April in North America is a month of transition. As the winter winds begin to subside and warmer air and spring showers bring colorful flowers, our moods lighten and the gloom of winter is replaced with, well…hope.
Spring also coincides with the start of the North American professional baseball season. Yesterday was the first home baseball game of the year for my local team, the San Francisco Giants. Opening day 2014 was an event to remember. The Giants won; the fans left the stadium ecstatic. Optimism for a successful year was high. Even the old-time, cynical fans were left thinking, “this just might be our year to win it all!”
There are similarities to the beginning of the baseball season and the start of a new business project. In the beginning, new projects generate excitement, optimism, high expectations, and maybe a distorted view of reality. Project team members are full of energy, and all the project stakeholders are rooting for success. The start of a project and a new baseball season are good times, with happy people, and lots of hope.
Unfortunately, the good times do not always last. The spring baseball season runs into the hot, “humid” days of summer, where the contenders separate themselves from the pretenders. Fans of mediocre teams lose their passion once the realities of the long baseball season become clear. Optimism is replaced by disinterest, anger, and sometimes even loathing.
Much the same happens with projects. The realities of a project begin to settle in as the requirements, scope, plan and deliverables becomes clear. Project team members may become overwhelmed with work. Stakeholders that initially supported the project may turn against it if they feel the results are not worth the investment or no longer suits their agenda. Other executives simply lose interest and move onto shinier, newer initiatives. Everyday brings more tasks, deadlines, meetings, reports, and ultimately conflict. Hope is often replaced with despair.
As a Project Manager, your role is to push on, keep the team moving forward, and focus your organization on the benefits that your project will ultimately bring. To do this you must engage your team and key project stakeholders with a message that keeps them active and energized. What are the steps you can take to manage your stakeholders and maintain momentum? Here is the way forward:
- Stakeholder analysis. Early in a project it’s important that you complete a stakeholder analysis. This study identifies all your key stakeholders, their roles, level of authority, levels of involvement and interest, and the political clout they carry in your organization. It is critical that you have a picture of all the stakeholders because you need to build a detailed plan on how to manage them.
- A,B,C stakeholder segmentation. Not all stakeholders are created equal so you need to manage them differently. Segment your stakeholders list into 3 or 4 groups based on their influence, importance (are they providing resources or funding to my project), and their position towards the project (whether they support, are against or take a neutral position).
- Stakeholder management plan. Now that you have your segmented stakeholder list, you need a plan to manage each segment. This plan should include how and when you will communicate with each stakeholder, who in the project team will communicate with them, and, what will you do if they should turn negative on you. Think of this as a risk management plan for your stakeholders.
- Communication plan. The stakeholder portion of your communication plan identifies “what” and “how” you will communicate the status of your project. For your most important stakeholders, you might give them a “personal” briefing each month or quarter. Others, you might send a monthly report that highlights the key actions. For an extended group you might provide quarterly presentations. The sequence and frequency are for you and the team to decide – but having a coherent plan is key.
- Execution of Stakeholder plan. Up to now all I have advised is that you need to make plans. But, the most important part is executing the plans. Your stakeholder plan is a “living, breathing” set of actions that must be implemented. As a Project Manager, it’s your job to insure the work gets done.
- Use your sponsor for “back-cover”. There are some difficult stakeholders that you have to manage. Use your project sponsor (or sponsor committee) to help keep these stakeholders in line. A sponsor can provide a little “political muscle” when needed. Just make sure the messages being passed between the parties are consistent with what you’re saying to all the stakeholders.
Well, it remains to be seen how the San Francisco Giants baseball team will fair this year. It’s a long season, and we will not know until August or September whether the early season optimism was warranted. Many projects follow the same path – sometimes the optimism and excitement felt at the start is rewarded, and other times it fades as the realities of the solution come into focus.
Maintaining interest and engagement throughout the life of your project will make your job and that of your project team better. Maybe it will even give you time to catch a baseball game or two this season. Enjoy the spring…and, remember as a project leader one of your jobs is to bring hope.
“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” ~ Rogers Hornsby (Hall of Fame, American Baseball Player)