Stakeholders are the people who play the roles of sponsors, clients, managers, performers, regulators and anyone else who might impact or be impacted by projects. If project management is performed well, and the stakeholders play their roles well, the stakeholders will be satisfied.
In this article, we will address sponsor and client satisfaction. Of the stakeholders, sponsors and clients are usually deemed the most important, though, without satisfied performers, satisfying the sponsors and clients is increasingly difficult; without satisfied regulators, it is unlikely that sponsors and clients will be satisfied.
What Sponsors and Clients Want
I have observed that clients and sponsors want 1) consistently successful projects, 2) minimal uncertainty, 3) no unpleasant surprises, 4) being kept abreast of the things they think are most important and 5) being involved in project activities as little as possible.
1) Consistently Successful Projects
The desire for consistently successful projects is obvious. Everyone wants projects that are completed on time and within budget, and deliver expected value adding results, including repeat business and profit.
If your projects are consistently successful, it is likely, but not guaranteed, that sponsors and clients will be fully satisfied. Frequently, there can be success while project management as a contributing factor is not acknowledged. Success is expected. Satisfaction is neither measured nor publicized.
To ensure satisfaction it is necessary to apply a variation on the old “Tell’em” presentation approach – Tell them what you will tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them. In the PM context, it is, tell them what you are going to do for them, do it, and tell them what you did. In other words toot your own horn. But, don’t be obnoxious about it; do it subtly.
2) Minimal Uncertainty
Minimal uncertainty is relatively easy to deliver as long as the reality that there will always be some uncertainty is accepted. While there are tricks like padding estimates and schedules to give the illusion that there is no uncertainty, these lead to problems.
It is best to educate stakeholders regarding the nature of estimates, risk management and the inevitability of change. Then keep them abreast of changes as they occur, or even better, before they occur.
Of course, educating sponsors and clients is not so easy, since they are usually too busy for anything remotely resembling theory. This means that the education must be subtle and fully integrated into the normal process of reporting to and working with the stakeholders.
3) No surprises
Most people want to avoid surprises, particularly unpleasant ones. When people are abreast of what is going on in and around the projects they are interested in, there are no surprises.
Unpleasant surprises in projects are usually about unmet expectations. By keeping stakeholders informed and aware that there is no certainty in projects (or anywhere else, for that matter), expectations will be managed. That doesn’t mean they will always be met. It does mean that when they are not going to be met there is plenty of warning and alternative plans to set new, realistic expectations.
Surprises are a sign of poor communication. The communication process requires that the sender sends the right information and the receiver receives and makes good use of it. Surprises mean that information has not been provided properly and/or that the recipients have not paid attention.
4) Being Kept Abreast
That brings us to keeping stakeholders abreast of the things THEY think are most important; not necessarily the things YOU think are most important.
Effective communication about the status, progress and prognosis of projects is the key to managing uncertainty and surprises.
Project managers must make sure that the stakeholders want the information they need. This takes us back to the education issue. Senior stakeholders must value the information that lets them know what is going on, what’s being done about issues, what they need to do, and the prognosis for the rest of the project.
Some stakeholders want far less information than they need to play their roles and to avoid unpleasant surprises. Some stakeholders don’t want other stakeholders to get certain types of information. For example some middle managers don’t want to send bad news up to their superiors; some sales reps and account managers want to spare clients from the stress of knowing that trends are not as positive as they “should” be.
Given the nature of sponsors and clients and their position in the hierarchy, it is not possible to force them to listen, read and absorb the information they need. It is necessary to present information in a way that it is engaging and at the right level of detail. Dashboards and status reports must be designed to get attention, focus it on the information that makes a difference and elicit questions. Questions let you go down into a next level of detail when it is of interest and lets you avoid it when it is not.
Get stakeholders to want what they need and give it to them in a way that is most likely to get the information across in the shortest amount of time and minimal effort.
5) As Little Involvement as Possible
Sponsors and clients are busy people who have much more than a few projects on their plate. Their desire for as little involvement as possible is understandable. However, the right level of involvement is necessary.
For sponsors and clients that involvement must include the time and effort required to absorb the information that will enable them to play their roles. Those roles are centered on setting direction, defining requirements and making decisions, including the decision to accept the project outcome and close the project.
Unless stakeholders are sufficiently involved, they will not be satisfied. It is the manager’s responsibility to make sure that stakeholders understand the nature of their involvement. Sponsors and clients, like all stakeholders need to know what is expected of them and why, and they need to commit time and effort to the project. As in any contract, each party has responsibilities.
A principle measure of project management success is the satisfaction of clients and sponsors, as well as other stakeholders. This success factor should be measured and included in performance metrics.
Sponsors and clients want 1) consistently successful projects, 2) minimal uncertainty, 3) no unpleasant surprises, 4) being kept abreast of the things they think are most important and 5) being involved in project activities as little as possible.
Project managers and the managers of the project management process must make sure these stakeholders get what they want and want what they need. The project management process must include a highly effective communications capability that educates and informs.
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