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4 critical steps to successfully involve your project stakeholders

A successful project is one that meets stakeholders’ needs. One of the main reasons projects fail is deliverables don’t match what the customer or key project stakeholders wanted. This can be disheartening to those involved in the project and can have career repercussions in high-stakes projects.

This article will dive into the reasons why you might want to reevaluate your stakeholders and how you include them in your next project.

All projects have stakeholders: external, like a paying client, or internal, such as an executive project sponsor. These stakeholders hold the key to the project’s success.They are essentially the people you are working for when completing a project.

And remember your key stakeholders might also frequently include your employees.

Your employees might be the most affected by the problem you’re tackling and have a large stake in the outcome. Employees in these instances must be involved just as much as other stakeholders.

Projects conducted in silos - without consulting the opinions or knowledge of the people experiencing the problem can lead to project failure.

Why you need to include stakeholders early

1.Stakeholders can identify risks before they happen

Understanding who the key stakeholders are and what project success looks like to them is a critical step at the beginning of each and every project.

Whether the project is a problem waiting for a solution, a re-evaluation of business processes, or a plan that needs implementing, stakeholders can be the difference between project success and project excellence. Engaging stakeholders at the early stages of the project - and throughout - can uncover potential roadblocks, delays and miscommunications before they happen.

Project stakeholders are often more knowledgeable than project managers on potential constraints and risks. Their involvement when gathering and documenting initial requirements and project needs can prove invaluable. Uncovering risks and having a plan in place to mitigate those problems will dramatically increase the success of your project. As Winston Churchill once said: “Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning.”

2. Involving stakeholders builds buy-in

When stakeholders—especially employees—are involved in a project, they are more likely to buy-in. Lack of buy-in can stall project progress. If everyone affected by the project is aware of the project scope, delivery expectations, risks, and the plan to mitigate risks, there is a much greater chance of a positive project outcome.

Sometimes, due to conflicting needs and priorities or budget constraints, it just isn’t possible to meet all the stakeholders’ demands.. Set expectations early in order to avoid resistance to the project, or unwelcome surprises for some stakeholders. Explain clearly why some priorities take precedence over others, and, if possible, have a plan or a timeline in place for when those unmet needs can be addressed.

Outlining the goals of the project, why certain decisions are being made, when key milestones of the project will be met, and what this means to each stakeholder, can help manage relationships throughout the project.

The more regularly you engage and involve stakeholders from the start, the more likely you will see project success and cut down on unwanted surprises.

The critical steps to successfully involve your project stakeholders

There’s a big difference between giving stakeholder inclusion lip service and doing the work.. For example, saying you’re taking the opinions of stakeholders into account, and then completely disregarding them, or ignoring their risk warnings, is worse than not involving them at all.

Follow these 4 critical steps to ensure your stakeholders are involved.

1.Start from the very beginning

As soon as you’ve been assigned the project, set up a meeting between the project team and each key stakeholder, individually. This might be the project sponsor, senior executives, an employee representative, etc.

It’s better to know from the very start what they really want and need, rather than having to guess and then change everything at the last milestone. It also helps to understand why they want things a certain way. This knowledge makes it easier to plan your project to meet their requirements.

Don’t skip this step - it’s arguably the most crucial of the entire project. In-person meetings, whether face-to-face or digitally, are better than emails for this stage, as it allows you to dig deeper on certain points, read the stakeholders’ body language, and pick up on their voice and tone—all of which can lend a lot of insights into what is important to them and where they perceive risks. Follow up each meeting with an email summary of the pertinent points discussed.

Once you have met with all stakeholders, it’s easier to put together a complete project plan to ensure desired outcomes are achieved.

2. Meet with project stakeholders often

As you work on your project, you should get the stakeholders’ input regularly, ensuring you are still on track with what they are expecting. It’s easier to steer back in the right direction if you’ve only made a small detour. Sometimes, you can go so far down the wrong path that it’s expensive - in terms of time, money, and possibly reputation - to correct the course.

For longer projects, a monthly formal status meeting will usually suffice, while between meetings you can regularly update and collaborate on a shared document that all stakeholders can access at any time.

3. Demonstrate how stakeholders’ input is being used

You do not have to implement every request made of you by the stakeholders. However, they need to know their time is not being wasted. Give feedback on whether or not the request will be implemented, and if it won’t, explain why you made that decision.

4. Implement documented sign-offs from key stakeholders

There are times when a key stakeholder, such as the client or the project sponsor, will verbally agree with every step taken in the project or every deliverable as it crosses their desk, only to be unhappy with the end result. Getting their documented sign-off on every major decision and every deliverable makes them accountable, ensuring that each piece of the project is really completed to their satisfaction.

There are many factors that can influence project success or failure. Top project managers understand the real key to project success is held by the stakeholders in the project, and their knowledge, input and buy-in can make or break a project. Involve the stakeholders - including employees - early, and you’ll find that your project has a much greater chance for success.

Like this article? Here are three more you might find interesting:

Contact us at resourcing@amaxra.com or call 425 749 7471 if your business requires resourcing support or if you are interested in exploring employment opportunities with Amaxra.

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