Many projects fail because they don’t engage the right stakeholders early enough in the process. These stakeholders can be managers or executives who have certain business goals or it can be someone who is trying to manage information to support others in the organization. Depending on the tasks of the project, we would engage different stakeholders for different reasons.

When we want to learn about project goals, we engage managers and directors, or those accountable for the success of the project. There are two phases to this work: one-on-one interviews and workshops.

One-on-one interviews can be used to build rapport, to get to know the person’s role, and to find out what they need the project to do. It is also a chance for them to talk more freely. Some people don’t do well speaking up in groups, so these interviews give them a chance to represent their needs and goals. These interviews can start off with basic questions such as:

  • What is your role in the company?
  • What is your understanding of this project?
  • What are your needs and goals for this project?
  • In your opinion, what could hinder the success of this project?
  • How would we overcome those challenges?

Asking these questions up front is a way for stakeholders to get their thoughts and concerns off their chests. We’ve been on projects where people aren’t given this opportunity, have a hard time speaking up in group meetings, and don’t approve of the resulting solution. Once, we experienced a very awkward meetings with people yelling at each other about a proposed field label. We may think these things are not contentious (after all, it’s just a field label), but if stakeholders feel left out, those feelings intrude onto seemingly straightforward solutions.

Subsequent stakeholder engagement can include more interviews or one-on-one meetings as needed to clarify certain points.

From these interviews we collate the findings and move to stakeholder workshops. These workshops can take many forms, including:

  • Discussing differing, and sometimes competing, needs for the project
  • Discussing disagreements
  • Collaborating on findings from stakeholder and user interviews to come up with solutions
  • Listing the blockers that keep us from achieving the project goals and how we can overcome the blockers
  • Creating a plan and assignments for any action items

Ultimately the purpose of stakeholder engagement is to:

  • Make sure everyone is heard
  • Ensure all ideas and risks are brought forward early and often
  • Create a consolidated list of business needs
  • Have a plan to address or mitigate risks

When we do stakeholder engagement, we consult these potential groups (depending on who the project affects):

  • Marketing and Communications
  • IT, Enterprise Architects, Database Administrators
  • User Experience
  • Business Intelligence and Analytics
  • C-Level and Executives with skin in the game
  • Managers of affected teams

These groups are defined at the beginning of the project. It is best to include everyone from the beginning, but sometimes stakeholders need to be onboarded during the engagement process. If this is the case, we meet with them separately to bring them up to speed and interview them.