~ By John Reiling
Top executives and stakeholders are often "sold" certain projects from within the organisation. This normally happens, where a sales team first handles a project and then later assigns it to a project manager who "inherits" it.
The concept here is that the selling to the stakeholders actually continues once the project manager takes over. Because of this reality, the project manager must to some extent use sales skills and continue to build (and even sometimes repair!) the relationships with the stakeholders.
Most projects have numerous and diverse stakeholders. One of the first tasks of the project manager is to identify those stakeholders and establish a working rapport with them. The starting point must be to clarify expectations, initially set when the project was "sold" and to refine those expectations for the next phase. The project manager, in the end, must ensure that stakeholder needs are understood and will be met. In addition, systems must be put into place to ensure that they are providing regular input and feedback in the process of delivering the project. The project manager must continue to be attentive to stakeholder needs throughout the project, and there are a number of techniques for doing that.
One way that project managers can leverage sales skills to establish stakeholder relationships is to think in terms of features, functions, and benefits. Typically, there is one and occasionally a few stakeholders that are critical to the project. They may have a major benefit related to the core benefits of the project. In all likelihood, the project manager will be in touch with these select stakeholders on a very regular basis, and they will be included in most communications. The project manager keeps in mind the driving benefits that they want, and continuously communicates about the delivery of those benefits.
Since there are typically many other stakeholders, there often is a stakeholder who is not necessarily going to be one of the top beneficiaries of the project. By contrast, many stakeholders will benefit in peripheral ways, or, if they might benefit by avoiding integration issues that could result when the new project is implemented. Perhaps there is a data interface to that system that will enhance the system, or will at least permit the application to continue to be effective and relevant.
One way to think about these secondary stakeholder, like the primary stakeholders, is to think in terms of feature, functions, and benefits. Core stakeholders may see these features as covering all of the project's potential results; for the peripheral stakeholders, however, these features may be only a couple to a few. The key in using this thought pattern is to look at the features related to that stakeholder, break those features down into the important functions that those features bring to the table, and then as the final step, break down those functions into the actual tangible benefits that will be derived by that stakeholder.
As a first step, all stakeholders need to be identified, and their needs must be understood. With this information at hand, the key then is to think through the features, functions, and benefits of the project to each and every stakeholder, and to communicate that to each stakeholder. A side benefit is a much deeper understanding of the project, and even an expansion of the broader benefits of the project to the organisation.
By thinking in terms of features, functions, and benefits for each stakeholder, a project manager can train himself to think in the terms of the stakeholders. This helps to recognise specific issues that need to be communicated to specific stakeholders, and also helps to identify the issues that are unimportant to stakeholders. Thus, it will helps to always think and speak of your stakeholder needs or interests. In order to properly deal with stakeholders, you must think and act like a salesperson would.
John Reiling, PMP, has experienced portfolio, programme, and project management in organisations of all sizes. John's website Project Management Training Online provides numerous courses on these topics for PDUs, PMP Prep, and PgMP Prep. See John's related article on Programme Management with a nice graphic on the topic, at John's blog, PMcrunch.com.