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  • Writer's pictureAngeline

Will they? Can they? How ready are your skakeholders?

Illustration by Angeline Veeneman, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

In my last post, I talked about the things that can go wrong on IT projects. But of course, when it comes down to it, it’s people that make or break projects. Projects are first and foremost about change, about getting someone from one place to another. And the journey is rarely easy, because often people don’t know how to get there, whilst others don’t want to get there at all.

As a Project Manager, it’s essential you have clarity on what type of change culture you’re going to be working with. In some cases, the organisation might be very aware of its own ability to take on change, but that’s not always the case, and it’s important you find out early. Classic employee engagement and performance management theories are useful in providing a way to look at your overall project stakeholders, and helping you map the different groups they fall in. Whilst I am always wary of trying to put people in boxes (or quadrants for that matter), I find that trying to look at both motivation and ability provides a sense of what you’re facing and a great pointer at devising the right change approach for the project. I don’t think the assessment needs to be too complicated, but it has to be good enough to give you confidence that you are heading in the right direction, and that you will be able to stay on course.

Typically, you will find that project stakeholders (which is a wide range of people ranging all the way from your sponsor to you end users) will align for a given project with one of the following groups:

The champions

There are usually not that many people who both have a top level of motivation and skills, but the good news is that you don’t need many of them. When it comes to projects, the people who have the desire for change, as well as the ability to take that change and make it their own make great champions: they’re your advocates, the people who have the credibility to convince others that the destination is worth the journey, and the ones who support you in getting the right decisions made.

The question you need to answer: how do I empower my champions to advocate for, and realise, success?

The apprentices

They want the change, they’re willing to take it on and do what it takes to get there, but they need help. They may not have the ability to go through the change by themselves, but with the right support and guidance (things like focused training, a pace of change that’s adapted to them and solid on-going communications), they can become true supporters and adopters (and some of them even turn into champions).

The question you need to answer: how do I help them acquire new skills whilst capitalising on their good will?

The challengers

They’re the ones who have the skills (or at least the ability to easily acquire them), but are reluctant to take on the change. I prefer looking at them as challengers rather than opponents to change: their resistance can go from being simply cautious to actively opposing to it, but most of the time, they have a good reason (at least from their own perspective). You need to tap into what is going to give them a way to see positive value in changing, and how they can contribute (since they have the skills) to making the project a success.

The question you need to answer: how do I find out what’s in it for them, and how do I give that to them?

The depleters

There is almost always one energy depleter (sometimes more) within a wide group of stakeholders. They don’t want to change and they don’t have the skills for it, and trying to convert them can take a huge amount of effort and energy. There are two options when it comes to depleters: ignore them (but be prepared to manage the negative impact they will create) or pour energy into it. Which way you go will be down to the power and influence the depleter has on your project.

The question you need to answer: how do I fulfil both their motivation and their need to close their skills gap? (and if the change culture is dominated by depleters, the question you need to ask is: is this project worth doing?).

When it comes to defining your change approach, you don’t have to devise individual change management strategies for each stakeholder, but you need to understand which stakeholders are where and how that’s going to impact your likelihood of success. You can then adopt the right approach from the start and adapt it as your project, and your stakeholders, evolve.


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