project.

Components of a project communication plan

The project manager should determine the various levels or rank of people who hold information and those who need information. Most project information flows up, starting with the project team member to the project manager. The project manager reports to a divisional manager.  The PM and divisional manager then usually report to an executive team.
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6 Ways to Turn Your Job into a Career

Turn your job into a career
Turn your job into a career

Whether you went to college, trade school or jumped right into the work place. Your initial goal was probably to get a job. It may have been in your area of study. You may have gone in a different direction depending on the job market.

Once someone gets into their job, they get comfortable, complacent even. He learns the job well. He gets an annual pay increase. He eventually gets married, buys a home, and starts a family.

Soon, he has so much at risk, that he becomes risk averse. With a monthly mortgage and mouths to feed, he doesn’t want to jeopardize anything. He goes to work every day, keeps his head down, and survives.
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How a Project Manager Can Be a Good Team Player

good team player
A PM needs to be a good team player

I occasionally talk to fellow project managers. I’ve found that one of the most common things that PMs complain about is getting people on our teams to be team players. I’ll admit that it is important. I often wonder whether the project managers that I talk to are good team players themselves.

I believe that if project managers demonstrated some team player skills, it might set a good example for the team they manage.

That’s not my project

Project managers often complain about employees who are simply heads-down. They worry about their own tasks and nothing more. Certainly it’s better to have people on the team that have the backs of their fellow team mates.

Project managers, however, have the same tendency as the team members that they complain about. A PM gets focused on his or her own project and tends to ignore other projects within the organization, even if the two are interrelated.

I’ve actually heard PMs claim, “That’s not my project.” When another project’s issues come up. If the PM won’t help his own peers, it’s hard for him to expect his team members to do the same.

Micromanaging

PMs can become task masters. They stay on top of things by being on top of their team members. “Are you done with that task?”, “When will you be done?”, and “Why are you behind?”

By nagging and micromanaging, they take away any ownership the team member may have had. The PM isn’t being a team player, and takes away any desire for the team member to be a team player.

The need to be right

Some managers don’t think they’re actually leading unless they are the ones coming up with the ideas. If someone else on the team comes up with an idea that is different from what the project manager has in mind, the PM can always find a way to shoot it down.

This approach to management takes away any form of collaborative spirit from the team members. The team members eventually give up on trying to contribute and only focus on their immediate tasks.

When a project manager discourages collaborative participation from the team, they stifle the very behavior that they want the team members to practice.

Look at it my way

I was once on a project where the PM sent out daily updates on how far developers were behind on fixing defects. He told the team that part of his evaluation criteria from his management was based on the team’s ability to resolve defects in a timely manner.

Anyone who has taken an elementary marketing class understands that you put things in terms of your customer. When you advertise a product, you don’t try to convince the consumer to buy it by telling them about your revenue targets. You provide benefits that the consumer will receive from buying your product.

As a project manager, you can try to convince team members to accomplish something based on the criteria by which management measures you. Or, you can create team incentives that will motivate them to achieve accomplishments for the benefit of the team.

For more information, check out The Importance of Leadership in Project Management

Passive aggressive behavior

Some project managers avoid confrontation. When someone does something detrimental to the project, they avoid confronting the individual. Instead of immediately sitting down and addressing the issue upfront, they let it slide for a time. Then, a half-joking sideways remark about it is made. Maybe a new policy is emailed to the team, which is intended to stop the behavior.

Some managers don’t like the confrontation of holding people accountable. But people would rather be held accountable. It is much better to have that one awkward moment of confrontation than many awkward moments through passive aggressive behavior.

Having the confrontation of holding people accountable results in team members working to please their manager with quality work. Passive aggressive behaviors cause team members to seek to avoid displeasing their managers.

Are you a good team player PM?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

5 Ways a Project Manager Can Remove Obstacles

A project manager trying to remove obstacles
How a project manager can remove obstacles

One of the project manager’s key responsibilities is to remove obstacles. Many see management and leadership as an oversight task. Instead, a project manager should strive to balance being informed with getting involved when necessary. The role requires more leadership than management. This means not only knowing when to get involved, but how to get involved.

What follows are five examples of typical obstacles a project manager may face and how to remove those obstacles.
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6 Tips for Managing Scope on a Project

Managing Scope on a Project
6 Tips for Managing Scope on a Project

One of my favorite books I used to read to my kids was The Mitten. It’s the story of a young boy walking in the woods and loses his mitten. A mole comes along and crawls in it to stay warm. Then, a rabbit sees the mitten and squeezes in with the mole. After that the animals get progressively bigger. An owl, a badger, a hedgehog, a fox, and then a brown bear all squeeze into this little mitten.

Finally, a field mouse squeezes in. This proves to be too much and the mitten explodes. Besides this being a classic tale, one of the reasons I like this story so much is because it is a perfect illustration of how scope creeps into a project. People think, “just a little more” over and over until it’s just a little too much.

There is a common term of “the final straw.” The full expression is “The straw that broke the camel’s back.” It stems from the practice of loading straw on the backs of camels. Individual straws are easy to carry. But as you load more and more, the camel’s ability reaches a limit and eventually it breaks its back. There is one straw that tips the scale to the point of being too much.

Like straws and mice, small things can make a big difference. It is a project manager’s responsibility to be a defender of the scope. There are several ways in which that can be done.

Define scope in the project charter

Project managers produce a lot of documents. Some are necessary. Others are done to please a checklist. The project charter is one of the more important and necessary documents.

The project charter defines the purpose of the project and how it helps the organization achieve their overriding strategy. An important section of the charter is the definition of scope.

The scope definition should provide some high level detail about what types of functionality will be completed as part of the project. An important aspect of that is listing things that are specifically out of scope for the project. This sets distinct expectations and removes as much ambiguity as possible for the business stakeholders.

Require succinct requirements

In most projects, business requirements are defined by business analysts. It is important to ensure that the business requirements they define are complete and succinct. There should be as few loopholes as possible.

In an organization where I once worked we had a term called “spell checker.” Assume that someone asked you to design a spell checker for a word processing package. You define a simple application that will go through a block of text and identify any words that do not exist in the internal dictionary.

When you present a demo of the product, the business is disappointed. They wanted it to provide correction recommendations. They wanted thesaurus capabilities. They wanted you to check for grammatical errors.

In your mind, a spell checker is simply that. Software to check your spelling. The additional items they wanted are additional functionality outside of just checking spelling. If they wanted that, they should have asked.

When you review business requirements, consider how you would implement it. Are the any open questions? Are there any gaps? Are there any broad terms like “spell checker” that could be interpreted in different ways?

Business analysts are the liaison between the business and those who will implement the project. They have the responsibility to make sure both parties are aligned with the right terminology.

Get sign-off from business

When business requirements are complete, they should be reviewed by the business stakeholders and approved. The review should be done formally with a physical signature or an email that documents the version of the requirements being approved.

In the future if there is any difference of opinion with the requirements, there is an official, authorized version that everyone uses as a source document.

Think like a lawyer

Lawyers take a lot of criticism. Some may be warranted. Nobody likes when a lawyer defends a criminal and gets him off on a technicality. He murdered someone, but since they didn’t read him his rights, he walks free.

But lawyers aren’t paid to do what’s right morally. They are paid to defend the law. If they have been hired by a criminal, the lawyer’s job is to use the laws to protect the client to the best of his ability. The lawyer’s job is not to judge the client.

Once the business requirements have been approved by the business, those requirements are the law. The project manager’s job is to implement what the requirements dictate. If the business decides later that they want additional functionality, it can’t just be squeezed in like a field mouse in a mitten.

The business may argue that the functionality they are requesting is absolutely necessary for them to do their job. The project manager’s job is to protect the scope of the project. If the business needs it that bad, there are other means of including it that don’t introduce additional risk of squeezing it in.

Develop a strong change control process – and follow it

The most effective way to handle those new requests from the business is to establish a process to manage change requests. When a new request is identified, complete a change request form that details the change and provides an estimate for the work.

Additionally, the impact to the project should be provided. This will indicate whether the project timeline is affected, more people will be needed for the project, or whether the additional work can be absorbed in the current project plan.

Never say “No.” Once you have identified the impact to the project, present the change request and its impact to the project to the business. In most cases, the business is financing the project. Impact to the project implies additional cost. If the change is large enough, it may include adding resources and extending the timeline on the project.

The project manager should develop multiple options, if possible. Those options should be presented to the business owner to allow him or her to decide. Would you like to pay to bring on additional resources? Would you like to extend the project? Would you like to add this functionality and remove some other functionality to make time for it?

Develop a collaborative relationship with the business

Often, the project manager and business owner develop an adversarial role. The business owner wants as much functionality at the lowest possible cost. The project manager is often held responsible for getting the project completed on time and within budget. But she is also responsible for completing the project to the business’s satisfaction.

It is important that both the business owner and the project manager work collaboratively toward the goal of adding business value. If both teams work toward a balance of providing business value while managing scope and delivering a project within the planned parameters, both groups can succeed.

Be their adviser, not their adversary

How good are you at managing scope on a project?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

Image courtesy of Hywards at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Applying the 80-20 Rule Every Day

Applying the 80-20 Rule
Applying the 80-20 Rule Every Day

I recently met a college student who was studying psychology. He was one of the brightest and most ambitious young men I’ve met. He had dreams. He wanted to own his own business.

“Not just a little sole proprietorship,” he told me. “I’m willing to start small. But I want to grow this business and someday have something on a national scale.“

“That’s great. How do you hope to do this?” I asked.

“Well first, I want to get my PhD in psychology.”

“Why do you want to do that?” I asked, trying not to sound too incredulous.

“I want to be the best I can be.” Was his response. “So I want to get the best education I can get.”

It occurred to me that he had the idea that the more education he got, the more he would be successful. More is better. I talked to him about the fact that, unless you are going to go into research, there are diminishing returns to education at some point. I suggested that once he gets his bachelor’s degree, he may want to get some experience.

I asked him if he was familiar with the Pareto principle.

The 80-20 rule

The Pareto principle, also known as the 80-20 rule, stipulates that roughly 80% of value comes from 20% of one’s effort. You want to prioritize your work so that you are always doing that 20% that produces the top 80% of outcome. I explained to him that he could get a lot of value from earning his bachelor’s degree. That is focused on the 80%.

Someday, maybe a master’s in business administration (MBA) will be helpful. But probably not until he’s had some experience in business, either working for a company or running his own.

I told him that getting some business experience would probably be more focused on the 80% of value than a PhD.

Applying the 80-20 rule to big decisions

It’s normal to apply the 80-20 rule to major business decisions. In a consulting environment when we consider selling to a client. Are we spending 20% of our time seeking a client that will give 80% of long term value through additional business?

A manufacturer may identify that 80% of their customers buy 20% of their products. This can help them make decisions about whether to introduce a new product or to discontinue one.

For more information, checkout Career Management Tips for Project Managers

Applying the 80-20 rule to minor decisions

Those of us who apply the 80/20 rule, tend to use it for major decisions. But it can also be used for everyday decisions.

Planning: When you start a project of any size, it is important to spend time on planning. That is an area that provides 80% of value. I have always been a pretty organized person. I always have a daily to-do list. And I usually put it together the night before. I know people who don’t use a daily to-do list. I’ve found that they aren’t usually as productive.

Planning your day, whether it is through a to-do list or another means, allows you to lay out everything that needs to be done. But more than that, it allows you to prioritize.

Once you have listed everything you want to do, you can compare the tasks. You can identify the “80% items” to make sure you are working on the right things.

Perfectionism

I have spoken to people who call themselves “perfectionists.” It almost always turns me off. I’d probably never hire someone who calls himself a perfectionist. I’m a firm believer that perfect is the enemy of good.

Instead of doing the 20% of work to get 80% of value, a perfectionist will go well beyond the 20% trying to get 100% of value. That last 20% of value is not nearly as valuable. And the effort expended to get it could most likely be spent getting the 80% of value of some other task.

Conclusion

Applying the 80-20 rule should become a regular habit. Everything you do, everything you say should have some Pareto in it. Before you start anything, ask yourself “Is this an 80% task?”

It is important to do things right. But it is more important to do the right things.

Are you applying the 80-20 rule in your everyday decision making?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

4 Components of Business Alignment

Components of Business Alignment
Components of Business Alignment

If you’ve ever been to an air show in a major city, chances are that you’ve seen the Blue Angels perform. The Blue Angels are a flying aerobatic team. They fly six F/A-18 Hornet aircraft and perform maneuvers such as formation loops and barrel rolls. It amazes me that six jet airplanes can fly in formation in straight lines at the speeds that they fly, let alone the acrobats they do up in the air.

Imagine if one of those pilots didn’t know what direction they were they were supposed to be going. Or if one didn’t know the next maneuver. It would, at a minimum show them going in very different directions. At worst, it could result in a terrible accident.

But that’s how many businesses and their information technology departments work together. Or rather, how they don’t.

The Blue Angels work in near perfect alignment. How do they do it, while major corporations with smart leaders fail at it so often?

Why it happens – A failure to communicate

When a business organization asks their IT department to perform a project, they will hand over the requirements of that project in various ways. They may meet for long sessions of requirements gathering. They may simply hand over previously existing documentation.

For more information see Stakeholder Management for Project Managers

Regardless of how the team gets requirements for the project, they often do not discuss them further until much later in the project. Throughout the project, the information technology team will make assumptions based on little knowledge of the business or why they wanted the project.

Components of business alignment:

A common, and well-communicated vision

Let’s consider a case study. Ann is a great baker and starts her own business as a sole proprietor. She has a specific strategic vision in mind for her business. She knows exactly what she wants to accomplish.  Everything she does for her bakery is focused on that strategic vision.

She gets up early every morning and bakes all of her goods for sale that day. She works the counter all morning selling her goods. Then she spends the afternoon and evenings planning new recipes, advertising and taking care of other business activities.

After a couple of months, it’s just too much for her to do everything on her own. She hires someone to help out working the counter. She communicates her strategic vision to her on her first day, gives her a little training, and sets her on her way.

The business continues to grow. Within a year, Ann decides to take on a partner and open another store in a nearby town. Ann explains her strategic vision to her new partner, helps her get started in the new location, and goes back to work at her original store.

Over the next few months, she sees that profits from both stores are down. She talks to customers from her original store and finds that the worker behind the counter is rude and provides poor customer service. She is confused because part of her strategic vision that she communicated to her employee on the first day was to provide excellent customer service.

When she talks to patrons from her new store, she finds out that the quality of the food is poor. When Ann talks to her partner about it, she learns that she has been using cheaper ingredients in order to save money.

Ann is puzzled about this because part of the strategy she communicated to her on the first day was to provide the highest quality possible.

This is how many corporations treat their strategic vision. They spend a lot of money to develop the vision. They print it out on some plaques and posters to hang in the lobby. They announce it to every employee on the first day of employment. Then it gets nudged aside in order to deal with the urgent calls of daily business.

A corporation who spends the time to develop a strategic vision should communicate it on a regular basis. They should announce it early and often so that it is top of mind for every employee. It should drive how every employee does his or her job.

The strategic vision should be explained to every manager. Every manager should know what it means in order for them to do their job. Every manager should be able to explain the same to every one of their direct reports. It should be cascaded down each level.

A project manager starting a project should understand the company’s strategic vision and how the project’s purpose fits into that vision.

Understand how the company makes money

McDonalds Corporation is not in the business of selling hamburgers – or fries, shakes, or salads for that matter. McDonalds Corporation is in the real estate business. McDonalds Corporation owns the land and buildings of all of their stores. Franchisees lease the land and building from corporate. They then make and sell the food that allows them to pay rent to the corporation.

Certainly the corporate parent has a vested interest in their lessees selling hamburgers profitably. But that is driven by their desire to improve their rent revenues.

An employee at the corporate level who does not understand that source of revenue risks making incorrect assumptions and decisions.

A project manager starting a project for a company should have the same knowledge of that company’s source of income. Just like in the McDonalds scenario, things aren’t always as they seem. In order to manage a project that is truly aligned with the business, how the company generates revenue is an important need for sound decision making.

Understand how the project helps the company achieve that strategic vision

Once the organization’s strategy and how they make money are understood, the project manager should understand how the project is a puzzle piece that fits into the big picture.

If there is any question about how the project helps the organization accomplish their strategic vision, that should be a red flag. Has the strategy changed? Does this accomplish it in an indirect way that isn’t immediately clear? Or, is this project not aligned with the strategy?

If the project is indeed aligned with the business strategy, the project manager is responsible for understanding how, in order to make the right decisions along the way.

Score card to validate progress

Regardless of how much the business is involved with the project once it is initiated, the project manager should develop a score card that appropriately communicates status.

Like any status, it should communicate what has been completed in relation to what was planned. But it should also explain how the accomplishments relate to the big picture of the project. The score card should also make it clear how those accomplishments also align with the overall strategy.

If a project manager reports that Task XYZ was accomplished, she should be able to explain why that helps the project be successful. She should further be able to explain how completing that task makes the organization more successful.

Conclusion

Information technology has long been looked at as a support function for the company. Management comes up with an approach to take orders, process orders, or track orders better. They go to IT and tell them what they want. The expectation is that IT will listen to what they want, build it, hand it over, and it will work.

Instead, IT should be looked upon as a partner. The more each individual in the IT department understands the business, the more they can provide value.

Information technology is no longer an appendage of an organization that is called in “when we need a system.” Information technology should stop being an order taker and become a partner with the business.

When there is actual integration between business and information technology, business alignment will become an obsolete term. IT needs to be integrated like one of the jets in the Blue Angels rather than just another plane that is called upon when they are needed.

How much is information technology integrated with your business?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Secret Sauce of Project Management: Beyond Art and Science

The Secret Sauce of Project Management
The Secret Sauce of Project Management

Brian Williams became the NBC Nightly News anchor in December of 2004. In February of 2015, he was suspended for six months for incorrectly claiming that he had been in a helicopter that came under fire in 2003.

The incident created a firestorm of debate regarding news reporters, their ability to tell the truth, and viewers’ ability to believe what they hear. Once a news reporter is known to fabricate stories instead of provide facts, the public will question whatever that reporter says in the future.

This issue is not unique to news reporters. Many professions have to be concerned with their credibility. Project managers are just as susceptible to being believed as any other profession.

The science of project management

Many people see project management as a science. The project manager collects estimates and creates a timeline. She tracks the progress of each task from each team member. She monitors and records risks, and develops mitigation strategies for each. She records each project issue and drives them to resolution.

Project management can also be seen as an art. A project manager must be creative in finding solutions to work within defined constraints. The project manager must be a leader. She must understand what drives each project stakeholder and develop strategies to communicate and incentivize each individual uniquely. She must also develop creative approaches to combine all of the statistical metrics to deliver value to the end user.

If a project manager can skillfully combine the art and science of project management, she increases her odds of success exponentially. However, if the project manager can stir in the secret sauce, she increases her chances of success even more.

The secrete sauce of project management is credibility

Like a news reporter, a project manager must ensure that her stakeholders trust her. The most literal part of credibility is believability – do the business stakeholders believe what the project manager says and have confidence that she can do the job?

For more information, check out The Importance of Leadership in Project Management

Credibility is built on many things

Confidence. Does she speak with certainty or does she come off as unsure? How often does the business ask a question that she can answer instead of saying, “I’ll have to check on that for you?”

Details. Does the project manager know the nuts and bolts of the product she is delivering? Has she learned just the “surface facts” or has she delved down to know specific bits of information, how they are related and the consequences decisions will have on them?

Respect. Does she treat the stakeholder with respect? Does she show up on time for meetings? Does she listen to the business’s problems and act on them?

Decisiveness. Dovetailing with confidence, can the project manager make decisions and justify them when the stakeholder disagrees? Or does she shrug off decisions and defer to others on the project?

Credibility is the perception of being capable. There are many who believe that Brian Williams should have been fired rather than suspended. That’s because they no longer see him as capable. He no longer has credibility with a large segment of his stakeholders.

If any stakeholders lack the confidence in your ability as a project manager, you will lose credibility with them. Once credibility is lost, it is hard to regain.

What do you do to earn and maintain credibility with your stakeholders?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

Image courtesy of Imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Management By Criticism and Other Ways to Demotivate

Management by criticism
Management by Criticism

I once worked for a manager that had very little positive to say. He criticized just about everything anyone ever did. The term “Good job” just wasn’t in his vernacular.

I wrote it off as just an oddity. I was fortunate enough to move on in my career to work for some great managers who were encouraging, positive and motivating.

As a consultant I’ve worked in many different consulting environments. I’ve been exposed to many managers and observed many as an outside 3rd party. I’ve seen amateur managers who demotivate their employees. They limit the success of their employees. By extension they limit their own success.

A negative ratio of management by criticism

I was once on a project where one manager would complement her team. Then she would follow it with a half a dozen complaints about their performance, quality, or some other aspect of their work.

She felt that since she pointed out one positive with all of the negatives, that she was being positive.

There are times when you may need to correct a wrong or give a team member constructive criticism. I’ve always followed the sandwich method. Provide positive feedback about something they do well. Then, you provide constructive criticism about the area you’d like to see improvement. You end with more praise about what they do right. Sandwiching the corrective measures around praise helps the employee to realize that, while they need to improve on something, there is plenty of value that they provide.

The left-handed compliment

Some managers just can’t seem to give praise without ruining it. They may praise the employee. But then they have to add a snide remark about how they almost screwed it up. Or they may say something like, “You really got us out of a jam. But then again, you were the one who got us into the jam in the first place.”

This is something my mother used to call a left-handed compliment. (Full disclosure: I’m left-handed and do not find this characterization to be offensive.) The left-handed compliment makes the subject feel good for just a split second before finding out that they still aren’t up to snuff for the manager.

When you are going to compliment a team member, make it complimentary and don’t take anything away from it.

Cheerleading

Some managers shower the team with empty praises with no content. “You guys are rock stars.” And “Great job everybody.” These types of compliments are like donuts for breakfast. The team gets a good feeling temporarily. But it’s a short-term high with no long-term nourishment.

If a manager wants to complement the team and make it meaningful, it should be directed towards actual accomplishments. “You really did a great job on that presentation.” “Your document was exactly what the client was looking for.”

Everybody wants to be a rock star. But they want to know which songs provided the value and made them rock stars. It helps them to know what type of actions to repeat in the future to remain rock stars.

For more information, check out The Importance of Leadership in Project Management

Happy medium

A good manager knows the right balance of cheerleading, complimenting and correction to make his or her words meaningful. Every team member is different and takes compliments and criticism differently. Successful managers get to know each team member well enough to know how to deal with each one to get the best performance out of each one.

How do you motivate your team members?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Stakeholder Management for Project Managers

Case study – The stakeholder from hell

Stakeholder Management for Project Managers
Stakeholder Management for Project Managers

Melvin was a project manager on a software development project. On a weekly basis, he reported status via a conference call with project stakeholders that were distributed around the world. The meeting was usually a formality. Melvin sent the status report the day before to all stakeholders for them review before the meeting.

Donna, the lead stakeholder was particularly difficult at times. She had a habit of taking one small detail and turning it into a big problem. Because of that, Melvin always entered this meeting with some trepidation.

In one particular status call, he reported on a requirements review meeting that had been held earlier in the week. As soon as he mentioned the meeting, Donna spoke up, “Why wasn’t I invited to that meeting?”

There was a moment of silence as Melvin considered her question. “I thought you were invited.” He replied.

Donna had found her problem. “I was not invited to that meeting! I need to be invited to any meeting where we review business requirements!” She went on for what seemed like several minutes to Melvin. When she was done, or at least paused long enough for him to reply, he apologized for the oversight. She continued to scold him for a few minutes before he continued on with his status.

After the meeting, Melvin flipped his laptop open and looked up the meeting invitation. Donna had indeed been invited to the meeting. She did not respond to the invitation, which is why it didn’t show up on her calendar.

Project stakeholder management can be a difficult aspect of project management. Some stakeholders, like Donna, can be intentionally difficult and seem almost impossible. Others may be easier to deal with. But they will almost always have high expectations.

To be successful, a project manager needs to know how to manage the stakeholders in order to manage a project.

Managing Expectations

It is important to start the project out on the right foot. This can be most effective if expectations are set with all stakeholders on the team.

For project team members, meet with the team as part of the kickoff meeting and develop a set of team norms. This is a list of self-prescribed and self-enforced rules and regulations. Some of the rules that my teams have come up with include keeping music limited to headphones at volumes others can’t hear. If the team has flexible hours, the team may establish a window of time that everyone is present so that they know when to schedule meetings.

The expectation should also be set with team members about the project manager’s accessibility, when can they call the project manager and when should they wait or send an email.

The project team should also know what to expect throughout the project. Explain the major milestones and what you hope to accomplish at each point. Changes may occur and the expectation should be set for that as well. When the changes do take effect, let the team know how you expect to deal with those changes. If there is a change management process, this is the time to explain it to them.

Business stakeholders need to know what to expect from the project as well. Meet with the key stakeholders and make them familiar with your management style. Explain to them the purpose of the project and how long it will take to accomplish everything. They should also be made aware of your change management process.

Explain to the business stakeholders how things will occur at the end of the project. Let them know how the system will be deployed and handed over to them when everything is tested and approved. Explain any training that will take place if necessary.

Some of this should be done verbally so that it can be heard personally from the project manager. Most of it should be done in writing too so that they can refer back to it and verify things they may have forgotten.

Expectation management is a big part of managing your stakeholders and making sure they are kept satisfied.

Status Reporting

Once expectations are set with stakeholders, it’s important to live up to those expectations. The project manager should establish a weekly meeting with key stakeholders early on in the project.  While major changes may not take place every week, it is important to meet to discuss any issues, risks, and other project updates. If business stakeholders begin skipping status meetings, impress upon them the importance of meeting on a weekly basis.

An effective visual way to communicate status of various aspects of the project is using the red/yellow/green (RYG, also called RAG status for red/amber/green) format. Like a stoplight, Green indicates that everything is in “Go” mode with nothing to worry about. Yellow indicates caution. This is used when events occur on a project where there is risk of going late, over budget, or there is an inability to meet certain critical requirements.

Red should be reported when project overruns occur, or if there are obstacles preventing the team from delivering any business requirements.

The important thing to remember is that status should be reported honestly. If major risks exist causing any component to be yellow or red, the project manager should have the guts to report it. A corrective action plan should be presented with the negative status to inform the business how it will be fixed.

There is often a tendency for a project manager to report the item as green and hope that the contingency plans in place will fix the problem. No one will have to be alarmed and the problem will just go away. However, if the plan does not fix the problem, it is usually a bigger issue that needs to be reported. Business stakeholders rarely like to be surprised with statuses that go from green one week to red the next. It is much better for them to have a heads-up on any issues, even if you fully intend to fix the problem.

Reporting status of a project regularly and honestly develops trust with the business stakeholders, allowing the project manager to work with them in a more productive environment.

Decision Making

The project manager has the responsibility of making many decisions. But those decisions are not made in a vacuum. Team members on the project have experience and access to front line matters that the project manager may not be privy to. Including other team members in decision making is a way to brainstorm new ideas and to include information that may not have been considered otherwise.

Additionally, including team members in decision making will be more likely to obtain their buy-in. If they feel like they helped in the decision process, they will be more likely to get behind it to prove that it is a correct decision.

The project manager must also make sure that his or her decisions don’t over step the bounds of the role. There may be decisions that the business will want to be included on. If the project manager makes a decision regarding how a requirement is implemented, the business may find out late and disagree, requiring expensive rework or even renegotiating of a vendor contract.

It is sometimes a delicate balancing act by the project manager trying to determine which decisions the business stakeholders want to be a part of. Some may be hands-off, while others may want to be part of every decision.

Learning the stakeholders’ preferences and working with them will help to develop a strong working relationship.

Creativity and a Sense of Humor

Stakeholders want to work with strong, decisive, and competent project managers. But they also want to work with a human being. Project managers sometimes come from technical backgrounds. They are more comfortable with numbers and absolute terms.

But a good project manager is also creative, coming up with unique ideas that can make a project successful. Creative ways to report status to business stakeholders can help them understand how the project is actually doing, rather than a group of statistics that can be meaningless.

A project manager with a sense of humor can also endear the business stakeholder to them as well. Business stakeholders will find it hard to deal with someone who is stiff and all business. If the project manager can make light of things and create a casual environment, the stakeholders will be more likely to enjoy being around the PM and will develop a better relationship.

While a good sense of humor is a good personal trait, the project manager should temper that with the personalities of the stakeholders. If the business culture is no-nonsense, people who don’t have patience for a lot of “messing around,” it may be better to model their attitudes rather than go out of your way to make them laugh. It can backfire and hurt your chances of developing a stronger relationship with them.

Communication

Communication may be the most important aspect of managing your project stakeholders. The basis of any strong relationship is clear, concise and honest communication.

We discussed setting expectations and reporting status clearly and honestly. These are all communication skills that will help you develop a strong relationship with stakeholders.

Additionally, a project manager needs to be willing to have difficult conversations with stakeholders. If a team member is not performing well, or has an attitude problem, it is the project manager’s responsibility to talk to that individual. The meeting should be a private, one-on-one conversation. The project manager should explain the situation and state the expectations for improvement. The team member should have an opportunity to reply, but should ultimately agree to make the requested changes.

Some project managers will put off those difficult conversations, allowing the problem to fester and get out of control. Confronting the situation early is the most effective way to deal with such issues. It usually develops a stronger relationship between the project manger and the team member.

The project manager may have to have difficult conversations with business stakeholders as well. If the stakeholder is distant or uninvolved, this creates a risk to the project that the project manager must deal with.

Having a face-to-face conversation with such as stakeholder will help to improve the situation, develop better rapport, and ultimately, develop a better relationship with the stakeholder.

Conclusion

Working with the various stakeholders of a project can be challenging. Some are easier to work with than others. By having strong communication skills and being a good decision maker, the project manager can develop a strong relationship that will lead to success.

How do you handle your project stakeholders?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

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101 Tips for Success in Project Management