I recently gave stakeholder engagement presentation at the International Project Management Association (IPMA) conference in Greece discussing some of the latest tools and techniques that cloud and social media tools can play in projects to increase stakeholder engagement and improve communication in projects.
I have written about the importance of project communication for effective stakeholder engagement and this article goes deeper into the strategies I have used in the past to improve stakeholder engagement with effective communication and project management tools.
Stakeholder Engagement Presentation Slide Deck
Stakeholder Engagement Recorded Live Presentation
Stakeholder Engagement Video Transcription
Chris: I want to give you a bit of an overview on how we can use cloud-
based project management tools to improve stakeholder
engagement. This was a part of a larger presentation. This one’s
focusing purely down on the communications side. I was involved
in a project a couple years ago and it involved probably 400
total stakeholders across multiple countries, various states.
The challenge is how you maintain those communication levels and
effectively engage with other stakeholders. I’ll touch on a bit
of the project background, why I think it’s important, some of
the guiding principles that we learnt on the way, what worked,
what didn’t work, and then share some of the tools that we used.
The project was only fairly small in budget, about $2 million
dollars. There was a commitment there to use project management
tools. Four hundred stakeholders across three countries and many
states in Australia so there are some challenges there in how
you communicate effectively.
The Importance of Effective Stakeholder Engagement and Communication
Why I think stakeholder engagement is important. In today’s society of globalized
projects we’re more and more looking to bridge countries, bridge
states. Really, companies are generally acting in more countries
than one so the communication is a lot more challenging than
what is was before.
Stakeholder Engagement & Interest Levels Reduce Over Time
If we look at the cost of influence graph taken from PMBoK, it basically shows that the cost of
change increases exponentially as a project lifecycle moves
If we look at the average interest levels of stakeholders and
engagement levels of stakeholders, it runs generally fairly
interested early on in the project and then there’s a gradual
decline in interest levels and stakeholder engagement levels. This changes
depending on the project and the size. It starts to increase
again towards the end as the project nears its handover point or
the transfer of risk where that project becomes business as
usual and into the stakeholders’ ownership. Then they start to
be a little bit more involved in a project, dig a little bit
deeper, ask for changes, and request new functionality. That’s
one of the inherent problems we have. If we look at that
overlaid with the cost/time curve, we can see that right in the
part where we don’t want change, there’s a lot more engagement
and involvement, so that brings a lot more change.
Stakeholder Engagement and Communication Challenges
Some of the challenges that I think we face daily with
stakeholders is generally quite difficult to do. It’s difficult
to engage with stakeholders and communicate with them,
particularly across multiple countries, multiple states,
different time zones. There are constant repetitive requests for
information and project updates. You’ll be walking through the
building and you get asked for an update by five different
people. You tend to set up elevator pitch in your head, “If I
get held up, I’m just going to say that and keep moving.”
There’s repetitive reporting. You get asked to present a paper
or a monthly report and that’s then shown to three different
committees, control groups every month. It’s just repetition.
Stakeholder Engagement Impacts on Projects
Then the impacts that stakeholders can have on the cost and the
schedule as we saw in the engagement graph, it can be quite
detrimental to a project. I think that there’s an increased
chance of a perceived failure. Even if the project is
delivered on time, on budget, if stakeholders didn’t feel
effectively engaged and communicated with, they still feel the
project was a failure from their point of view. You get to this
point and that’s really what’s going stay in the mind of the
stakeholders after the project ends, “Well, Chris didn’t
communicate very well. We won’t use him for that project again.”
They’re really the key points we’re trying to overcome by using
cloud-based tools to communicate and really engage with our
Solution to Stakeholder Engagement and Communication Challenges
Some of the key points of the solution is, number one, use cloud-
based project management tools to share schedule and share
information. There are hundreds and hundreds on the market. The
other side of it is using social communication tools to engage
and increase interaction and try to facilitate that two-way
communication. Ted did a presentation yesterday on particularly
aspect of social media tools and some of the successes they’ve
had in construction projects.
Stakeholder Engagement Communication Paradigm Shift
What I think is an interesting paradigm shift in the way we
communicate with social tools is really changing the shift to
more small and targeted chunks of information. Really, rather
than putting out a weekly or monthly four-page update, you can
change your communication style to be almost issues based and
action based, so a lot of hourly snippets of relevant
information and moving away from this static monthly reporting
Constant, Relevant and Concise Information
With that comes constant, frequent information. Again, active,
live updates as relevant to the project as it’s moving through
the lifecycle. Even if it’s not two-way communication, just that
constant push out of information that’s relevant, stakeholders
generally feel more involved in the project and are more engaged
in the process.
Obviously, the end game is to try and get that push/pull
communication style. That is a challenge. The take-ups are
coming. It’s getting that push/pull style we’re starting to come
through but it is a challenge. Most of the communication style
using social tools tends to be one way even though we all want
it to be two way. That’s okay.
Improve Stakeholder Engagement With Cloud Project Management Tools
If we shift now to cloud engagement and project management tools
and things, the goal is really to gain stakeholders’ support. We
want to get stakeholders onside and keep them onside and
increase relevant communication. Relevant is really the keyword
there. Obviously, then, that comes with decreased repetitive
Reduced Issues And Changes If We Get It Right
If we get it right, there should be fewer issues and fewer
changes that are stakeholder led. If we increase that
stakeholder engagement level early on and maintain that high
level, then that should bring fewer changes. That hopefully will
get informed stakeholders. We do that by sending out only
relevant and concise bits of information targeted to each
Less time writing reports and updates and we get interested and
engaged stakeholders. These are the wins that we get by using
cloud-based technology. Then there’s an increased chance of
success, particularly in the reduction of the perceived failure
from lack of communication. That’s really the goal.
Project Management Tools Available
Some of the key tools that we’ve come across, and this is just a
selection of about a few, Twitter is a great example. It
restricts you to 140 characters. It really forces you, if you’re
going to use Twitter as part of your communication channel, that
each burst of information can only be 140 characters long. You
really need to consider what the relevant and concise
information that you want to send out in that burst.
Some of the more scheduling tools. AtTask, 5pm, Huddle, Manymoon, Basecamp not so much. There are a lot of
cloud-based scheduling tools. You can create your schedule into
the cloud. It’s access for an anywhere browser. Then all the
tasks can be completed and updated live. It’s very transparent
for every stakeholder to see what’s happening, what’s being
Project blogs are another great one where you can create a
central repository for your information. Like what Lez showed
with Google Docs, a project blog is your home for all the
information. That’s where everything gets filtered back into.
There you can store all your project documents or your thread of
discussions around change, issues, all your management, all your
documents stored in the project blog. It’s sort of becoming key
to this communications style, really having that one central
place that people can go to. They know all the information will
be there. Then you send out bursts from other means via Twitter
or your schedule and other tools such as that.
Too Much Project Information Available
With all that information, there’s then the risk of mass
information. We’re getting too much information on a daily
basis. I’ll come back to Brisbane and probably have a thousand
emails in my inbox. Everyone’s probably got the same experience.
Basically we receive too much information on a daily basis.
Particularly with this style, it really needs to be focused on
target, relevant, and specific information to each stakeholder
group. That’s the key. If you’re just sending out bursts of
information, you won’t get the buy-in. It needs to be easier for
stakeholders to review information in this manner than in the
traditional static style of communication. Again, we want to
try, as much as we can, to facilitate pull- and push-based
Stakeholder Engagement Resistance Points In Introducing Cloud Based and Social Tools In Projects
Some of the resistance points that we came across when we put
this into a project is you still need to do stakeholder
planning. You still want to select your stakeholder groups and
identify what the sensitivities are and what communication
styles that they want to be involved in and the information they
want to see.
It can be one way. We thought it would be a great
two-way bit of information. It didn’t work that way. It does
take a lot of time and effort to build a two-way communication
style, but that didn’t reduce the effectiveness of the
communication. Even though it was one way, for the most part the
engagement levels increased dramatically.
For most people, it is outside their standard work flow. For
most of us, email is our go to communication tool. It does take
a bit of effort to move away from that. You really need to
constantly be pushing back saying, “Use a project blog or use
the Twitter feed for that.”
Availability to the internet, that’s getting less and less of a
problem but that’s not always the case. If you do have some
remote teams, you need to consider that internet availability
and reliability and the demographic of your stakeholders. Some
of the older stakeholders didn’t want to use the tool. It was
another tool they had to use. We had general success when they
delegated down through a PA or a champion that could then relay
the information back to them. If you do have an old demographic
that isn’t technically savvy, maybe look for a PA or someone
else that can be involved in the communications cycle.
There’s a cost and time to implement. Most of those tools come
at a monthly fee. Some are free. There’s going to be resourcing
and things required, so just have a consideration on that.
Guiding Principles Of Effective Cloud Based Project Communication
Some of the guiding principles to make it successful, this is
sort of a reflection on some of the lessons that we learnt along
- Each burst of information needs to be fairly significant to each stakeholder group. If it’s a sponsor that could be particularly sensitive to certain risks, every bit of information that’s sent out needs to be relevant, clear, and concise to that stakeholder group.
- Responsiveness is another key point. If you can make the action orientated, hourly updates, hourly snippets, tasks complete, and we got sign off for this document today, that goes out to the wired stakeholder group. That’s the whole point, to keep it responsive.
- Understand the communication expectations of the stakeholders. That’s through your effective stakeholder planning. Create stakeholder groups and send out the information to those groups that’s relevant. Where possible, try to select two-way communication, as I said. Won’t always happen but it doesn’t reduce the effectiveness of the tools.
- Transparency is another great point. If you can create a transparent information environment, you’re really airing all your dirty laundry. If an issue occurs or a risk has occurred, you put that out there and you really do make your communications transparent and open.
- Then, particularly if you’re crossing borders, the cultural differences that you need to consider in your communication. It could be certain words you don’t use or certain phrases. Just have an understanding that when you’re going out through the internet, you can reach a mass audience, so have an understanding of those cultural differences.
- You always want to maintain a context, whether it be strategic or tactical, in your stakeholder groups. Try to send out two versions of the information, one aimed at the strategic sponsors and others that the tactical project team stakeholder groups.
I think communication is probably the core of stakeholder
engagement across the board. If we can increase communication that is,
transparent, responsive, that should follow with increased stakeholder engagement and more informed and active stakeholders.
That’s pretty much it. I’d love to hear and connect with me on
all those different channels, share some of your experiences in
using social tools and cloud project management tools for stakeholder engagement in your projects, and let me know
what worked and what didn’t work. I’d love to hear your feedback
from any of those channels.