Best Practices for Stakeholder Engagement Before, During, and After Projects

Stakeholders are an important part of any project, and as a project manager, you’ll need to ensure you are engaging with them in a practical way that serves the ultimate goal of the project (and its deliverables).

It’s time to discuss a few best practices that will help you be a better project manager and help your stakeholders stay engaged in the ongoing project (in a healthy, purposeful way).

As a Project Manager, Have a Plan, and Write it Down!

One of the earliest steps you can take on a project is to develop a stakeholder engagement plan. It should lay out:

  • Who your stakeholders are (make a list and define each stakeholder)
  • Why you need to engage them
  • How to engage with them
  • What outcomes you seek

Having a plan in place (written down!) makes it possible to build the capacity to follow through with stakeholder engagement.

Be Clear About What Project Success Means

It’s important to very clearly define what a successful project outcome will look like for the stakeholders. If you can’t be on the same page at the outset of what success looks like, you may be in for a very difficult project. Take time at the outset to lay out reasonable expectations and get stakeholder sign-off. You can always return to this at any point in the project as well and use it as a reminder as to what was agreed to and a jumping-off point if further reassessment is needed when a project pivots or shifts.

Be as clear as you can about metrics and KPIs. What does success look like? How will you know if you are moving towards it? Etc.

Communicate Effectively to Project Stakeholders

Stakeholders come in a variety of forms which means you’ll have to tailor your communication to each defined stakeholder group. When you communicate with each stakeholder group, make sure your information addresses their specific area of concern and is not a generalized update. Also, be sure to deliver the information in a format that is most accessible to the stakeholder. For example, while one group of stakeholders (such as the main client) may prefer weekly updates via a video conference, another (such as finance teams) would likely prefer emails or direct messages containing any pertinent documentation.

It’s also important to communicate clearly with your stakeholders. To that end, communications should follow these basic tenents:

  • Be transparent
  • Be objective
  • Share your direct contact details
  • Lay out both certainties and uncertainties
  • Invite feedback and participation
  • Disclose early and often
  • Build an assumption of constant communication
  • Invite shareholders to request more information

Communication works both ways. Be ready to listen, respond, interact with, and exchange information with your stakeholders often. 

Be Responsive and Follow Up Quickly With Everybody

Stakeholders want to know they are being acknowledged. They want to see that their opinions matter and they want to solicit feedback and/or help move the project forward. However, if they feel like they are being ignored or sidelined, they can actually begin to work against the project and can direct your attention off other essential tasks. That’s why it’s important to respond quickly to issues or grievances and to take them seriously. Sometimes all it takes is a quick conversation to resolve any misunderstandings. Take the time to be there when your stakeholder has questions and be ready to address them.

Stay Flexible as Projects Evolve

No project ever goes exactly as planned. Project managers need to know when to hold the line and when to pivot or adapt to new realities on the ground. Be ready to change direction and collaborate with stakeholders. If everyone is moving in the same direction and is on the same page, changes to projects are easier to manage.

Constantly Update Everyone. All the Time.

Reporting is very, very important during a project. Having regular, clear, concise updates on everything from financials to work progress to available resources will help underscore where the project is and how close it is to stay on time and on budget. Reporting also allows you as a project manager (as well as engaged stakeholders) to catch any issues early and adjust processes accordingly.

Conclusion

It’s easy to get overwhelmed during a project or to dig in and ignore the outside world until you’ve hit milestones or goals. Instead of hunkering down, embrace your stakeholders. By being communicative and open to feedback, project managers can have a very healthy relationship with stakeholders and can leverage stakeholder expertise in times of need.

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