Are you meeting, exceeding, or falling short of your stakeholders’ expectations?
Because how you manage relationships between colleagues and collaborators matters.
And your approach to stakeholder management does too.
It’s no surprise that manager engagement drops as your team size and workload increase. If you’re juggling multiple projects, the struggle gets amplified.
Meanwhile, the rise of remote work and cross-team collaboration forces teams to move and make decisions ASAP. When expectations fall by the wayside, your projects, performance, and company culture all suffer.
The good news?
By taking a proactive approach to stakeholder management, you can keep collaborators in the loop and produce better outcomes. This guide breaks down everything you need to know.
What is stakeholder management?
Stakeholder management represents the process of managing, monitoring, and communicating expectations between the people involved in any given project.
The process is about so much more than just delegating tasks. Stakeholder management represents a balancing act between getting things done in a timely manner and maintaining positive relationships among collaborators.
Which types of stakeholders’ expectations need to be managed?
Fair question! When we’re talking about project stakeholders, in terms of relationship management and expectations, we’re referring to:
Teammates and employees: The internal collaborators you talk to on the regular via assignments, progress reports, and meetings.
The C-level and team managers: The people you’re ultimately reporting to. Much of stakeholder management involves facilitating relationships between employees and higher-ups who may never interact directly.
Clients and customers: These relationships are obviously high-stakes. Managing client expectations should be thoroughly documented with these stakeholders before a project is underway.
How you communicate or relay these expectations to all of the above is anything but a one-size-fits-all solution. But managing expectations should be a top priority for the sake of everyone and all projects.
What are the benefits of effective stakeholder management?
Again, how you manage stakeholders matters. Consider the big-picture benefits like:
Empowering efficiency. Clear expectations go hand in hand with Improved work performance. When teammates have a clear vision of what's needed, they focus on what matters.
Producing better project outcomes. Similarly, stakeholder management reduces friction. Limiting needless revisions and pointless back-and-forth communication means you waste less time that could be spent on important work.
Improving relationships. If nothing else, being proactive about managing stakeholders encourages a more positive company culture. Rather than leave your teammates scrambling or wondering about their performance, empower and reassure the team before they have a chance to doubt their work.
The basics of keeping your stakeholders happy
Stakeholder management has a lot of moving pieces. But at its core, the concept of conveying expectations is actually pretty straightforward.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of your stakeholder management plan, consider the basics.
Always deliver (hint: do what you say you’re going to do)
Simple enough, right? This includes:
Deadline management, sticking to your schedule, and meeting milestones
Creating project deliverables that meet the agreed specifications
Ensure stakeholders don’t go beyond their scope of work or expect others to do so (think: eliminate“surprise” meetings and reduce adhoc requests)
Of course, these rules apply to all stakeholders involved in a project and not just yourself. For teammates, this means hitting deadlines with deliverables and completing tasks to keep your project on schedule.
And for higher-ups and managers, this means approving a realistic project timeline and budget that achieves all of the above.
If you can facilitate both, you’re on the right track. This again highlights the importance of spelling out crystal clear expectations before a project even gets underway.
Listen closely to your stakeholders (and provide feedback yourself)
As a project manager, communication is central to your role. Check-ins. Status reports. Updates. The list goes on.
Communication isn't a one-way street, though. Not only do you need to touch base with collaborators but you should also be approachable yourself.
Teammates should be able to come to you with questions and concerns. If someone expresses doubts about a deadline or what’s possible within your budget, you need to listen.
Ignoring requests or failing to address concerns is a lose-lose situation for your team.
Be a positive (and proactive) motivator for your teammates
This might sound cliche but don’t overlook your tone and attitude. Being a leader that actually motivates people is an underrated piece of effective stakeholder management.
Whereas workers might shut down or lose motivation with a micromanager, empathy, and patience can help you get more buy-in from your teammates. Positive personal interactions, empathy, and great team communication can go a long, long way.
The most common challenges of stakeholder management
Even for seasoned PMs, moving projects along while managing relationships is tough. Let’s look at some of the most common ways that these relationships go south.
Familiarizing yourself with these pitfalls can help you fine-tune your own stakeholder management plan.
Maintaining realistic expectations
“Oh, sure! I can knock that out tomorrow. No problem!”
When deadlines loom, people often overpromise and underdeliver despite good intentions. Meanwhile, “ambitious” schedules and deadlines can be the not-so-silent killer of an otherwise promising project.
Proper resource planning and defining the scope of work are crucial prior to execution to ensure that everyone has signed off on what their expectations even are. This speaks to the importance of building buffer time in your projects, too.
Keeping stakeholders in the loop
Make sure that everyone is on the same page without micromanaging them.
It’s a balancing act, right? Finding the “perfect” cadence of meetings, check-ins and updates might require some experimenting.
That said, increasing transparency while cutting down on time spent in meetings is a solid starting point. Bringing teammates together with a platform that automatically tracks project documentation can also be a game-changer.
Why? Because stakeholders get a bird’s eye view of project progress minus the interruption.
Maintaining positive relationships without sacrificing progress
Managing multiple people at various levels with totally different personalities is, well, a lot.
Trust us. We get it. You want to be a positive and proactive manager, right?
But when you feel the pressure from higher-ups and deadlines are around the corner, things change. How do you convey urgency and get things done without being a taskmaster?
Again, so much of stakeholder management boils down to communication.
Frequent interactions and touchpoints mean that you have a better pulse on projects without constantly having to wrangle or disturb your stakeholders.
And making that happen requires a plan.
How to build a stakeholder management plan with Teamwork
Anything you can do to reduce stress and needless back-and-forth among your stakeholders is a plus.
This rings true for your own sake but also for the performance of your projects.
To wrap things up, we’ll break down the specifics of building a stakeholder management plan using the tools and features built into Teamwork’s project management software.
Invite the right people to your project (and cement your expectations)
First thing’s first: you need to have control over who’s involved in your project. What they see. What they can do. What their duties are.
With Teamwork, you can assign explicit roles, permissions, and “types” of stakeholders for the sake of the organization.
From there, you can assign tasks specific to their schedule and skill set. This does double duty of helping collaborators understand where to focus while also making sure they stick to their responsibilities.
When tasks are spelled out step-by-step, there are fewer question marks around expectations.
Set up permissions, priorities, and dependencies for your stakeholders
Building checks and balances into your projects is a smart move.
Doing so ensures that the appropriate stakeholders put their proverbial stamp on a piece of a project prior to it moving forward. There are some specific features in Teamwork that help with stakeholder management. Our platform can help encourage collaboration with a sense of accountability like:
Permissions: Which stakeholders have the power to approve a project, task, or milestone
Priorities: Highlight what collaborators need to work on at any given time with high, medium, or low priority tags
Dependences: What is required before specific tasks are completed or what needs to be done before another can move forward
Define a communication cadence that’s open and efficient
We can’t say enough just how important communication is for stakeholder management.
Consider that every team is different. For example, there is no “right” amount of meetings or check-ins you need to conduct week-to-week. How often you meet or what constitutes a status report is totally up to you.
What matters is that you agree on your communication cadence beforehand. Beyond that, be sure to:
Keep an eye on any and all notifications and try to consolidate them (like Teamwork) versus bouncing between Slack and your inbox.
Create a chain of command that’s efficient to give yourself key points of contact to track progress so your internal team leaders don’t have to chase too many people around.
Cut down on needless meetings and emails by making project progress public (with tools like Teamwork’s Kanban board).
Set specific milestones for stakeholders
This circles back to the roles, responsibilities, and deadlines you set when the project kicked off. Tools like our aforementioned Kanban board make it easy to understand at a glance what’s in progress and the potential bottlenecks.
Other features like the Teamwork Gantt Chart help provide visibility for collaborators on due dates and updates, so there's less need for questions and more opportunities to take action.
Monitor progress and identify opportunities for interventions
Piggybacking on the point above, Teamwork has multiple views to make sure that progress is being made among your stakeholders. From tracking task completion percentages to letting you know the last time someone provided a concrete update, you can easily see if someone needs help to hit a deadline.
This highlights how project management software empowers you to be more proactive and provide assistance to stakeholders rather than micromanage them.
What does your approach to stakeholder management look like?
Listen: building relationships and keeping your stakeholders happy doesn’t happen by accident. And doing so should be a top priority for any project manager or team lead that want to complete projects on time and within budget.
Managing stakeholders starts with clear expectations and transparent communication. Our platform provides a prime place for both, including a variety of productivity-focused features that make both you and your stakeholders’ lives easier.