There is a vast amount of helpful guidance on this website and elsewhere to help make your project more successful. There seems to be a lot less on how to improve your chances of personally both looking and being successful.
A lot of stakeholder discussion focuses on the way some stakeholders can help you to move forward while others stand in the way. It is abundantly clear that a great deal of project success is judged by your important stakeholders. It is, therefore, a no-brainer that you must try to satisfy as many stakeholders as possible.
Now you might believe that your personal success is equal to your project’s success. I do not think this is true at all. I think there is a huge gap separating project success from the project manager’s success.
Consider an imaginary company that employs two project managers.
Pippa (Projects in Perfectly Planned Action)
is the quiet planner type. She spends a lot of time on the train, at rest early in the morning and before she goes to sleep, looking deep into the future of her projects and running through mental checklists. This result of this forward planning is, like a great gymnast or dancer, she makes it all look easy.
The vast majority of her projects are delivered on time and to budget. She always seems relaxed, prepared and in control. There are few, if any, panics. Even when a project drifts away from its targets, everyone gets plenty of notice of the delays.
She is a ‘people person’ and everyone is pleased to see her. When she asks for input to a project she is clear about what needs to be done and there is almost always time for it to be done properly. She will gently check on progress from time to time. Her project meetings spend a short time establishing the current status before talking about what is due to happen in the near future.
The work usually progresses as smoothly as a baby’s bottom.
Phil (Projects Heading Into Lateness)
is absolutely brilliant at solving problems, something to which he devotes a lot of his time. He is often seen running around looking harassed, calling in favours, pulling strings and asking people into doing urgent jobs ‘right now’. He is very used to reporting overruns and overspends, mostly after they have taken place and when it is too late to do anything much about it.
He thinks planning is not very useful as his ‘plans fall out of date so quickly’. Some of the people he calls on most frequently have little signs on their desk saying ‘A lack of planning on your behalf does not justify a panic on mine’ or perhaps, ‘There is a chasm between Urgent and Important’. Some people simply hide when they see him heading their way. Phil’s urgent demands for input from specialists in the company sometimes whisk people away from other jobs often causing delays to poor Pippa’s projects.
Phil’s project meetings are consumed discussing ‘how we got into this mess’. Vanishingly little time is spent looking forward.
His projects go as smoothly as an old alligator’s bottom.
Gender differences aside, which of our two project managers is more likely to get promoted?
Sadly, and very unfairly, Pippa is ignored by most people.
She is almost invisible. If asked for their opinion of her most people would say, “Who?” and then “Oh, her. She tends to get the easy projects.”
On the other hand, Phil is held in high regard as a trouble-shooter
. Most people think he does well to bring his difficult projects in anywhere near to time and budget. This is despite being the root cause of most of the troubles himself.
So project success should always be, and often is, measured objectively by the stakeholders in terms of Dr Martin Barnes’ Iron Triangle (Cost, Time and Quality or one of its variants). But the success of the project manager is a great deal more subjective.
It is quite reasonable that this should be the case as the judgements are often made by people with a limited understanding of our work in projects and programmes. Plus the idea that a specific project was ‘easy’ or ‘hard’ is inevitably subjective.
Therefore, if your career is important to you, you might consider defining and engaging with one specific and vitally important group of stakeholders - your Personal Key Stakeholders.
How to identify your personal stakeholders
These are people who probably fit within the normal stakeholder definition - those who may affect or be affected by the project or its outputs - but they have an additional role of judging your personal success as a project manager. They may be just watching from the sidelines and not be project stakeholders at all.
However, this group of stakeholders are close to the hook from which your career hangs.
They will tend to have a positive attitude towards the projects and be powerful, perhaps very powerful. They may include your programme manager, sponsor, programme director, divisional or even main board directors. There might be an influential client or three.
Like the best of helicopter project managers, you must be prepared to work with programmers, testers, welders and decorators as well as people in large offices with thick carpets. When you have waded through those thick carpets you will find that the most common complaint is: ‘I just don’t know what’s going on.’
Ask them what information they would like to receive, how often and in what form. Apply special emphasis on your communication planning with this group. Set up a webpage and send them a link to the latest update if that will keep them happy. Print an A4 status report for the less technical people. Whatever they ask for, make sure it is issued as regularly as clockwork. Don’t let a week go by.
All this while making your projects successful.
Like that perfume, it's because you’re worth it.
Finally here are a few questions that might help manage your stakeholders.
1: Questions to identify your personal stakeholders
- Who influences my future career?
- Who decides on any potential promotions or opportunities?
- Who will be asked for an opinion about me?
- Who would write my reference?
- Who will be involved in my personal reviews?
- With whom am I competing?
2: Questions to evaluate your stakeholders
- How do my KPS define success and failure, strengths and weaknesses?
- What do they want to see and not want to see?
- What will please and displease them?
- How can I add positive value to their views?
- How can I get noticed in a positive way?
There are a very useful range of tools available on this website to help you especially under the ‘stakeholder Analysis’ menu option.
About Geoff Reiss
Geoff Reiss is an Honorary Fellow with the APM and ex-President of the Programme Management Special Interest Group. His has written and co-written four books including the very popular Project Management Demystified.