How to Calibrate Stakeholder Perceptions

January 7th, 2012

In a previous blog post, I challenged Project Managers to step back and look at their projects from the outside-in perspective.  The post explored the power of perceptions and how stakeholders view projects from different vantage points and elevations.  Today’s post will build on that information previously shared and  provide a deeper dive into calibrating stakeholder perceptions.

A common technique that I use with my clients and project stakeholders to calibrate perceptions is something that I call “What, Why, and How”.

What answers the question, in a sentence or two, what are we doing?  What is the current challenge or opportunity that we are facing?

Why is to remind people why we have chosen to undertake the project and to reiterate the intended benefits and expected outcomes.

How is demonstrating our roadmap to success by articulating a series of high-level goals (milestones) from start to finish

When to use the What, Why, and How technique…  I think that projects have ‘tells’ just like poker players have ‘tells’.  While projects may not have nervous throat clearings or funny eye/lip movements, they do have the following:

Pace changes.  It’s no surprise that project paces vary throughout the lifecycle, sometimes the pace is lighting fast, and other times may feel like things are moving at a snails pace.  Take the opportunity to remind project staff why you have set out on this particular journey and what has been accomplished to date.  Times when your project pace may be slower represents the perfect opportunity for deep-dives or lessons learned sessions.

Team composition changes.  At some point or another, project teams gain and/or lose team members.  Resource changes  can have both positive and negative implications on a project.  To gain expertise or resources is good, whereas losing critical skills is not so good.  New players can have a profound impact on your project, so ask them to share their fresh perspectives at the onset.  Not all attrition is bad…  Healthy attrition makes room for new staff by shedding staff who may be clinging to the old way of doing things, spewing negatively, or may simply not have the time to allocate to the effort which in turn, slows down progress.

Stakeholder/sponsor needs change. It not uncommon for stakeholder/sponsor needs to evolve over time.  Internal or external factors may fuel these changes, such as regulatory/compliance changes or an increase/decrease in project funding.

Success and reaching milestones.  Projects that span over long periods of time tend deliver changes to organizations, processes, and environments.  When major milestones are reached, new normals are introduced and experiences will change.  To navigate these changes, project managers should stay agile and motivate others to maintain a healthy level of agility.

Whatever the case may be, keep an eye out for these types of scenarios and be sure to seize the opportunity to reiterate What, Why, and How.  By doing so, you can help your project sustain a positive momentum and ensure that you are communicating effectively.

About the author:  Joe Giampa is a seasoned management consultant, Project Management Professional (PMP), and a Prosci certified Change Management practitioner.  Joe shares his experiences gained over the last twelve years while bringing to life the visions of senior leaders by implementing leading-edge solutions, systems, and processes for multi-billion dollar companies.  Joe is the Chief Project Manager at VeriScope, Inc. – a leading provider of Project Management consulting, staffing, and training to commercial and government clients looking to  mature internal project management capabilities and maximize successful project outcomes.

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