Stakeholder Management – Key to Project Success

This is the text of the keynote delivered at the Project Management Conclave organized by PMI Mumbai Chapter on 10th January 2015.

I would  like to thank you very much for having me as part of  your conference and I am sure that the next two days will be rewarding for all of you.
Stakeholder Management is key to success of any project; there are primary stakeholders and secondary stakeholders.
Primary stakeholders are those who are directly involved in the project and secondary stakeholders are those who are not directly involved buy may be affected by the project.
Both Primary and Secondary stake holders may positively or negatively affected by the project, hence stakeholder management calls for good communication and people management skills and many a time political acumen.

I would today share with you some instances of stakeholder incidences and how one had to manage them.
We once had to pull a cable from under the premises of a particular shop in a large society, the cable was large and had to be routed through the duct which ran under this persons shop. We were initially nice and asked for his cooperation since we had to dig the trench in front of the shop but he would not budge. Weeks passed by but we could not succeed, the data communication cable was important for our project without which we could not have the required data connectivity.  One day we got the news that the owner was travelling for a few days and the shop would be closed, we immediately swung into action and got the cable pulled through the ducts, we did nothing wrong since this was the common duct for the society, but we had to use this method to overcome the reluctant shopkeeper whom we had agreed to compensate for his loss of business during the digging but he would not accept anything.  Though it may not seem ethical, the society had given us permission and this resistance of the shop owner was not in good standing; sometimes extreme steps have to be take to overcome illogical  resistance from negative stake holders.
Another time the Board was not convinced that we had the cutting edge technology, it was the early nineties and we had an Apple laptop with us for our evaluation. We ported the board members interview from videos into the Apple, the members of the Board were so impressed that we never had a problem for investment in our technology projects. This  is positive reinforcement of the key stake holders in a project and it is important to show them your technology prowess, something which their own organisation does not have.
In another project we had to get licences to run a data communication network from the Department of Telecommunication. Ironically it was the Customer Service department who had to issue us the network approval which would allow us to go ahead with our project. The DOT headquarters  is in New Delhi and is an imposing building, without the security speaking to the officer concerned he would not issue an entry pass, the only connection to the officer was his internal telephone ( there were no mobiles those days). It took many visits to understand the system, finally we found that DOT was rolling out its shared X.25 network and then we worked with the Project head of the X.25 network who gave us the desired support and we build an overlay network on the X.25 network. This was a major breakthrough for us after many months of visiting Delhi and Sanchar Bhavan, once we signed for the X.25 network we went to many DOT offices for the inauguration of these X.25 network nodes as their key customer. The officer concerned is still a good friend, but you need grit and energy to achieve stakeholder support for your project.
In another instance a power exchange was bleeding due to technology costs, we identified that it was due to excess billing for manpower from their software vendor. We had to ally with the CFO to get money to buy a SAAS project management solution which started recording the various use of manpower, with a few months technology costs were under control and excess billing by the vendor was curtailed saving the exchange money  which it could not afford to spend.
In another project we had to lift and shift large servers to a new data center, it was during monsoons and the project was running late. We had to watch the weather closely and also look for the optimum route for the servers so that they would not be damaged in transit. We found the right day and had to carry it out like a commando operation, there were multiple vendors involved  and the challenge  was to lift the equipment to a higher floor by use of cranes. Fortunately it did not rain, but we had communicated to all stake holders in the organization about the impact of this movement including preparing the CEO to talk to the press in case of any failure in the shifting project.  It is important not only to inform stake holders but also sometime prepare them for their roles. There were other challenges too in the project with key leadership changes, but we had to weather this by managing the new stakeholders with good communication and earn their respect and support.
This was a global project for SAP consolidation and there were people from various parts of the world and few did not speak fluent English. The processes in each country was different and thanks to Mergers and Acquisitions the residual of the earlier companies culture still remained. It was a challenge to manage  a team which would finally lose jobs and power in the consolidation. Handling projects like this need patience, a lot of personal bonding with all team members and also a neutral place in which the deliberations can take place. The stakeholder management needs strong leadership and commitment from the CEO, unfortunately though the CEO was successful he lost his job after a few months due to a backlash from the employees in the company who did not like the changes though he did put the company in the black.
Stakeholders conflict can cause challenges in a project, in a particular project we had to connect computers in India to a server in Australia, the objective was to use VSAT in India which would connect to the hub of the satellite provider and then uplink to the server in Australia through an international link.  The primary owner was the CFO who was an Australian of Indian origin, the program manager was from the Midwest in the USA and the network specialist was again from the USA but from Germany. The program manager did not like the Australians due to some earlier project experience, the telecom specialist had never done this before, fortunately the Australian CFO was willing to buy in if there was a pilot. The vendor another stakeholder was happy to support on the pilot, so we had installed a local VSAT, connected it to the satellite hub and uplinked it to Australia through an ISDN and it worked, it took lots of time to overcome the negative energy generated by the two global managers from Australia and USA, but once it worked the final project succeeded; of course there was the usual delay of getting the network approval from the DOT.
Back to data communications, it was early days and there was only one national carrier Doordarshan, though one Jain TV had started operations through a Russian satellite and broadcast was through cables strung on rooftops, it was still early days for cable television. I had used teletext in UK and was keen to bring its use for the exchange to disseminate quotes at that time there was only PTI who had a monopoly for scrip price dissemination through leased lines and only served a few cities in India.
We had various stakeholders in this project including Government and had to use  multiple satellite connections to meet our objective. The first satellite was from the exchange to National Informatics Center (NIC) in Delhi, NIC would work on the data and convert it to a desired format for teletext broadcast. The data would then be transmitted via the second satellite to the Doordarshan Kendra at Pithampura in Delhi.
At Pithampura the teletext was mixed into the regular broadcast and then broadcasted by Doordarshan to Delhi and also to other kendras by satellite broadcast.  At the receiving end there was a need for a teletext receiver and a special antenna to amplify the signals (similar to today dish antenna); teletext  box  similar to your TV set top box would decode the signal and display the teletext content. We had great cooperation from NIC, Doordashan and other participants who supported the teletext project, the first few installations were a big hit and suddenly brokers could see scrip prices in real time at remote places. But the teletext antenna and boxes were supplied only by one single government agency known as ECIL, this was not their core business area and they could not match the sales and service of the teletext boxes and the project failed.
Subsequently we were the first exchange to be paid for news feed  from Reuters which we were giving till then free to PTI, the next year PTI too paid for the news feed from the exchange.  The moral of the story is that even  if one stakeholder does not support your project you are doomed.
Sometimes stakeholders end a project abruptly, I remember we did a prototype for a commodity exchange and showed its technical feasibility, we even started discussion with vendors to launch the exchange, but suddenly the key stakeholders the promoters got cold feet and called off the project, they realized the compliance needed to run exchanges was not part of their organizational culture. It was a big blow to the project team, I believe the promoters did the right thing as we today see commodity exchanges in trouble due to poor governance.
In another project the CEO was keen to implement a world class financial accounting solution and supported the project team on the initiative, but the CFO who was the stakeholder for use of the solution made sure that it never happened. He realized early in the game that he did not have the skills to operate in an environment managed by real time accounting with non-erasable audit trails, so he became hostile from the time of initiation, the project had to abandon the project telling the CEO that it was not feasible for the organizational culture and hence a difficult task.
Sometimes solutions for certain projects come from minor stakeholders, we had a problem of rats in a datacenter. We had a office boy who helped us, he came u[ with the bright idea that if all the dustbins in the office were cleared by the end of the day, the rats would not have  much food to eat and would go elsewhere. This change in routine of clearing dustbins reduced the rat menace substantially, we also added a few special rat traps based on his suggestion.  Sometime solutions come from minor stakeholders but you must be willing to listen to them.

Projects larger are small need good stakeholder management for success, here are some key pointers that may help you manage your stakeholders.
1. Engage them early in the process –  This helps you getting them to understand and appreciate your view point and also gives you a heads-up on any challenges or resistance you may face from the stakeholders  and also you can identify stakeholders who could add positively to your project.

2. Listen. –  Listening is an art and you need to ask the stakeholder how they want to talk to you; some like email, some like face to face meeting, some like reports and some like regular phone calls, the ways of getting them to listen starts with you , being willing to listen. You may even want to appoint a few team members for stakeholder interaction and listening, it will be a good investment in the long term for the project.

3. Make sure there is two-way dialogue and not a monologues, give every stakeholder a chance to express themselves and give enough time for yourself to answer their queries and quell their fears and doubts about the outcome of your project.

4. Find out how much influence they have in your project, sometime the most harmless looking external stakeholder may have a big impact on the success of your project. You must be able to gauge the influence of stakeholders by interacting them and assessing their strengths and abilities.

5. Remember their agenda could be different from yours hence always  define and reinforce what objectives you share with the concerned stakeholder.

6. People are  always busy so you need to Communicate appropriately, relevantly and thank them for their inputs and time.

7. You must remember that stakeholders may talk to each other more than to you and the most affected have open lines of communication between them.

8. It is important for one to keep your story straight and your offer transparent; ethical attitude is important and  important for success.

9. Stakeholder relationships are not a one-off communication at the start of a project: it is important for you to keep them informed; keep them involved.

10. Finally , treat your stakeholders as you would wish to be treated yourself which means making the effort to get to know them.
These simple steps will help you to make your project a success and have the stakeholders cheering along with you at the finish line of your projects.
At closure I would like to mention a living example who demonstrates stakeholder management for the success of his India 2020 mission, you would have guessed it is Dr. Abdul Kalam. Earlier this month I had the  pleasure of hearing him and the hall was packed with youth and many were sitting on the floor in the aisles to listen to this wonderful project oriented  man and his vision for India. Dr. Kalam has invested well in his stakeholders for his vision for India, the youth of India, he has trust and a wonderful connect with the youth and no wonder his project for a better India is showing results with the support of the large number of his stakeholders who are contributing to make it a reality. Like a good program manager he has enhanced the goals of 2020 to more targets by 2030, like a good program manager who knows that keeping the stakeholders constantly updates and with enhanced goals makes the outcome much sweeter.
may you have many more successful projects with stakeholder support.
I will be Happy to take any questions you may have, thank you for listening.