How to communicate effectively with stakeholders in project management

Project manager standing addressing project stakeholders sat a boardroom table

The importance of effective communication with a project’s stakeholders is something that shouldn’t be overlooked.

PRINCE2® describes detailed techniques only when related to one of its recommended approaches or one that is unique to its method. As a result, it does not address communication in any detail, while recognizing that “parties external to the project management team can exert a powerful influence on the project.”

This is why understanding how to manage communication with key stakeholders – both internal and external to the project – is essential to achieving a successful outcome.

In fact, as an integral part of the stakeholder engagement process, communication strategies need to be suitably robust. So what is the best approach?

  1. Identify stakeholders
    Use a variety of techniques to identify the full range of stakeholders. Consider methods such as independent analysis followed by collective brainstorming sessions to consolidate this list. Taking time to review who will own the benefits and be affected by any dis-benefits of the project will also help to hone the scope of stakeholders.

    Further segmentation of this list into core groups – user/beneficiary, supplier/partners, influencers and governance – will then allow you to simplify communications.

    You may find that some stakeholders appear in more than one category. This is normal but means that consistency of message across all platforms is essential.

  2. Create and analyze stakeholder profiles
    Prioritizing stakeholders in terms of their relative influence, interest and attitude towards the programme will guide your time investment.

    So, for example, a stakeholder identified as high power/high interest/favourable (a “champion”) should have significant face-to-face communication. Whereas, someone who has the same level of power and interest but is opposed to the project (a “blocker”) may be better influenced by a stakeholder who is a “champion”. And someone who is low power/low interest may not warrant the same attention and can be updated via email or the intranet.

  3. Define the objective(s)
    Setting out the purpose of the communication campaign will dictate the methods and means of delivery.

    The aim could be to keep everyone informed of developments, in which case a regular, emailed bulletin would be appropriate.

    Alternatively, you may want to move an identified stakeholder from low to high interest in order to gain commitment for your project. Effective engagement through the right channels, such as one-to-one briefings, can help to facilitate this change.

  4. Plan and deliver activity
    Timing is critical. Communication often fails because it is actioned too late. People need time to adjust to change and accept it as a necessity, otherwise when it happens they are still in resistance mode.  So communicate early and often using the right channels for the right message to achieve your communication objectives.

    Equally important is the choice of spokesperson. It makes sense for the big picture to be outlined by the sponsor but communicating how these changes will affect an individual will be much more readily accepted if delivered by their local manager or team leader.

  5. Measure results
    Communication works best when it is two-way. So ensure there are mechanisms in place to capture, measure and respond to feedback. Evaluation techniques such as surveys, online discussion groups or face-to-face review sessions are all useful ways to assess how the project is perceived. 

    Taking time to listen and being seen to act on the findings will not only avoid the “black hole” syndrome but also allow you to bring everyone with you on the journey.

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