Monday, February 20, 2017

Stakeholder Personas: Part 2 - Expert-Oriented

Stakeholder management is a major aspect of project management.  The Project Management Institute identifies it as one of the ten major knowledge areas of project management and has numerous tools and best practices for managing stakeholders.  But let’s face it.  You don’t manage the stakeholders.  In fact, it is much more likely that they are managing you.  So what you manage are your interactions with the stakeholders.   Now “interactions” implies that there are at least two individuals involved, you and the stakeholder.  In this series, I want to address the best practices for interacting with stakeholders based upon how they normally interact.  This is based upon what they consider to be compelling issues and their primary area of concern.  I have identified five personas that represent the types of stakeholders I have encountered over the years.  These are the action-oriented stakeholder, the expert-oriented stakeholder, the process-oriented stakeholder, the data-oriented stakeholder and finally the uninterested stakeholder.  In this post I will talk about interacting with the expert-oriented stakeholder.

The Stakeholder

The expert-oriented stakeholder puts their confidence in experience and track records of individuals.  Typically, these people are themselves an expert in their area.  They are personally self-confident within their area of expertise and they have developed a network of other experts that they rely upon.  For those inside their circle of experts, they will provide tremendous support and latitude.  For those outside the circle they; are far less trusting.  It is interesting that some expert-oriented stakeholders put an emphasis on schooling, degrees and certifications.  Others put an emphasis on the track-record of individuals on other projects.  But regardless how the stakeholder determines who is an expert, once their find one they lean on them and trust their judgement.  These individuals are quick to delegate authority to experts, and reluctant to delegate it to those whose expertise they doubt.  They definitely will “play favorites” and won’t hesitate to communicate outside the normal channels to talk to their network of experts.   

Interaction Style

The key to interaction with this stakeholder depends upon whether you are inside their circle of experts or not.  When inside the circle, quick high-level communication is often all that is needed.  If you are not inside the circle, your communication needs to carry the support of experts that the stakeholder trusts to be taken seriously. Whether you are providing a status update, a project review, or an issue report, they will want to know if what you are telling them has been reviewed and approved by the experts. Their typical questions from them will be:

  • “Who is working with you on this?”
  • “Who else have you presented this too?  What did they say?”
  • “Have you talked with …… yet?”
They would prefer a presentation that leads with who is involved, the bottom line opinion or decision of those involved, and then if there are still questions to be resolved, who you would like to have work with you to resolve them.
If their circle of experts are supporting a position, it is almost certain they will support it also.  If the experts are against it, they will be against it.  If the other experts are mixed, they will study the issue with you.  If you can’t tell them where the other experts stand on the issue, they will send you back to do more homework.

Key Messages

When discussing your project always be ready to bring in your experts.  You do not need to know everything, but you do need to know when to rely on the experts on the team or in the organization.  If you are presenting a major decision or issue for resolution, invite other experts to the meeting, or have their comments and perspective ready to present as part of the support for your recommendation.  Let me also add that through-out your interactions with this stakeholder, if you are not already in their circle of experts, you should be aspiring to be.  Demonstrate your own expertise, not at the expense of others, but it is appropriate to acknowledge you experience and training if they are applicable to the issue being discussed.   The point is that you need to establish you own credibility if you want to move into that circle.

Good News and Bad News

For these individuals, they won’t believe any good news until it is verified by an expert they trust.  And they won’t get panic over any bad news if your communication of the bad news includes the experts you are bringing in to help.  The first question in their mind is always, “Who?” Who else has seen this news and what is their opinion?  That doesn’t mean you should delay your communication of bad news until you have experts lined up.  You can immediately notify the stakeholder of the bad news and ask for their help to get you an expert to assist with the problem resolution.

Final Thoughts

If you are inside the circle of experts, these are great stakeholders for your project.  They will let you do what you need to do and support you along the way.  I have had the privilege to work with several stakeholders who operated in this fashion.  Once I won their trust, my projects had priority in the organization and we achieved some fantastic results.  I have also had the misfortune to work for one stakeholder who operated in this style and whose trust I never won.  Every project of mine was challenged, delayed, and micro-managed.  

Monday, February 13, 2017

Stakeholder Personas: Part 1 – Action Oriented

Stakeholder management is a major aspect of project management.  The Project Management Institute identifies it as one of the ten major knowledge areas of project management and has numerous tools and best practices for managing stakeholders.  But let’s face it.  You don’t manage the stakeholders.  In fact, it is much more likely that they are managing you.  So what you manage are your interactions with the stakeholders.
   
Now “interactions” implies that there are at least two individuals involved, you and the stakeholder.  In this series, I want to address the best practices for interacting with stakeholders based upon how they normally interact.  This is based upon what they consider to be compelling issues and their primary area of concern.  I have identified five personas that represent the types of stakeholders I have encountered over the years.  These are the action-oriented stakeholder, the expert-oriented stakeholder, the process-oriented stakeholder, the data-oriented stakeholder and finally the uninterested stakeholder.  In this post I will talk about interacting with the action-oriented stakeholder.

The Stakeholder

The action-oriented stakeholder likes to see things happening.  They are very interested in making forward progress so their first concern is always the schedule.  They are addicted to adrenaline.  They love to be at the center of the action and are energized by the frenzy of activity.  Problems don’t disappoint them, they excite them because it is an opportunity to dive into a situation and make something happen.  When there isn’t obvious action on a project, they assume nothing is happening.   Typically, these individuals enjoy the spotlight and attention that goes with being in the middle of a crisis and working to resolve it.   The fact that a too quick reaction or over-reaction to a problem can make the problem even worse does not concern them.  These individuals can make great change agents or dynamic leaders in times of crisis.  But they can also exhaust an organization or team over time by creating unnecessary crises.

Interaction Style

The two key elements of any interaction with this stakeholder is immediacy and the next steps.  They want to know what is happening.  Always lead with the schedule when giving them a status update.  If there is a problem somewhere on your project, they want to know as soon as possible and they want to know what you are doing.  They don’t need a complete plan, but they want to know you are working on the problem.  Their typical questions will be:
  • “What is happening now?”
  • “What are you going to do next?”
  • “How can I help?”

Normally, they prefer frequent short crisp communications rather than in-depth analysis.  They would rather get a quick text or phone call giving them the current status than get a well rehearsed formal project presentation or detailed report providing background and options.   
They also are ready to make quick decisions.  Tell them what you want or need and expect an immediate response.  In fact, a way to encourage them to make a decision is to let them know that action on a project has stopped until the decision is made.

Key Messages

When discussing your project always have a schedule status.  Explain what has been accomplished and what is underway.  When presenting a project problem with this stakeholder, you don’t need to have all the answers.  They would rather interact many times through a series of short-term action plans, than to have one major interaction with a master plan that covers the entire project and options.  In particular, they want to know what you are doing and what they can do.  Expect them to make quick decisions and to offer help.  I recommend that you interact with frequent concise status updates of what is happening.  Remember, if they are not aware of any action, they assume nothing is happening. 

Good News and Bad News

For these stakeholders, both forward progress and crisis problems are good news.  A project that is in the midst of a long analysis or that is waiting for deliveries from suppliers or even worse, waiting on an approval from someone else before it can continue, is bad news.  A great way to communicate and interact with them is through a schedule chart that has at least one or two events or milestones every week.  Then it is easy to show progress and action.  They don’t consider unexpected events or deviations from plan to be bad news, but rather they are “opportunities.”  In fact, to them, a bad news message is when they didn’t find out about a problem as soon as it occurred.

Final Thoughts


I appreciate these stakeholders when running innovation, organizational change or crisis projects.  They are ready and willing to make decisions and keep things moving forward whenever the inevitable changes or roadblocks are identified.  However, they can be disruptive at times.  I was running a project a few years ago and one of the stakeholders was of this type.  He would often show up at project meetings and start giving directions to the project team, totally disrupting the plan and current activities.  In order to manage our project interactions, I eventually had to tell him he was not allowed to attend team meetings (an interesting discussion given that he was my boss’s boss).  What we agreed to do was for me to meet with him several times a week to provide status and let him know how he can help us move the project along.