Importance Of Stakeholder Engagement & Upfront Project Design -

I have led and consulted on major projects (noted below). All of them varying in project objectives, scope, budget, timelines, stakeholder categories, delivery, and technical aspects.

1.$90M Enterprise-Technology Project (a public organization customer recruitment, retention, onboarding and success system).

2.$1.1Bn Enterprise-Technology Project (a major bank IT system)

3.$14Bn Freeway Infrastructure (a State government).

4.$400M Campus Infrastructure Build (a major University).

5.$52M Change Management Project (a large department of 300+ staff, serving over 50,000 customers and stakeholders per year).

In hindsight, I would deem first 4 of projects listed above as ‘needing significant improvement’. Reason is, setting the usual business objectives and technical aspects aside, the fifth project (Change Management) success directly linked to a comparatively better execution of the following factors:

  • Clarity on ‘why’ we are doing this.
  • Clarity of problem definition.
  • Clarity of future state.
  • Practical grasp of the ‘soft-skills’ challenges which lie ahead.
  • Executive understanding of the project, sponsorship and support.
  • A team of project leads which was suited to the task, understood the cultural environment, and were able to ‘manage-up’ effectively.
  • A very comprehensive stakeholder mapping and engagement strategy.

These factors combined, helped me develop a collaborative operating model; which in turn secured stronger buy-in, stakeholder adaption, and cultural change (the mindset & behaviors to last beyond the project). Additionally, the fact that the project was named as ‘Change Management’ had gotten us leaders in the mindset of considering people and end-users as part of a successful outcome. For other four projects, referring to them as ‘technology project or infrastructure project’ automatically diminished the value of public input. The executive stakeholders and city leadership started driving their grand vision by inadvertently removing how people may use the technology or the infrastructure.

We created an agile project governance framework; agile because it recognized that the stakeholders moved along each project phase, hence had interdependencies across various loops of the project cycle. Practically, it got the project team and the executive sponsors to think about each stakeholder, their interests, their personas and user-profile, their likely objections and acceptance to change, their buy-in and productive suggestions. It helped create a matrix of high-to-low risk stakeholders and approaches we should consider to engage them in order to bring them on board. It was a painful exercise, but we kept reminding ourselves that if we do this now, do it correct, before creating an operating model, we will be better in the long term. We were proven correct. We engaged during the upfront design stage of the project, and ended up with an agreed operating model, stronger buy-in and execution.

In contract, the other four projects, stakeholder engagement was conducted as part of the process, not proactive but reactive. The stakeholders felt ‘they are just doing this to follow process, they actually won’t listen to us’. Each of these four projects, commenced building having rushed through the design stages and strong stakeholder engagement, only to later face many hurdles and roadblocks. These hurdles multiplied as more objections were raised, requiring the project team to go back to the drawing board a number of times, halting or changing direction for two of them, wasting time, money and effort. Eventually, all projects were delivered successfully, but on the fifth one (Change Management) was noted for its exceptional stakeholder engagement, design and execution.

  • Author : Amar Flora
  • Project Date : February 1, 2021