Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Stakeholder Personas Part 5 - Uninterested

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-orientedstakeholder and finally the uninterested stakeholder.  In this post, I will talk about interacting with the uninterested stakeholder.

The Stakeholder

The uninterested stakeholder can be an asset or liability on a project.  If their approval or involvement is not needed, they become an asset because they do not add constraints to resources or schedules.  However, if they control project resources or their approval is needed to move through a decision point, they will be a liability.  These individuals may say they are interested, but actions speak louder than words.  They do not attend scheduled meetings.  They do not respond to requests.  They do not assign resources.  Their actions show that the project is a very low priority with them.  Sometimes this disinterest is due to other urgent crisis projects or activities for which they have responsibility.  Sometimes this disinterest is due to lack of understanding and awareness of the project benefits and impact.  Sometimes this disinterest is a means of showing their disapproval of the project or project approach.  Occasionally the uninterested stakeholder will become actively opposed to the project.  In that case, their behavior is no longer one of neglect, it is turns to attacks on the project and all that it represents.

Interaction Style

The key to interacting with this stakeholder depends upon whether you need them to be engaged or not.  If you do not need their active involvement, then send them regular project communication using the format or approach that you use with one of the other stakeholder types.  They probably won’t look at it, but you have provided the information if they do decide to engage.

However, if you need their active involvement, find a point of interest on their part and exploit it.  The two most effective approaches I have found to do this is first to work through another stakeholder or subject matter expert who has regular interaction with the uninterested stakeholder.  Ask them to exert their influence on the uninterested stakeholder to get them to engage.  This personal appeal from a trusted colleague will often get you that first meeting or interview.
In addition, you need to approach the uninterested stakeholder with their “WIIFM” in the forefront. 
“WIIFM” stands for “What’s In It For Me?”  

You will probably only have a few minutes for the interaction, so focus on how it impacts them. Personalize the project activity and impact.  Give them a reason to care.

Key Messages

Do some research ahead of time and determine that stakeholder’s biggest issues or objectives.  Then explain your project from the standpoint of how it impacts those issues or objectives.  They may be a minor part of your overall project, but that is the hook that will catch them and gain their engagement.  So, if they are worried about customer satisfaction, start your presentation or discussion with the impact your project has on the customer.  If there are concerned about cost control, lead with the impact your project will have on the cost structure of the organization.   While it is appropriate to discuss the full project, don’t dwell on aspects that do not relate to their WIIFM.  Also, be very clear why you need their engagement.  Do you need resources, approval, or a decision?  Make it easy for them to decide immediately so they do not need to re-engage with the project.

Good News and Bad News

For these stakeholders, good news is that this is the last time you will need to interact with them on this project and bad news is that they must now get involved on a regular basis with the project.  Plan your interaction carefully.  First connect with them on the WIIFM.  Then give them the good news or bad news and explain its bearing on their WIIFM.  Finally, ask for what you need from them – resources, decision, access, approval – and ask for everything you need so that they won’t be required to continually interact unless they choose to do so.   Keep in mind, they are probably considering the fact that they are interacting with you to be bad news.  Give them the good news that this is the only interaction needed; assuming that is true.  If there is a need for more interactions, ask them the manner in which they want those to occur.

Final Thoughts


These stakeholders are either a blessing or a curse to your project.  If you don’t need their active involvement, they are a blessing because they don’t create roadblocks or impediments.  If you need their involvement, they add extra work as you must carefully plan the interactions to get the most out of their infrequent occurrence.  I have occasionally won over a few uninterested stakeholders by working with them and my Project Charter.  We modified the Charter so as to address an item of major concern for that stakeholder.  And I admit, I modified a project plan one time in order to avoid an uninterested stakeholder. The project was the phased launch of a new process in the Operations organization. I modified the plan to do the initial launch phase in the locations with a very interested and engaged Operations Manager. .I delayed to the last phase the launch into the location managed by the uninterested Operations Manager.  By that time, the other Operations Managers would be able to influence him to support the launch in his operation.

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