Remote Project Management: Gain Support by Easing Stakeholder Fears


Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of becoming unpopular with sponsors and executives—fear in all its forms can be a significant hurdle for project teams and the sponsors who support them. The problem only widens when people are working remotely. Some groups don’t have strong communication channels, a necessity when it comes to overcoming fear. Others employ processes and methodologies that are too vague, unstructured, or inconsistent to instill confidence in your stakeholders that your team has control over potentially risky situations. Your group will enjoy more enthusiastic support and a more collaborative environment if you focus on easing stakeholder fears.


Ease Stakeholder Fears With Transparency

A primary consideration as you go about planning and executing projects is to maintain transparency around your activities. This helps to eliminate stakeholder fears that you may be making decisions or directing work in a way that isn’t consistent with sponsors’ expectations or with your organization’s overall mission. With work happening offsite and little ability for people to see project progress for themselves on a regular basis, a good remote project management strategy leans heavily on transparency to address any fears team members or other stakeholders may have about how initiatives are being managed.

This means you should be transparent in your decision-making process, too. Define how project decisions are made and who’s involved in making them. It’s a key component in any fear-busting strategy, because while a PM may understand how decisions are made, others—the rest of your group, your senior staff, and your project’s end users—don’t always share the same level of insight. Stakeholders might worry you aren’t making good decisions and your team could become fearful that a lack of understanding will hamper their ability to respond knowledgeably to inquiries about why things are being handled in a certain way.

Stakeholders who don’t participate in decision-related discussions might see your evaluation and selection process as nothing more than a frightening black box. In a remote environment, the need to develop and distribute clear and concise procedural guidelinesis heightened. If you’re consistent in communicating your processes and sticking to them when any key decision must be made, you’ll help quell potential worries that outside influences or other unwanted factors are driving your choices.

Another critical element is to build and nurture robust communication channels. Fear of the unknown can sometimes be overwhelming but sharing important project data—even if the information isn’t good news—will help everyone get past their concerns and be more confident in your team’s actions. Your remote communication strategy needs to support good information sharing within your team as well as across your stakeholder base.

Though your group may have designated one or two primary points of contact for inbound questions and requests, your efforts to eliminate fear-based behavior will be helped along if you provide direct lines of communication to your most senior supporters. High-level stakeholders have been known to worry about getting the runaround if your assigned gatekeeper doesn’t respond quickly enough, so give executives and sponsors a way to send messages straight to the project team’s senior leaders.

As part of your transparency and communication strategies, consider making project data available on demand to your team and primary stakeholders. When they’re comfortable that they can review milestones, schedules, variances, risk areas, and other key points at their convenience, they’re less likely to be afraid of what they don’t know. They’ll have everything in front of them to see the project is on track and on time for a successful completion, and that current budget figures remain aligned with the initial forecasts they approved.

Can Webinars Replace Stakeholder Meetings?

Webinars have become an increasingly popular platform for all sorts of educational events, from competency training to new product launches. But can they really replace live meetings—whether face-to-face or by telephone or video conference—where project teams interact with sponsors, end users, and other stakeholders? The answer: It depends.

Where webinars work well

When you have interesting visuals to share, such as a video walk-through of a newly updated workspace or diagrams that highlight the expected results of an upcoming phase in the project, a webinar may be a good vehicle. One benefit of this format is that stakeholders don’t need to worry about being too far from the front of the room to be able to see your visuals well. Another plus—which sets webinars apart from most video conferences—is that the project team can often make this kind of presentation available on demand, giving stakeholders the opportunity to view your material at their leisure rather than worrying about getting everyone together at a specified time. It’s also a bonus that webinars can later be shared online with a wider audience, such as the public, because the content is more tightly controlled at the presenter level.

Where webinars often fall short

Webinars, by their very nature, are less interactive than conventional video conferencing events. Two-way dialogue isn’t typically emphasized and it may be difficult for participants to interrupt the session to ask an important question or to offer feedback or other input. Information transfers that require comments or expertise from multiple people can also be tough to orchestrate, as some webinar software suites only support a single presenter or administrator. True meetings, where several participants are likely to share information, may be better served by a conventional video conference event.


Making the best use of webinars for stakeholder meetings

There are a few guidelines that may help your team better leverage the webinar platform for project meetings with end users, sponsors, executives, and other business collaborators.

1 – Keep it short. Because webinars don’t provide the level of interactive discussion many stakeholders desire, it’s often best to use the platform for brief information sessions only. The agenda should be limited, covering only a few points in each webinar, so the questions don’t pile up too much.

2 – Extend Q&A time. Soliciting questions and feedback from stakeholders is usually a good thing, but it’s not a function webinars do particularly well. Rather than focus on the presentation portion of the event, instead plan to dedicate increased time to the Q&A period where participants are able to ask questions and team members can engage in real-time dialogue.

3 – Keep it interesting. You’ll quickly lose your audience if you bore them with project minutia or data dumps that are outside their area of focus. Break multiple topics into individual webinars when possible, or at least provide participants with a timed agenda so they can join the webinar for those issues that interest them the most.

Bonus tip: Stick to your agenda’s schedule! You’ll have trouble luring stakeholders into future webinars if you aren’t mindful of their time commitments.

4 – Provide an easy way to send comments or questions. For on-demand webinars, be sure to include a button that launches a comment form or automatically addresses a new e-mail to the project team. This gives stakeholders a simple method for making inquiries or providing feedback and ensures that the communication channels remain open. It’s also an excellent way to keep track of which questions have been asked and answered, as these messages can also be automatically added to the team’s project database.

PMAlliance, Inc offers project management consultingproject management training and projecportfolio management services.