Project managers often must interact with many different stakeholders on a project. Not only do the stakeholders have different interests and objectives with respect to the project, they often have very different interaction personalities. When developing a stakeholder communication plan, a project manager should take these interaction personalities into consideration. Depending upon the personality type, the method of communication, timing of communication, and the emphasis in the communication should be different.
Let me be clear about one thing, always communicate truth. With all personalities you must provide a true picture of what is happening on the project and the type of interactions or decisions you need from the stakeholder. However, in some cases the emphasis will be the facts, in some cases the emphasis will be the team members involved and some cases the emphasis will be the impact and next steps. Let’s look at the five stakeholder interaction personalities.
This individual is focused on action. They want to know what has happened, what is happening, and what you will do next. When reporting on project status they want to hear about problems immediately and what you are doing about them. To them a project communication failure has occurred if they find out about a problem on your project before you tell them. If there is a major problem on a project, contact them immediately. You don’t need all the facts or all the answers, but you need to let them know you are aware of the problem and doing something about it. They will want to be involved in problem solving. As a fire-fighter, they want to “smell the smoke.”
This individual is focused on the people on the project team and those assigned to project problems. They don’t want to know all the details about the problem; they want to know who is working it. They put a high value on relationship and trust with individuals throughout the organization. To them a communication failure is when an unknown person (or worse yet someone they don’t trust) is responsible for communicating with them about the project or problem. You need to build a relationship with this person so that they will trust you. When working on a project problem, start the communication with a list of who is working on the problem. They will help you get the right people if you need them.
This individual is focused on facts. They want facts about the project. They want facts about project problems. They expect detailed plans, status reports, and analysis. They would rather that you wait until you have the facts to talk with them than to have you interact quickly with vague or incomplete facts. To them a communication failure is a project status or conclusion that is not supported by data. When communicating with these individuals about project status, always have a detailed plan, status, and analysis. If there is a problem, let them know that a variance has occurred and that you will provide the data about the issue as soon as you are able to collect it and analyse it. They are not as interested in what you are doing as they are in what you know.
This individual is focused on processes. They have faith that if the process is followed, good results will happen and that the biggest business problem is undisciplined people doing unfocused work. They want to know what process is being followed and on which step the project or project team is working. When it comes to project status, they want to know that you are following the approved methodology and they expect the project report to be following the approved template. They consider unapproved deviations from the process to be a major project failure. If a problem arises on the project, they expect you to follow the problem resolution process. When meeting with them, ensure that you let them know the process you are using and progress through that process. If there is no process explain how you will develop one and then follow that.
This person is not focused on your project, despite your efforts to get their attention. They don’t come to meetings or conference calls. They don’t respond to emails and status reports. Communicating with them is like communicating with a brick wall. You and your project are either an irritant or irrelevant as far as they are concerned. The key to working with these people will follow one of two paths. One path is to structure your project so that you minimize the amount of interaction required with these stakeholders. The second path is to identify something that they are very concerned about and that your project could impact. Then lead every project communication with a reference to that item.
Recognizing the interaction personality of your stakeholders and responding accordingly may take a little more effort, but will improve the communication and interaction with stakeholders. When in the middle of a project issue, this can minimize miscommunication and help to quickly align support for resolution.