And then you’re reminded of that old adage – the only constant is change. Stakeholder change! One of the stakeholders departs. It could be a move to another organization, or an internal reassignment, but suddenly there’s a big hole to be filled. And it does have to be filled! Whether the departed stakeholder was a sponsor, change agent, target or champion, someone new will have to be brought in to fill the role.
I have seen projects try to get along without replacing a departed stakeholder. Big mistake! If there was a valid reason for that individual to be involved in the first place, then there’s an equally valid reason to ensure a replacement is found and engaged.
When I run Project Pre-Check courses, one of the first things I do is ask the participants to identify one or two bad projects and one or two good projects they’ve had experience with and the factors that made them failures or successes. In one of those courses, a participant talked about a project he was on that had three different sponsors over a ten year period. The first sponsor initiated the project, a multi million dollar affair, and provided reasonably good direction and guidance until her departure thirty months in. Her replacement, who should have filled the sponsor role, didn’t care about the project and wasn’t interested or involved. The other stakeholders soon recognized that the project wasn’t going anywhere and lost interest as well. But for some reason the funding was still in place so the project director kept the project going. And going! And going!
After ten years, YES, TEN YEARS!!!, a new executive arrived on the scene, discovered the wayward project, still plugging along with the same project director and a team of fifteen, and pulled the plug. What a waste! Stakeholder change managed poorly can lead to disatser. What should have happened?
An effective stakeholder group is more than the sum of its parts. Members share not only the specific knowledge they’ve acquired over the course of the project, they also share relationships they’ve built over time and the insights they’ve acquired from the project decisions that have been made. The challenge is to bring a replacement quickly up to speed as a fully functioning member of the stakeholder group. The following four steps will help realize that goal:
1. Identify the New Stakeholder
Identifying the new stakeholder may be easier said then done. If the departed stakeholder was a sponsor or target and the vacated position has been filled, the new manager is the obvious candidate. However, if the position has not been filled, finding someone to cover the sponsor or target role is critical. The obvious candidates can be found within the organization of the departed stakeholder, preferably the departed’s immediate superior.
If the departed stakeholder was a change agent or champion, then recruiting activity will be needed to find a permanent replacement. This is where things can get dicey, especially with regard to the change agent role! Is there someone who can fill in effectively on a temporary basis until a replacement is found? If not, there are two options; stumble along until the replacement is on board or, suspend the project.
2. Engage the Stakeholder
Having identified the replacement, it is crucial to the success of the project that the individual agrees to fulfill the required role (sponsor, target, change agent or champion) and commits to the ongoing oversight of the initiative as an active member of the stakeholder group.
Recognize that the new stakeholder will have lots on their plate, especially a new sponsor or target. Not only do they have to assume the responsibilities involved in guiding the project, they may have a large organization to manage and untold other duties to understand and carry out. Getting the new member to commit formally to the new role is essential.
3. Integrate the Stakeholder
There is nothing more frustrating for a high performance team than to be sidetracked debating things already resolved or to drag along a new member who doesn’t have the depth or breadth of understanding to participate effectively.
So, once the new stakeholder has been identified and engaged, it’s time to bring them up to speed on all aspects of the project so that their deliberations and contributions going forward are in synch with the other members of the stakeholder group.
This is where something like Project Pre-Check’s Decision Framework can provide huge value when it comes to accelerating and enhancing a new stakeholder’s contribution to the project. It provides a vehicle for recording stakeholder decisions on what the project is trying to achieve and why, what’s in and what’s out in terms of scope, where everyone is in agreement with a decision and where there are still differences of opinion. The decision record will also point to the documentation and other sources that reflect the results of the stakeholder deliberations. That’s a rich project history and a vital source of information for the new stakeholder.
Equally important, however, is the involvement of the other stakeholders in the new member’s enlightenment. Don’t just dump a load of documentation in the new stakeholder’s lap. Get the other stakeholders involved, in one on one or small group sessions, to contribute their personal views on the project and the decision records. That will help build the relationships and reinforce the culture of the stakeholder group to enhance future group performance.
4. Operate As a Full Member of the Stakeholder Group
Once the new stakeholder has been identified, engaged and integrated into the operations of the stakeholder group, all that’s left is to make the group work to guide the project to a successful conclusion. However, the existing stakeholders still need to keep an eye on how the new member is performing and take corrective action if issues arise. Remember, the new stakeholder is just getting up to speed and will be subject to a variety of distractions, especially if they’re new to the organization. Continued vigilance is essential!
Drew Davison is the owner and principal consultant at Davison Consulting and a former system development executive. He is the developer of Project Pre-Check, an innovative framework for launching projects and guiding successful project delivery, the author of Project Pre-Check – The Stakeholder Practice for Successful Business and Technology Change and Project Pre-Check FastPath – The Project Manager’s Guide to Stakeholder Management. He works with organizations that are undergoing major business and technology change to implement the empowered stakeholder groups critical to project success.