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Want project success? Engage stakeholders

Situation: You know how important stakeholder engagement is in ensuring project success so you have made a genuine effort and have spent a lot of time trying to get stakeholders involved only to find that they are disinterested, or even worse, against the project altogether. You ask: 'What am I doing wrong?'

The key to engaging stakeholders in any project is to have a good understanding of their priorities, Kaylene O'Brien, a technology partner at Deloitte Consulting, said. As much as you may want your project to be at the top of their minds, show that you understand they have other business demands and priorities.

"Quite often there is push back from the business units and the stakeholders because often that expectation comes from very little notice and the stakeholders continue to have their business-as-usual demands.

"It fundamentally demonstrates that quite often IT project managers don't understand the priority of the project that they are running in comparison to some of the other demands and the business-as-usual activities that the business stakeholders have."

While having a good understanding of each of the stakeholders' business demands and priorities is important, you still need to be clear early on about what is required of them in the project and the implications of not having their participation, O'Brien said.

Grouping your stakeholders into broad categories is a sign that you may not properly understand their different needs and priorities, O'Brien said, making it difficult to know how to engage each stakeholder into the project.

"Most projects group their stakeholders into too few and too broader categories," she said. "Segment your stakeholders and have a targeted strategy for each of the stakeholder groups. There will be more groups than you really think there is and they will all have different priorities."

O'Brien also pointed out the importance of building and maintaining trust and respect in relationships with business unit peers to ensure that your stakeholders positively engage and that they approve of the project in its final stages.

"Build a trust relationship where you have the credibility and reputation that you can deliver and honest, transparent communication throughout the project will put you in good stead for the pre go live period which can potentially go very chaotic.

"If you've gone through your project putting an overly good spin on your project the whole way through, then that's the point where you risk not having the trust of your stakeholders.

"But if you've built the trust of your stakeholders and you've been very clear about what the benefits are, you've been very clear about the risks, their role in mitigating those risks and extracting the benefits, then you'll much more likely progress through the pre go live jitters much more smoothly than if you hadn't built that trust relationship throughout the project."

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Follow Rebecca Merrett on Twitter: @Rebecca_Merrett

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