Project Stakeholders

Managing Project Stakeholders

As you move ahead in your project management career, you advance from managing small project teams who may share a common superior and work in the same department. The scope of those projects is aimed at providing something that project sponsor wants. They may be the only project stakeholder. After some project successes, you’re managing projects that involve larger teams drawn from multiple departments as well as vendors and contractors from outside organizations. Now you must spend more of your time managing the project stakeholders.  Stakeholders Main Page

Project stakeholders are a very large and diverse group. They may include:

  • department managers who are lending you resources
  • departments that are performing important tasks on your project, like develop a computer program or constructing office facilities
  • departments that may use the product of the project and have a major stake in its features, characteristics and performance
  • organizations that may be affected by the performance of or the results from your project
  • individuals within or external to your organization who will provide certain kinds of expertise that you don’t have on your project team.

In sum, stakeholders are an important and diverse group. They often have a powerful influence on the success or failure of your project. That’s why you need to spend a great deal of time identifying people who are affected, positively or negatively, by your project. You must communicate with them and keep them posted on the progress of the project, or at least those parts and deliverables in which they are interested.

The other reason you must identify stakeholders early and continuously is because you do not want to be surprised by new project requirements a month before the completion date. You seek out these stakeholders and gather their requirements so you can determine if the requirements should be included or excluded. That reduces the likelihood of unpleasant surprises later on.

Project Stakeholder Register

Experienced project managers always keep a stakeholder register to identify the more significant stakeholders and their requirements.  The stakeholder register serves several purposes. First, it guides your communications with stakeholders. Obviously all stakeholders are not equally important. As an example, those managers who are lending you resources for your project should receive lots of communication about your use of their people and the issues they care about. Stakeholders who are the primary beneficiaries of your project deliverables also require regular communication and cultivation. You must ensure that these people continue to support the project. Finally, any stakeholder who has a requirement should be tracked and notes kept on the nature of their requirement and what happens to it.

Don’t Ignore Project Stakeholders

As a project manager, you must let others be part of your project in order to succeed. Project StakeholdersSome people may want to block your project and prevent it from accomplishing its goals in terms of scope, cost, duration, and risk. These project stakeholders are often people you did not identify during your planning phase. However, it is very important to include in your plan a general strategy to deal with them during execution. We can call them the known unknown stakeholders. We know that we will meet them at some point, but we do not know who are they.

These project stakeholders might be an individual, a government agency, an organization, or a group of people. They attack the project and try to affect the project dimensions, scope, duration, cost, and risk. The challenge is how to plan for a risk if you do not know when it will occur. The best approach is to have a general strategy to deal with known unknown stakeholders. The project stakeholder might want some befits such as recognition, or to be part of the success, get training, or they are having some trouble with one of your team members, etc. The price you might pay is not too high.

Your strategy to deal with the known unknown project stakeholders should specify a small percent of the project’s duration or cost as a risk response. During the project execution phase, you should discover theses kind of stakeholders and identify their intentions. Some of them who are not too dangerous to your project, can just be ignored. Some of them may have inaccurate ideas about the project or about some of the project members. You should reassure these people and try to include them in your project success by recognition, invite them to a party, or give them (or their staff) free training. Some of these stakeholders, however, have the power to hurt your project. So you should communicate with them frequently. Keep them updated on the project’s progress to facilitate its execution.

Project Sponsor Types: Political Operator – Video

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
Dick’s Books on Amazon

There are many project sponsor types. Some are focused only on delivering business value to their organization and have excellent strategic vision. They know how to support the project manager and the team so they can be highly effective. Unfortunately, not all project sponsor types operate like this. There are a number of project sponsor types whose behavior is destructive. Project Sponsor Main Page

In this video we’ll examine an interesting project sponsor type. We’ll look at this political operator whose primary interest is in playing one upmanship with other executives and ensuring that he has someone else to blame if things go wrong. The person who usually gets the blame is the project manager. Watch the video and see a number of tactics that project sponsors who are political operators use with project managers. After each little scenario, I’ll suggest the best way to respond to this type of project sponsor to protect your project and yourself.

Project Politics: Dealing with a "Political" Sponsors

You may be saying, “I don’t have to deal with this crap.” But the strategy of putting your head in the sand and ignoring the sponsor’s games is very unlikely to succeed. Why? Because every project and project manager is dependent on the project sponsor. When you think about the amount of time you’ll spend working with the project sponsor, you’ll realize how critically important it is to handle that individual effectively.

The project sponsor and project manager spend the majority of time together during the initiation and planning phases. Then the sponsor is actively engaged in securing organizational approval for the project,  and defining the overall scope and major deliverables that they want. Sponsors are also involved in identifying the project stakeholders and assessing the overall risk of the project. Once the charter for the project is approved by the organization and the project manager begins detailed planning, the sponsor’s role changes to approving each element of the project manager’s work. After the sponsor gives approval to the project plan and the project management plan, the sponsor’s role changes again. Following that approval process, the sponsor’s role becomes one of approving changes to those plans. The sponsor also is involved in reviewing and approving all change requests which can increase the cost and duration of the project.  As well, the sponsor approves changes to the scope, the risks and the quality of the deliverables that are to be produced.

You can learn these skills for working successfully with project sponsors in our online project management basics courses. You work privately with a expert project manager. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish.  Take a look at the courses in your specialty.

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Stakeholder Analysis

Stakeholder analysis is one of the most important tasks in project management.  Stakeholders are the people who are affected, positively or negatively, by the project.  You must make an effort to the identify the project stakeholders early in the planning process.  Let’s look at an example of a small project and see how to identify the project stakeholders.

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
Dick’s Books on Amazon

Stakeholder Analysis Example: Part One

The boss calls you into her office and tells you she is getting complaints from other managers about items out of stock (stock-outs) in the supply room. This situation is wasting people’s time and delaying their work because they can’t get their materials when they need. She goes on to tell you that she wants you to run a project to cut the number of stock-outs in the supply room. She will be the project sponsor. Stakeholder Management Process

You ask some probing questions to quantify the project scope and the acceptance criteria. She states that less than five stock-outs a month would make the project a success.
With the initial scope defined, you tell her the next step is to identify the project’s stakeholders. Then you must do stakeholder analysis. That includes speaking with them to understand their issues with the supply room and their requirements for improving it. The sponsor shakes her head and says, “Let’s not turn this into a never-ending circus by asking other people to give us their to do lists. We’ve got to make a plan and identify how we’re going to deliver the project scope I just set. Let’s keep the planning group small so we can move fast. I don’t want to involve a lot of people who have other ideas we’d have to consider.

You say, “Well if I don’t identify project stakeholders and get their ideas, it may come back to haunt us at the end of the project.”

The sponsor interrupts and says, “We know what we need to do in the supply room. We don’t have to let other people stick their noses into this project.”

You say, “I really think that is a mistake…”

“Then it’s my mistake,” the sponsor said. “I want you to get started making the detailed plan.”

Over the next few days the planning went rapidly and you were able to develop high-level deliverables and a work breakdown structure. You identified procedure deliverables, training deliverables and a new workflow for managing inventory levels. The sponsor approved them all and she assigned people from her department and one from the supply room to serve as your project team and authorized you to start work.

Stakeholder Analysis Example: Part Two

Things went very well for the first week and you and your small team knocked off one deliverable after another. But as you moved into the implementation phase you ran into a couple of problems. FiInfluencing Project Stakeholders

First, the project sponsor called you and said, “The purchasing people have their nighties in a knot about how you want to manage the supply inventory. You better get down there and talk with them about what you want to do and get their cooperation.”After spending the next two days meeting with the purchasing people and modifying the entire workflow and procedure you had developed to meet their requirements, you were behind schedule. You knew you would have to hustle to avoid any more slippage in the schedule.stakeholder analysis

Then the human resources trainer finally returned your call. She explained that the training you wanted on the new supply room procedure did not meet corporate standards for training classes and needed to be extensively revised. You explained that the supply room procedure was undergoing modification anyway and the trainer explained that you should have involved her in this process from the beginning.

You stopped the team members who were revising the supply room inventory procedures and told them they would have to wait until the end of the week for a meeting with the human resources department trainer.

Stakeholder Analysis Example: Part Three

To bring an awful week to an end, you met with the project sponsor to submit your status report and explained why the project was at least a week and possibly two weeks late compared to the original plan finish date.

The sponsor asked what the problem was and you said, “We did not identify our project stakeholders in the beginning. That would have let us gather their requirements before we started work. Now we are discovering those requirements and having to redo much of the work we have done over the last two weeks.”

The sponsor’s facial expression went from anger to embarrassment and she said, “Next time we’ll identify the project stakeholders early and do a better stakeholder analysis.”

Learn how to do stakeholder analysis and management in our online project management basics courses. You work privately with a expert project manager. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish.  Take a look at the courses in your specialty.

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Critical Path

The critical path is the longest sequence of tasks in a project. The tasks on the critical path control the duration of the entire project. Any increase in duration of a critical path task will always cause the project’s duration to increase. The Critical Path is a great tool to help you shorten the duration of your project and plan corrective action. It lets you focus your attention on the tasks where adding resources will allow the project to finish early. Most project management software automatically calculates the critical path if you set up the schedule properly. That means you don’t enter start and finish dates. Instead, you use estimates of the amount of work and predecessor relationships between the tasks. This requires a little extra effort in the beginning but it gives you the critical path method for the life of the project. Project Schedule & Software Main Page

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP

Use the Critical Path to Crash the Plan

You should use critical path analysis to optimize the project schedule.  First you examine each of the tasks on the critical path, looking at the resources they are utilizing. You can shorten your critical path by adding resources to these critical path tasks. That’s called crashing the plan.

As you add these resources,  the critical path can change. Although the critical path is the longest path, there are always several paths through the project. As you shorten your critical path, its duration will decrease. After you add resources, a different sequence of tasks often becomes the critical path.  That’s why most project software is continually calculating the critical path. It identifies the tasks that are on it, usually by coloring them red. After your critical path has changed, you examine those tasks for opportunities to add resources to shorten the tasks’ duration and, thus, the project’s duration. Remember that you gain nothing by adding resources to noncritical path tasks.

Use the Critical Path to Fast Track the Plan 

You can also change the duration of the critical path by altering the predecessor relationships between the tasks. You look at the tasks on your critical path and focus on those that have a finish-to-start predecessor relationship. For example, task A and task B have a finish-to-start relationship if task A must finish before task B can start. Some tasks must have finish-to-start predecessors. If work breakdownyou are building a house, for example, the foundation (task A) must be dry before you can start building the walls (task B). But there are some tasks where you can alter the pure finish-to-start predecessor relationship. You can start the second task a few weeks earlier than the pure finish-to-start predecessor would allow. An example is a design task (task A) followed by a construction task (task B). You might be able to begin the construction task (task B) before the design task (task A) is totally complete. Once again, you would only do this on critical path tasks so that the fast tracking change will shorten the project’s critical path.

Use the Critical Path for Trade-offs

Whenever the project sponsor talks with you about finishing earlier (and that may happen weekly), you can use the critical path and your project software to model options.  If the sponsor asks about finishing 10 days earlier, you would use your critical path and schedule software to calculate how many more resources you need to do that. You would examine your critical path tasks and focus on the longer ones because you want to gain 10 days of duration. If you found task #31 on the critical path and it was currently scheduled for a 20 day duration (4 weeks), you might look at it more closely. If that task had one engineer doing 160 hours of work, you might model an option of adding a second engineer and spreading the work between two people. That should come close to reducing the 20 day duration to 10 days or so. Then you could offer the sponsor a trade-off off by saying, “If you give me a second engineer for task #31 for two weeks, I can cut the duration by 10 days.”

Use the Critical Path for Change Requests

Every project manager has to deal with requests to change the project finish date, the budget or the scope. These “requests” come from people who outrank you or sign your paychecks. You can use the critical path method to assess the trade-offs between the various dimensions of the project. Then you can present options to the sponsor and stakeholders for changing the project’s scope, duration, cost or risk to better fit their requirements. It’s wise to go into meetings with options for those changes already modeled so you can present them when someone asks. You’ll have the data available to tell them what the scope change will cost in terms of increased budget and increased duration. The best technique is to use trade-offs between the project’s dimensions, the “4 corners” of scope, duration, cost and risk, to handle the change request and maintain the project’s feasibility.

Critical Path Requirements 

You use trade-offs analysis between scope, duration, cost and risk during planning, during each week’s status meeting, and on all change requests/change orders. The critical path technique helps you calculate them. You can:

  • Decide which problems you have to solve and which you can safely ignore
  • Find the cheapest way to shorten the duration of the project
  • Assign your best people to the tasks that control the project’s duration.

So why don’t more project managers use the critical path methop? Because it requires you to use the following scheduling techniques:

  1. You must base durations on availability and work (i.e., a task with 12 hours of work for a half-time person takes 3 days’ duration)
  2. You must use predecessor relationships to control task sequencing (i.e., start-to-finish or finish-to-finish) rather than entering start and finish dates.

Those two techniques are the foundation for critical path analysis. They will save you hours of work because your schedule will dynamically update. That makes learning them worth learning. In the picture below, the tasks in red are on the critical path, the longest sequence of tasks. The tasks in blue are not on the critical path.


critical path

Critical Path in the Software

Notice how the sequence (or path) of red tasks takes longer than the other paths. Now look at the blue tasks that run from row #14 – Row #25.  They finish almost a month before the red tasks on the critical path. How could you use that information?  Remember that if any of those blue tasks finish a little bit later than planned, it’s not going to increase the overall duration of the project.  So if you want to shorten the duration of the project, you could take resources off some of those blue tasks (which would make them take longer) and have them work on a critical path task. That’s one way to shorten the duration of your project and you should model that option in the software. An added bonus is that when you can identify that kind of opportunity, shortening the duration doesn’t increase the project’s costs.

Another way you can use the critical path is to decide how serious a problem is. As an example, if the person working on task #18 tells you they made an incorrect estimate and their task is going to take five days longer than planned, should you become hysterical?  No. A quick look at the critical path information shows you that task #18 can finish weeks later than its current scheduled completion date without affecting the duration of the project. Consistently successful project managers have information that lets them decide which schedule variations they have to solve and which ones they can accept. That saves a lot of wear and tear on you and the project team.

More on Decision Making Data,

Using these critical path techniques save you time and give you information to make better decisions about your projects.  We cover these critical path tools and techniques in all our customized, personal online training courses. You will work individually with an expert PM and learn how to optimize schedules so the project finishes as soon as possible.  You’ll also learn to present the project stakeholders with trade-off options based on your critical path analysis. You work privately, 1-to-1, with a expert project manager. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish.  Take a look at the courses in your specialty.