Stakeholder Communication

Four key steps for project managers

February 23, 2014

stakeholder communicationStakeholder communication matters. What makes a project manager a good communicator?  It is not as simple as sharing everything with everyone in a project. In our efforts to keep stakeholders informed, project managers typically communicate too much to too many people.  This usually creates problems and more questions, because the right information required by the appropriate stakeholder is lost in the “static.” This can suck the life out of projects. Poor communication and meetings typically share some common complaints:  too much, no value, waste of my time.

As a young project manager I was told that, usually, your sponsor needs to be told a message only once.  Your key team members have to be told the same thing twice. Your “more distant” stakeholders may need to hear the same message three or four times.  As much as I am wary of such things, this is an easy “rule of thumb”.  As with all rules of thumb, it may not always be true, but the point is that we should not assume that what we say is heard.

So what are the important steps to creating a stakeholder communication strategy?

Identify your key stakeholders and their roles. A simple grouping might be something like:   Sponsor/steering committee, Owner/functional heads (not on the steering committee), Customer, Other key stakeholders, Project Team.

Identify stakeholder issues of concern. These typically vary across the identified roles, technical responsibilities, and decision-making.

Determine stakeholder information needs.  How often does your stakeholder want updates?Craft your messages so you are speaking their language. This may involve understanding what key terms are used by different stakeholders.  For example, when dealing with financial people, know their key financial terms. A glossary of terms is a simple way to cross-reference the technical aspects of a project across all stakeholders.

Finally, select a communication approach. Organizational norms sometimes apply, but the appropriate communication approach should be based on stakeholder information needs.  Be sensitive to political, interpersonal and/or technical problems that could arise from communicating about the wrong issues of concern with the wrong stakeholders.

by Steven Lesser

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