At a presentation at Project Challenge last year I posed the question "Have you ever considered yourself a stakeholder in a project?" Almost every hand in the audience went up. I followed that with another question "When you were a stakeholder did you feel successfully engaged?" Not one hand was raised! I'd expected a few less, but was astonished at the universal negative response.
Maybe I wrong to be astonished, but then I've had my share of poor experiences with projects; being asked what I wanted and needed and then feeling ignored - but surely that is not the norm. How would you have responded to my questions? It would be great to hear some stories where you were successfully engaged, how it happened and what was done.
Perhaps there is a better question to ask though. Perhaps "Does it matter if there is successful stakeholder engagement?" is a better question. Maybe just being asked and involved is good enough. What's the problem if stakeholders aren't successfully engaged? Surely for many projects, especially technical projects, it is rarely going to matter. How would you brief a project manager who was leading a technical project - perhaps for the first time - as to how much time and effort it is worth spending on stakeholder engagement?
Let's look at definitions of the word engagement: participation, taking part, sharing, involvement, emotional involvement, commitment. So the people at the conference were saying they didn't feel emotionally involved, committed, like they were taking part. Think of the impact this would have on the project! I'm delivering a change, I want people to use that change. Will they use it if they don't feel committed and emotionally involved? What will happen then to my benefits? Ah! Have I hit the nail on the head here?
Benefits realisation must surely come as a result of those stakeholders taking ownership and moving forward into the new way of doing things and not staying stuck in the past. So is there a direct correlation between time and effort on stakeholder engagement and amount of benefit realised? Should I do minimal stakeholder engagement when the benefits are small and more stakeholder engagement when the benefits are greater? What do you think?
If you need some ideas or would like help in stakeholder support, just drop me a line on FMagee@citi.co.uk
Managing Consultant, CITI Limited