Chapter 3 Engaging Your Team and Other Stakeholders – Project Management Essentials, Second Edition, 2nd Edition

CHAPTER 3

Engaging Your Team and Other Stakeholders

Projects are conducted with and for many people. This includes team members who do the work, as well as stakeholders who have an interest in the project’s process and/or results. This chapter deals with understanding and working effectively with both your team and all other stakeholders.

The purpose of this chapter is to help you:

1. Work through typical issues that project teams face.

2. Effectively acquire, develop, and lead your team.

3. Identify, prioritize, communicate with, and build relationships with project stakeholders.

Your Team

A project team is a select group of individuals with complementary skills and disciplines who work together on interdependent and interrelated tasks for a predetermined period to meet a specific purpose or goal.1 As we mentioned in Chapter 2, ideally the entire project team will be involved early on in the life cycle of the project and can help draft the charter. Helping to shape the project by being involved in this early planning will foster a sense of ownership and commitment to the project. If, however, it is simply not possible to involve certain team members during the initiation phase of the project, you will need to find other ways to secure their commitment. These may include asking for their input in further planning and uncovering their preference of work assignments. It also includes always acting ethically as a project manager and not overworking your team members (or overpromising results, since that will inevitably strain your workforce). Finally, whether the team members were able to help craft the charter or not, they should each take the time to read and understand it, then sign their names to it as a public sign of commitment to the project.

Typical Issues with Project Teams

One issue faced by many project teams is the fact that the project manager has limited direct control over the other team members. On many projects the team members work part-time on the project and will be evaluated by their functional supervisor. We encourage project managers to furnish well-written input for team members’ evaluations—and let the team members know well in advance your intention to do so. The project manager can even say: “I know your manager is very busy and if I write the evaluation well enough, part of it is likely to be cut and pasted into your official evaluation.” Project managers can also make up for their limited formal authority by using other forms of power. If they are seen as an expert, a friend, or someone who has high-level connections (such as with the sponsor), team members are more likely to willingly follow. Of course, the opportunity to work on an exciting project with an inspiring purpose and challenging work motivates many team members, as well.

Resource sharing is another typical project issue. Many participants are assigned to multiple projects in addition to their ongoing work. There is often a struggle to get the team member’s undivided time and attention when needed. A related issue is multitasking; while multitasking is extremely common and sometimes necessary, it is usually not very productive. A good project manager will try hard to understand the various commitments of her team members and strive to find ways to limit the need for multitasking.

Potential misunderstandings are frequent on project teams. Some of this stems from uncertain and changing requirements. Investing time in really understanding requirements and having a firm change control process help in this regard. This process is described with an example in Chapter 7. Some misunderstandings occur because team members may be different in respect to education-level, experience, location, age, and so on. Diverse project teams generally are good since different skills and perspectives are needed, but they can lead to confusion. Conflict management may be required occasionally.

Yet another typical project team issue is location. At one end of the spectrum is co-location, which as the name implies, involving the project team sharing a work area. This is ideal from the standpoint of sharing information and for team members’ general development. It may not be ideal in terms of team members’ technical development, as the one engineer assigned to the project will spend most of her time on the project with people from other disciplines rather than with other engineers. At the other end of the spectrum are virtual teams. These can include people in multiple time zones and continents. Each of the typical project team challenges can be amplified with virtual teams since communication can be difficult. For this reason, the good project management practices described in this book are even more essential on virtual teams. Additionally, if the team is able to meet even once face-to-face, many of the potential problems can be more easily resolved since the team members feel a stronger connection to each other.

Identify Team Member Needs and Secure Commitment

For some projects, there is really no choice as to who will be on the team because the organization is small and/or the needs are very specific. When there is a choice, however, the first thing to do is to determine the project’s needs in terms of skills, representation, and size. Small project core teams have an easier time with scheduling and making decisions. They are also less expensive than large teams. If a large number of constituencies need to be represented, it may be best to have a smaller team with each team member responsible for coordinating with two or three of the stakeholder groups. As a project manager, you need to make sure the potential team member really is capable of understanding the needs of those two or three groups. Project managers need to understand enough about the technologies that will be used on the project in order to determine the necessary skills needed. In identifying people who may have those skills, talking with other managers and key experts will be helpful.

Once potential team members are identified, it makes sense to interview them. Part of the interview is to ask questions to understand the person’s attitude and skills. Helpful characteristics to look for include commitment, flexibility, sense of urgency, and trust in you as a project leader. Your project team is comprised of the core team members who will be with your project from the beginning to end and the subject matter experts (SMEs) who will be brought in for specific tasks or durations. If a person has a unique skill within the organization and must be on the project team, you may ask him if he wants to be on the core team (and thus responsible for attending all meetings and doing project work between meetings). If so, he would be a core team member and would contribute to project decision making. If he is not willing or able to be a core team member, he would be a SME. As such, he would be invited into one or more planning meetings to offer input concerning his part of the project and would be invited to return to implement his part of the work. However, he would not be part of making project-wide decisions.

As part of the interview, the project manager should share her vision for the project, helping the potential team member understand how the project helps to further organizational goals. A good project manager will also be upfront about asking: What do the team members hope to gain from the project? By understanding what motivates each team member—money? Building skills for the résumé? Personal recognition?—an adept project manager can often create win–win scenarios in which the project workers are well-matched with the work assigned to them. This will create an engaged team and serve you well in the long run as a project manager, since workers will remember and be eager to work for you again.

Develop Your Project Team

Tuckman’s project team development model of forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning can be used to visualize how project team members can develop maturity, relationships, attitudes, and skills.2 Exhibit 3.1 shows a few of the team process methods and a few of the ways in which team members develop both their attitudes and skills by working on a well-led project team.3 Leading your team in a collaborative style will allow the members to gel as a team and to develop both skills and attitudes that will help the project succeed.

Exhibit 3.1

Project Team Maturity, Relationships, Attitudes and Skills Development Stages

Lead Your Project Team

Lead your project team by example! Both job advertisements and project management research agree that six of the most important competencies project managers need to use are communications, technical skills, leadership, planning, team building, and stakeholder management.4 So, how does a project manager display these competencies in useful ways? By how they act, by what they say, and by the questions they ask.

Things you can do as project manager to effectively help lead a team include the following:

Stand up for your team and their ideas.

Serve your team rather than the other way around.

Review plans and reflect, yet show a sense of urgency.

Only promise what you can deliver and keep your promises.

Find alternative ways around obstacles.

Strive to understand the whole situation.

Stay focused.

Enjoy your work and let it show.

Do good quality work.

Volunteer to help those who are struggling.

Keep the big picture clearly in sight.

Plan and conduct effective meetings.

Create psychological safety for your team members.

Ways of communicating as a project manager to effectively help lead a team include the following:

Communicate openly and honestly.

Investigate to find the truth, then communicate it.

Admit and learn from your mistakes.

Treat everyone fairly.

Speak calmly.

Make requests instead of demands.

Don’t complain about what cannot be changed.

Acknowledge when something is done well.

Handle negative situations in a positive manner.

Project managers can ask questions such as the following at selected milestones and during the closing of the project:

Do/did you understand the mission and goals of the team?

Do/did you understand your role?

Is/was your tasking specific enough?

Do/did you understand how your input contributed to the goal of the project?

Are/were the team meetings effective and timely?

Do/did you feel you were respected and your thoughts listened to?

Is/was the communication open and honest?

Do/did you feel the team environment (meetings and interactions) was too informal or formal?

Do you have any ideas on how to improve?5

Identify and Prioritize Stakeholders

Who Are My Project’s Stakeholders?

In identifying stakeholders—that is, the people who may impact or be impacted by a project—most of us are quick to identify at least a couple. It is obvious to most that the customer or end user as well as the project manager and team members are project stakeholders. However, on even a relatively small project, that may be just scratching the surface.

Why is it important to know who our stakeholders are? A project’s stakeholders may vary greatly and include stakeholders internal to and external from the project, those in favor of the project and those opposed to it, those impacted by the final project outcome or product versus those affected by the process, and so on. Regardless, by learning from and effectively communicating with our various stakeholders throughout the lifecycle of the project, we greatly enhance our chances of project success.

How Do I Prioritize My Project Stakeholders?

Keeping in mind the facts that stakeholders want different things from a project and that even the most popular projects generally face some opposition, you can see why you need to not just identify but also prioritize your stakeholders. When push comes to shove, whose support and approval is essential to the project? These are your key stakeholders, and you need to do everything you can to keep them informed and favorably disposed toward the project.

Beyond the key stakeholders, it is still helpful to put all other stakeholders (or groups of stakeholders) into a rough order of importance. Again, this order of importance exists so that in times of challenge or conflict, when all stakeholders’ hopes and expectations cannot be met or are even in conflict, you will be prepared to make the tough decisions in the best interests of your project and its most important stakeholders.

Now, the term “most important” stakeholders will have different connotations for each project or team. You will need to decide—along with your sponsor—how to compare and categorize stakeholders according to the following criteria: power to affect the project’s outcome and interest in the project process and/or project results. Exhibit 3.2 shows the relative power and interest of various stakeholders.

Exhibit 3.2

Project Stakeholder Power Interest Grid

One further stakeholder consideration is this: on projects where stakeholder influence is high, merely communicating with them is not enough. The project team members need to understand the impact the project will have on the stakeholders and interact with them and make decisions accordingly. Exhibit 3.3 illustrates this.

Exhibit 3.3

Type of Project Considering Stakeholders6

Stakeholder Neutral

Stakeholder Sensitive

Stakeholder-led

Stakeholder power and influence

low

medium

considerable

Key project challenge

technical

some stakeholders need to make some changes

many stakeholders need to make big changes

Project team needs to:

identify and communicate with stakeholders

consider stakeholder agendas when selecting best approach

determine solution based upon what stakeholders will allow

Finally, keep in mind that prioritizing stakeholders requires as much art as science, and a good project manager can help his team think outside the box. Instead of assuming that any stakeholders opposed to your project are entrenched in their opinions, ask yourself—or, even better, ask them—if there is anything you could do to either win them over to supporting your project or, at least, to lessen their opposition to it. Exhibit 3.4 is from a project management student of ours and is one of the best examples of proactive stakeholder management we have ever seen.

Exhibit 3.4

Building Relationships with Stakeholders

CIDEC is a Design and Engineering Center which employs 250 Engineers, Masters, and Ph.D.’s, located in the suburbs of the city of Queretaro, Mexico. This example is provided by Rafael Santa Ana, general manager of the Queretaro Technical Center:

We develop product and process design for automotive electrical components and its related embedded software.

Our product lines include:

Wiring harnesses;

Information and entertainment systems;

Passive safety (seatbelt and airbag sensors and controls);

Active safety (radars, cameras, self-braking systems);

Hybrid vehicle power electronics.

Our building is located in an area zoned as “commercial, offices, or light industry use.” Across the street it is zoned as “residential use only.” We obtained the required government permits and started construction of our new facility, only to have the neighbors’ owner association from across the street go to the City Hall to complain about our building, fearing that we would be noisy, smelly, traffic obstructing, and so on.

It dawned on us that the neighbors were stakeholders in our new building project, since our presence there would have an impact on their lives. We immediately contacted them and explained our project to them, apologizing for not having done so in advance. We showed them that we were only offices; our parking lot was big enough for all our employees; and there would be no noise from our processes to negatively impact them.

We invited them to use our cafeteria with its tables, chairs, projector, restrooms, vending machines, parking area, and so on. They accepted. We then extended our offer for them to use our cafeteria for all their meetings, which they also accepted.

During one of their meetings we asked them if there was anything we could do to be better neighbors. At night one of our lamps also illuminated the children’s bedroom of a couple of houses, so that the kids did not want to go to sleep. We turned off or reoriented the lamps. Another request was to reduce the noise level of the automatic water pump, which sometimes turned on in the middle of the night. We placed a sound proof cover on top of it.

When our employees hired a yoga instructor and started to practice, we asked the neighbors if they were interested and some of them joined the classes. We also have Ping Pong, table soccer, and chess competitions, which some of the neighbors have joined. Employees of ours have a cross-country hiking club and a cycling club which some neighbors have joined.

Since we compost all the leftovers from our cafeteria, we offered compost bags for the neighbors’ gardens and showed them how the process works. Now they have their community compost.

Some of our employees took first aid, first responder, and firefighting training, and are prepared to help in medical emergencies (heart attacks, fractures, burns, heat stroke, etc.) until professional help arrives in an ambulance. We shared with the neighbors their contact numbers. We have 24/7 security personnel at our reception area. We asked our security personnel to look at the neighbors’ homes during their rounds and to contact them and the police in case of suspicious activity. So far we have had no need to do that.

Some of our neighbors’ sons or daughters are studying or planning to study engineering. We invited them to visit us to see what a day at work for an engineer looks like. They came with a school bus full of students! They are also among the interns and full-time recruits we’ve had since opening this location.

The home-owners’ association continues to meet monthly at our facilities, and every time we ask them if there is anything else we can do to enhance our mutual relation. Their feedback is very positive and they tell us that we are positively impacting their lives with our operation.

How Do I Communicate with My Project Stakeholders?

Now is as good a time as any to talk about project communications. It has been estimated that a good project manager spends up to 90 percent of her time communicating.7 90 percent! This includes reading, writing, and listening. That said, quantity is no replacement for quality when it comes to communications. In fact, communication that serves no useful function for all participants—a pointless meeting; weekly status reports that no one ever reads; e-mails that cc countless people unnecessarily—not only waste time that could be better spent, it also frustrates workers and other stakeholders. The reason we communicate on projects is “communication leads to cooperation, which leads to coordination, which leads to project harmony, which leads to project success.”8

Too many organizations and individuals act as though the information age never dawned and that people need as much data and information as possible. While we are not suggesting withholding any needed or relevant information, too often it is the deluge—not the lack—of data which overwhelms and slows people down. What people really need is an overarching understanding of the entire project and the information pertinent to their work, in a format that is easy to understand. That is to say, do not overwhelm your workers with mountains of raw data but, rather, convey to them useful information in a timely manner—and make sure your communication is a two-way street.

One frequent complaint we hear is in regard to some organizations’ tendencies to create “silos” in which there are only a limited number of people with whom any worker is allowed to communicate (generally this includes direct report but not cross-disciplinary relationships). We encourage you and your project team—and even your organization as a whole—to foster a culture that values direct communication whenever possible. This will help ensure that your messages are communicated as intended (think of the children’s game Telephone as the epitome of what you do not want to happen!), without confusing or overwhelming people who don’t need to be involved. Workers and stakeholders both need only as much timely information as they can reasonably process while still being responsible for many other competing demands on their time and energy. Keep this in mind as you are managing your team and communicating with them and other stakeholders.

Agile promotes effective communication culture by stressing frequent in-person meetings, mitigating distraction, using feedback to ensure the message is clearly understood, having key business stakeholders on the project team, and creating the Agile trust factor with foreflow of ideas without value judgments.9

Best practices suggest that you plan in advance how to communicate with your stakeholders. If you took the time to identify and prioritize your stakeholders as we suggested, you have a good starting point. Next you and your team should agree on a communication plan, the largest component of which will generally be a communication matrix. It will include the various stakeholders, what you need to learn from them, what you need to share with them, with what frequency (this can be at regular intervals or when milestones are reached), their preferred communication method, and the person on your team responsible for making sure this happens (often called the owner of communication with that stakeholder). This last part is crucial and really does need to be one person—even if the information gathered or shared pertains to multiple people—in order to prevent a situation in which everyone claims, “I thought someone else was doing it.” You will see this policy of an individual owner again when we discuss risks in Chapter 4.

One thing to keep in mind when deciding which methods of communication to use with various stakeholders is that simple is often preferable. There are so many modes of communicating, from videoconferencing to e-mails to telephone calls, and they can each be useful under the right circumstances. However, all else being equal, we recommend you go with the simplest and most direct option. In fact, there is much to be said about face-to-face communication when possible, since most communication experts agree that 60 percent to 90 percent of communication is nonverbal depending on the individual and situation.10 The more direct your communication, the less chance there is that your message will be misconstrued. An example communication matrix is shown in Exhibit 3.5, and a template for a communication matrix is shown in Exhibit 3.6.

Exhibit 3.5

Project Communication Matrix

Exhibit 3.6

Project Communication Matrix Template

Summary

There are a variety of potential sources of conflict inherent to project management. To help mitigate this conflict, as a project manager, you should foster an atmosphere of open communication—with an emphasis on active listening—and lead by example. A project team is made up of full-time workers and part-time SMEs. You will need a plan for acquiring, developing, and managing these workers that includes getting new members brought up to speed quickly and releasing workers once their contribution has ended. You will also need a communication management plan that details how to communicate with your team and with the various project stakeholders. In addition to identifying your project’s stakeholders early on, your team should take time to understand and prioritize the stakeholders. That way you will ensure that your key stakeholders’ needs are being met.

Key Questions

1. What issues are typical for project teams in your organization and how do you work through them?

2. How do you acquire, develop, and lead project teams?

3. How do you identify, prioritize, communicate with, and build relationships with project stakeholders?

Notes

  1. Anantatmula (2016), p. 9.

  2. Martin (2017), p. 5 and Mindtools (2018).

  3. Adapted from Kloppenborg and Laning (2015), p. 352.

  4. Ahsan et al. (2013), p. 47.

  5. Miller (2008), p. 41.

  6. Adapted from Worsley (2017), pp. 9–10 and 92–94.

  7. Phillips (2015).

  8. Badiru (2008), p. 29.

  9. Adapted from Paquette and Frankl (2016), pp. 32–35.

10. The Nonverbal Group (2015).

References

Ahsan, K., M. Ho, and S. Khan. 2013. “Recruiting Project Managers: A Comparative Analysis of Competencies and Recruitment Signals from Job Advertisements.” Project Management Journal 44, no. 5, pp. 36–54.

Anantatmula, V. 2016. Project Teams: A Structured Development Approach. New York: Business Expert Press.

Badiru, A.B. 2008. Triple C Model of Project Management: Communication, Cooperation, and Coordination. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Kloppenborg, T.J., and L.J. Laning. 2015. Strategic Leadership of Portfolio and Project Management. New York: Business Expert Press.

Martin, S. 2017. Co-Create: Harnessing the Human Element in Project Management. New York: Business Expert Press.

Miller, S.R. 2008. Building and Managing an Effective Project Team. Defense AT&L 37, no. 5, pp. 37–41.

Mindtools. 2018. http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_86.htm, (accessed May 5, 2015).

The Nonverbal Group. 2015. http://www.nonverbalgroup.com/2011/08/how-much-of-communication-is-really-nonverbal, (accessed June 13, 2018).

Paquette, P., and M. Frankl. 2016. Agile Project Management for Business Transformation Success. New York: Business Expert Press.

Philips, J. 2015. Real World Project Management: Communications. http://www.projectsmart.co.uk/real-world-project-management-communications.php, (accessed February 27, 2015).

Worsley, L. 2017. Stakeholder-led Project Management: Changing the Way We Manage Projects. New York: Business Expert Press.