Tag Archives: Stakeholder Management

Making Projects Work: Effective stakeholder and communication management

Making Projects WorkMy third book, Making Projects Work is now generally available in hardback and Kindle editions.

Making Projects Work: Effective Stakeholder and Communication Management focuses on the skills needed by project management teams to gather and maintain the support needed from stakeholders to make their project successful.

The underlying premise in the book is that projects are performed by people for people. The key determinants of success are the relationships between people in the project team and between the team and its wider community of stakeholders. This web of relationships will either enable or obstruct the flow of information between people and, as a consequence, will largely determine project success or failure.

Making Projects Work provides a framework for understanding and managing the factors required for achieving successful project and program outcomes. It presents guidelines to help readers develop an understanding of governance and its connection to strategy as the starting point for deciding what work needs to be done. It describes how to craft appropriate communication strategies for developing and maintaining successful relationships with stakeholders. It highlights the strengths and weaknesses of existing project controls and outlines effective communication techniques for managing expectations and acquiring the support required to deliver successful projects on time and under budget.

Features – the book:

  • Provides a framework for understanding and managing factors essential for achieving successful project and program outcomes.
  • Facilitates an understanding of governance and its connection to strategy as the starting point for decisions on what work needs to be done.
  • Describes how to craft appropriate communication strategies to develop and maintain successful relationships with stakeholders.
  • Supplies an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of existing project controls.
  • Outlines effective communication techniques for managing perceptions and expectations and to acquire the support necessary for successful delivery.

For links to more information on this, and my other two books, start at: http://www.stakeholdermapping.com/stakeholder-management-resources/#Books

For Stakeholders, 2×2 Is Not Enough!

The world loves 2×2 matrices – they help make complex issues appear simple.  Unfortunately though, some complex issues are complex and need far more information to support effective decision making and action.  The apparent elegance of a 2×2 view or the world quickly moves from simple to simplistic.

One such situation is managing project and program stakeholders and convincing the stakeholders affected by the resulting organisational change that change is necessary and potentially beneficial.  As a starting point, some stakeholders will be unique to either the project, the overarching program or the organisational change; others will be stakeholders in all three aspects, and their attitude towards one will be influenced by their experiences in another (or what others in their network tell them about ‘the other’).

The problem with a simple 2×2 view of this complex world is the assumption that everyone falls neatly into one of the four options and everyone categorised as belonging in a quadrant can be managed the same way.  A typical example is:


Power tends to be one dimension, and can usually be assessed effectively, the second dimension can include Interest, Influence, or Impact none of which are particularly easy to classify.  A third dimension can be included for very small numbers of stakeholders by colouring the ‘dots’ typically to show either importance or attitude.

The problem is you may have a stakeholder assessed as high power, low interest who opposes your work, who you need to be actively engaged and supportive – ‘keep satisfied’ is a completely inappropriate management strategy.

The Salience Model developed by Mitchell, Agle, and Wood. (1997) introduces the concepts of urgency and legitimacy.


Urgency refers to the degree of effort the stakeholder is expected to expend in creating or defending its ‘stake’ in the project, this is an important concept!  However the concepts of ‘legitimate stakeholders’ and non-stakeholders are inconsistent with stakeholder theory[1] and PMI’s definition of a stakeholder – anyone who believes your project will affect their interests can make themselves a stakeholder (even if their perception is incorrect) and will need managing.  This model also ignores the key dimension of supportive / antagonistic.

The three dimensional Stakeholder Cube is a more sophisticated development of the simple 2×2 chart. The methodology supports the mapping of stakeholders’:

  • Interest (active or passive);
  • Power (influential or insignificant); and
  • Attitude (backer or blocker).


This approach facilitates the development of eight typologies with suggestions on the optimum approach to managing each class of stakeholder (Murray-Webster and Simon, 2008[2]). However, the nature of the chart makes it difficult to draw specific stakeholders in the grid, or show any relationships between stakeholders and the activity. However, as with any of the other approached discussed so far, the classifications can be used to categorise the stakeholders in a spreadsheet or database and most of the key dimensions needed for effective management are present in this model. The two missing elements are any form of prioritisation (to focus effort where it is most needed) and the key question ‘Is the stakeholder in the right place?’ is not answered.

Information needed for a full assessment

The factors needed for effective stakeholder management fall into two general categories, firstly the information you need to prioritise your stakeholder engagement actions; second the information you need to plan your prioritised engagement activities.

The two basic elements needed to identify the important stakeholders at ‘this point in time’ are:

  • Firstly the power the stakeholder has to affect the work of the project. This aspect tends to remain stable over time)
  • Secondly the degree of ‘urgency’ associated with the stakeholder – how intense are the actions of the stakeholder to protect of support its stake? This aspect can change quickly depending on the interactions that have occurred between the project team and the stakeholder.

I include a third element in the Stakeholder Circle® methodology[3], how close is the stakeholder to the work of the project (proximity) – stakeholders actively engaged in the work (eg, team members) tend to be need more management attention than those relatively remote from the work.

The next step is to assess the attitude of the important stakeholders towards the work of the project.  Two assessments are needed, firstly what is the stakeholder’s current attitude towards the project and secondly what is a realistically desirable attitude to expect of the stakeholder that will optimise the chance of project success?

Attitudes can range from actively supportive of the work through to active opposition to the work. The stakeholder may also be willing to engage in communication with you or refuse to communicate[4].  If you need to change the stakeholder’s attitude, you need to be able to communicate!

From this information you can start to plan your communication. Important stakeholders whose attitude is less supportive than needed require carefully directed communication. Others may simply require routine engagement or simple reporting[5].

If this all sounds like hard work it is! But it’s far less work then struggling to revive a failed project. This theme is central to my new book, Making Projects Work, Effective stakeholder and communication management[6]. You generally only get one chance to create a first impression with your stakeholders – it helps to make it a good one.

Making Projects Work

[1] For more on ‘stakeholder theory’ see:

[2] For more information see www.lucidusconsulting.com

[3] For more on stakeholder prioritisation see: http://www.stakeholder-management.com/shopcontent.asp?type=help-4

[4] For more on assessing stakeholder attitudes see: http://www.stakeholder-management.com/shopcontent.asp?type=help-6

[5] For more on the ‘three types of stakeholder communication’ see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Mag_Articles/SA1020_Three_types_stakeholder_communication.pdf

[6] For more on the book see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Book_Sales.html#MPW

If you screw-up, own-up

Screw-upOne of the traits that strong leaders and credible advisers have is the willingness to ‘own up’ to mistakes they’ve made.  No one operating effectively as a project or program manager, or for that matter any type of manager making decisions can expect to be correct 100% of the time.

If you do something new some mistakes are inevitable. If you accept risks, some negative outcomes are inevitable. And time pressures increase the probability of error. And given project management is all about accepting and managing risks to create a ‘new’ product service or result under time and cost pressures – we probably have more opportunity to ‘get it wrong’ than most.

The generally accepted way to deal with ‘your mistake is:

  • Acknowledge it (“my mistake”)
  • Make restitution if needed (eg apologise)
  • Learn from it
  • Move on, only people who have never made anything have never made a mistake.

Conversely if someone makes a mistake involving you look for the best outcome rather than blame of revenge. We have discussed these concepts in a couple of posts:



What is rare is a really good example of the basic steps outlined above being implemented.  This changed with a publication on page one of yesterday’s Age (also reported in the Sydney Morning Herald). What could have been a bitter and dragged out defamation case – you probably cannot be more insulting these days than incorrectly accusing a Muslim of being a terrorist – both The Age and the aggrieve person applied common sense and resolved the issue in a way that would appear to have left everyone ‘feeling good’ and with a sense of closure, not to mention thousands of their readers.

If you missed the item, you can read the story at: http://www.smh.com.au/national/fairfax-media-says-sorry-20150303-13ttpd.html

Mistakes are inevitable – strong people deal with them in an appropriate way, The Age’s example being exemplary.  This is a salient lesson we can all learn from.

Dealing with bad news

The current faux furore around the Australian Governments response to the Human Rights Commission offers a textbook study on dealing with bad news.

I am assuming none of the protagonists believe child abuse is acceptable and everyone is ultimately interested in minimising harm to vulnerable children. However, the political grandstanding may well be restricting the opportunity to achieve the generally desired harm minimisation.

Given the fact that the report from the Human Rights Commission was delivered to the Government in November last year, and they have had two to three months to carefully consider their response my other assumption is none of the reactions are ‘accidental’, rather the attacks on the commission are a deliberate (but I would suggest flawed) strategy.

So what are the lessons for project managers and business people that can be derived from the activity to date?

#1 – You need to be strong to deliver bad news effectively. The unprecedented personal attacks on the President of the Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, is unusual at this level of society, but all too common within business and other situations. Generally, only bullies and people who know they have no substantive counter arguments resort to this type of tactic and try to ‘shoot the messenger’ to avoid dealing with the substantive issues.

Bad-news1If you are the messenger, it helps to try to determine the nature of the person you are delivering the ‘bad news’ to, and prepare accordingly. If you are dealing with a bully, try to ensure you have support from others in a position of power. If you are dealing with a response based on no substantive counter-argument be prepared to ‘weather the storm’ and let the facts do the talking. Watching Gillian Triggs responses in the Senate Enquiry yesterday to thoroughly unprofessional attacks from Liberal Party Senators who had not even bothered to read the report they were attacking her about (despite having access to it for 12 weeks) was a classic example of weathering the storm and not being dragged down to the other sides level of ignorance.

Bullies don’t like being wrong, it pays to have a fallback position. The Abbott Government took exactly the same line of attack against the Climate Commission and defunded the body, fortunately that group were able to quickly reorganise as a ‘crowd funded’ body and are continuing to provide scientific information to the Australian public as the effects of global warming continue to manifest (for more on this see: Why we support the Climate Council of Australia Ltd). The Human Rights Commission may need to have similar ‘fall back’ positions.

#2 – Dealing with bad news effectively needs subtlety. The attacks on the messenger and the timing of the Human Rights Commission’s report leave the Abbott Government looking like uncaring bullies who have no interests in child welfare. Assuming all of their allegations about political bias are correct, the way they are managing the problem simply makes the leaders of the attack look like uncaring bullies. The simple fact is children are still in detention and are still being abused. Consider the alternative approach that was open to the Government which is also the ‘text book’ approach to dealing with bad news.

1. Acknowledge the report and its contents.
2. Appreciate the work in the report: Regret the report had not been available sooner.
3. Highlight the positives: Note that since the Abbot Government has been in office the number of children in detention has been reduced by more than 80% from the numbers detained by the previous Labour Government.
Note: this tactic does not deal with the two main concerns in the report which is the length of time children are detained and child abuse but it does create a positive ‘atmosphere’.
4. Deal with the negatives: Describe how the Government will work to resolve the remaining cases.

The facts around ‘children in detention’ are complex, but what would be better for the government (and the prospects of Tony Abbott)? The current situation of looking like an ignorant bully who is only interested in political point scoring (not to mention the overtones of misogyny, child abuse and the inability to accept bad news – just shoot the messengers) or looking like a strong and caring leader focused on doing the right thing despite the poor timing of the Human Rights Commission report? Unfortunately it’s too late for the latter option and the people likely to suffer most as a consequence are the children in detention.

Bad-news2The ABC’s ‘Fact Check’ outlines the rest of the data: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-23/triggs-detention/6083476

The report is available from: https://www.humanrights.gov.au/our-work/asylum-seekers-and-refugees/publications/forgotten-children-national-inquiry-children

Summary: The next time you have to deliver or receive bad news remember, the facts are simply facts, you choose how you deal with them and as a consequence how the information will be used and how you will be perceived. Importantly, when the sort of furore we are currently seeing around the Human Rights Commission report breaks out, the one certainty is the ‘report’ will get far more attention for far longer then would otherwise occur – there really is no such thing as ‘bad publicity’.

For more on delivering bad news see: Integrity is the key to delivering bad news successful.

Two new papers on the web

BeaverWe presented papers at the Engineers Australia MCPC14 conference late last year. They are now available on our website.

Understanding Design – The challenge of informed consent looks at the problem of communicating complex project information to stakeholders in a way they can understand.

Scheduling Complexity discusses the challenges of managing time in complex projects and the need for qualified schedulers.

For more of our papers and articles see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/PM-Knowledge_Index.html

Extreme Risk Taking is Genetic……

A recent 2014 scientific study, Going to Extremes – The Darwin Awards: sex differences in idiotic behaviour highlights the need for gender diversity.  The class of risk studied in this report is the idiotic risk, one that is defined as senseless risks, where the apparent payoff is negligible or non-existent, and the outcome is often extremely negative and often final. The results suggest that having an ‘all male’ or male dominated decision making group may be a source of risk in itself.

Darwin1Sex differences in risk seeking behaviour, emergency hospital admissions, and mortality are well documented and confirm that males are more at risk than females. Whilst some of these differences may be attributable to cultural and socioeconomic factors (eg, males may be more likely to engage in contact and high risk sports, and are more likely to be employed in higher risk occupations), sex differences in risk seeking behaviour have been reported from an early age, raising questions about the extent to which these behaviours can be attributed purely to social and cultural differences. This study extends on these studies to look at ‘male idiot theory’ (MIT) based on the archives of the ‘Darwin Awards’. Its hypothesis derived from Women are from Venus, men are idiots (Andrews McMeel, 2011) is that many of the differences in risk seeking behaviour may be explained by the observation that men are idiots and idiots do stupid things…… but little is known about sex differences in idiotic risk taking behaviour.

Darwin2The Darwin Awards are named in honour of Charles Darwin, and commemorate those who have improved the human gene pool by removing themselves from it in an idiotic way (note the photographs are both of unsuccessful attempts to win an award).  Whilst usually awarded posthumously, (the idiot normally has to kill themselves) the 2014 The Thing Ring award shows there are other options.  Based on this invaluable record of idiotic human behaviour, the study considered the gender of the award recipients over a 20 year period (1995-2014) and found a marked sex difference in Darwin Award winners: males are significantly more likely to receive the award than females.

Darwin3Of the 413 Darwin Award nominations in the study period, 332 were independently verified and confirmed by the Darwin Awards Committee. Of these, 14 were shared by male and female nominees (usually overly adventurous couples in compromising positions – see: La Petite Mort) leaving 318 valid cases for statistical testing. Of these 318 cases, 282 Darwin Awards were awarded to males and just 36 awards given to females. Meaning 88.7% of the idiots accepted as Darwin Award winners were male!

Gender diversity on decision making bodies may help to reduce this potential risk factor in two ways.  First, by reducing the percentage of people potentially susceptible to MIT. Second, by modifying the social and cultural environment within decision making body, reducing the body’s tendency to take ‘extreme risk decisions’.

One well documented example is the current Federal Government. Given the extremely limited representation of women in the make-up of the current Abbott government, and some of the self-destructive decisions they have made, I’m wondering if there is a correlation. A softer, less aggressive, lower risk approach to implementing many of the policies they have failed to enact may have resulted in a very different outcome for the government.

Are Sponsors over worked and under effective?

Sleepy-Sponsor1The Institute of Project Management (Ireland) has published a  survey is based on self-reported information from their courses based on nine major position descriptions/levels comparing the expected number of hours to be worked based on the terms of employment and the actual number of hours typically worked by the attendees. The averaged data from senior management positions is worrying:

  • Director of PMO; expected: 39.0 Hrs, actual: 60.0 Hrs
  • Portfolio Manager; expected: 37.0 Hrs, actual: 50.0 Hrs
  • Project Manager (Senior); expected: 37.9 Hrs, actual: 50.3 Hrs.

Combine these findings with data from PMI on the hours worked by Sponsors (download the PMI report on‘Executive Sponsor Engagement’ ) with many reporting working weeks of 50 to 60 hours on their ‘day job’ before taking on the additional responsibilities of sponsoring a project or a program; and, that effective sponsors report that typically they are working on three projects at a time, spending an average of 13 hours per week on each, the problem of over extension of key executives becomes obvious.

Combine these findings with the demonstrated correlation between effective sponsorship and achieving project success, the overextension of senior managers has serious consequences:

  • Sponsors have inadequate time to understand the project’s requirements and support the project manager leading to an increased probability of failure;
  • Tired managers make poor decisions, and tiredness affects ethical standards (see: Tired workers lose their ethics);
  • There is frequently not enough time to train the sponsor in his/her role further reducing their effectiveness; and
  • These pressures often lead to a lack of continuity in the sponsorship role, which is another identified source of project failure.

The evidence is clear, organisations that fail to effectively sponsor their projects and programs are making an overt commitment to wasting the organisation’s time, money and resources – there is an 80% greater probability of failure and no amount of effort at the ‘project management’ level can overcome executive management failures.

Sleepy-Sponsor2One simple way to stop the waste is for an organisation to defer any project where it is unable to find a committed, trained sponsor, with adequate time, energy and skills to properly fulfil their role. No sponsor – no project! (See more on the role of a sponsor)  This may sound extreme, but if the executive management team do not see the project as being sufficiently important to the organisation they manage, to reorganise the disposition of executive resources to properly support the work, then the project is probably not that important anyway. The organisation will be better off not spending the money and wasting its resources.

The governance challenge is creating a management culture that on one hand, actively encourages the deferment of projects that are inadequately supported (eg, don’t have a sponsor); and on the other actively encourages the development of the organisation’s capability to excel at the ‘the management of projects’ (see more on the strategic management of projects).

Sleepy-Sponsor3Creating this culture is a critical governance issue (see more on the governance of project management).  If an organisation cannot implement projects and programs efficiently, it cannot adapt and change to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing world which will inevitably lead to the organisation becoming obsolete. However, achieving the necessary changes won’t happen if the executive team are already overextended – the situation highlighted in both of the reports referenced in this post! Building the organisational capability to efficiently its projects and programs is itself a major change initiative that needs resourcing and sponsoring at the highest levels.