9 Tips Project Teams Can Use to Keep Busy Stakeholders Engaged

9 Tips Project Teams Can Use to Keep Busy Stakeholders Engaged

Does it seem like project stakeholders routinely ignore messages coming from your team? They don’t, of course, but it’s easy to see why people don’t read every e-mail or respond promptly to new messages. The volume of communications flowing through businesses today can be overwhelming. Stakeholders’ traditional phone and email channels now sit alongside discussions happening through online collaboration tools, instant messaging, texts, and video conferences.

A queen honey bee and her court

If you want your project messages to stand out in this sea of communications, consider these 9 tips to keep even the busiest stakeholders engaged.

1 – Craft messages that are concise.

The competition for people’s attention is steep and growing. To capture the limited time stakeholders have available, your project communications should get straight to the point, avoid straying from the primary topics, and wrap up as soon as you’ve shared what you need to. 

2 – Lean into links.

Modern projects generate a ton of interesting data, but there’s so much information available that your messages can’t possibly include it all. Links to the rescue! Pair a one-sentence statement that encompasses the most important points with a link that allows stakeholders to access more information if they want it.

3 – Relevance is key.

Consider which aspects of your project are most interesting to stakeholders. Those should be the backbone of your communications strategy. Updates that are a little too aged to be useful and announcements that only tangentially affect stakeholders are just two examples of content that often aren’t relevant enough to earn a spot in your project messaging strategy.

4 – Maximize your subject lines. That old “project update” subject line won’t stand out in stakeholders’ inboxes. Replace it with something that describes the message’s content and helps readers prioritize the communications that are most important to them. People will be more willing to engage with project-related messages that catch their attention and hold the promise of education or entertainment.

5 – Make your structure skimmable.

No one wants to open a wall of text, especially time-pressed stakeholders with too many other messages waiting for their attention. Sub-headings, bullet points, and visual separators help to cleanly delineate one topic from another so readers can quickly skim to the issues that interest them.

6 – Spotlight those action items.

Don’t bury requests, outstanding items, or other priority issues within your message. Instead, display them prominently by listing them at the top of the message or highlighting them inline. Whichever approach you use, make it consistent so stakeholders know where to look for cues that they’re expected to take action.

7 – Use stakeholder segmentation.

Blasting out project messages to your entire stakeholder base only adds to everyone’s noise level. Executives rarely want to see the minutiae of equipment deliveries or relocation schedules, and end users probably aren’t interested in high-level budget variance analyses. Stakeholder segmentation aligns each message to the group that will find it truly valuable.

8 – Use visuals whenever possible.

Images, graphics, charts, and other visual elements can often convey information faster and in a more compelling way than text alone. Want to showcase how far under budget your project is right now? A simple bar chart gets the message across quickly with an eye-catching representation of actuals versus forecasts.

9 – Curate your messages.

Not everything needs to be pushed out as a component in your communication plan. Some information and updates might be better placed on the project’s intranet site or kept available for access within the overall project documentation repository. Look for the right balance between sharing project information with stakeholders and avoiding inbox overload.

Avoid Unnecessary Questions

PMP®s are the source of knowledge for anyone curious about the project’s planning and execution details, and it’s normal for the team to field a steady stream of questions from stakeholders. Queries commonly cover a range of areas, including the expected sequence and timing of activities, vendor selection criteria and contract status, work disruption impacts—it’s all overseen by the project office.

Aside from these everyday questions, there are also inquiries that come through now and then that make PMP®s cringe. Some people are simply looking for information they haven’t received (or that they overlooked). Others questions, however, are age-old examples of stakeholders fishing for data as a way to advance their own agenda, whether that’s pushing for greater sway over how the project is executed or trying to change a part of the project they don’t like.

Have you told my boss about this?
PMP®s may cringe because this question could signal several issues likely to cause ongoing challenges. On the plus side, it may point only to the stakeholder’s lack of knowledge about who was involved in developing the project’s scope. Unfortunately, there’s also a possibility the questioner has weak communication channels with their department’s leadership and is unaware of the project’s planned impacts. This could lead to recurring problems for the project team as they must juggle an information flow that contains an obvious bottleneck. A more difficult scenario is the question is nothing more than a veiled attempt to use their boss’s position to influence how the project is managed.

Is this the best price we can get for this item or service?
Sometimes it’s an innocent question. It may be triggered by the stakeholder’s background in a particular region where pricing structures were different, or it may result from their inexperience in procuring specific materials or niche labor support. In other instances, though, it sets of alarm bells for PMP®s because it opens the door—in the stakeholder’s mind—to additional negotiations on pricing or even project scope.

Is it possible to add ____?
Scope creep alert! If the stakeholder wasn’t part of the group that set the original scope, maybe they’re just seeking clarification on what’s included in the project and what isn’t. On the other hand, PMP®s may be quickly overcome with dread when it’s a sponsor or member of the executive team asking. At that point, the request probably looks like a prelude to expanding the scope mid-stream by someone with enough authority to actually make that happen.

Can we shift the schedule for this activity?
This question is sure to elicit groans from the project team, but before everyone shifts into defensive mode, remember the situation might be less nefarious than it sounds. Maybe something unexpected has come up and this individual just needs a bit of help reflowing their group’s activities. The project office will need to do some digging to determine if the request has merit—and which contingency plan can be activated to keep the project on track—or if this is just one stakeholder’s last-minute scheme to push back on a schedule they didn’t like in the first place.

Why are we doing this project?
Could it be an honest inquiry from a stakeholder who’s trying to come up to speed? Yes. More often, though, it’s posed in a way that seeks to undermine the project team’s mission by implying the project’s goals are unimportant, or that the final objectives miss the mark in terms of satisfying the organization’s needs. Groan.

Shield Stakeholders from Common Project Pains

As they work to cultivate engaged sponsors and end users, some PMP®s find there are aspects of project planning and execution where stakeholders actually prefer not to be involved. These activities are often those that appear to be more administrative in nature. They are a high priority for the project team but likely little more than a disruption to those outside the Project Team.

One way to boost customer satisfaction is to shield stakeholders from these behind-the-scenes tasks when possible. Where that isn’t feasible, a few additional strategies can help limit the draw to stakeholders’ time.


Project teams often need to gain approval on a host of issues, including funding, scheduling work disruptions, and finalizing office locations (in the case of a remodel or relocation). If requests for these approvals are presented haphazardly, they may quickly become labeled as a nuisance by stakeholders.

Take charge of the situation by grouping approval requests and making them a proactive, rather than a reactive, issue. Strive to secure all funding approvals early in the project’s lifecycle. This limits the number of times stakeholders must make space in their schedule to review requests, while also giving the project team more finite control over funding from the very beginning. If approval requests must be presented mid-project, then identify them as a milestone on the project calendar and treat them as a task. Sponsors and high-level stakeholders will feel less like it’s a disruption and more as though it’s an expected part of their role.

Public relations. 

When dealing with a high-profile project or any endeavor likely to impact the public, managing media relations and other externally-facing activities is usually a given. However, the prospect of being involved in these tasks may be intimidating to most stakeholders. In many cases, it isn’t appropriate for them to be involved in them anyway, though persistent reporters and nosy employees of competing companies may not care about that.

Be diligent in shielding stakeholders from the media or other public interactions, unless those individuals have been formally appointed to act as spokespeople for the organization. To ease their concerns, your team should provide stakeholders with instructions on what to say if approached by a member of the press, or if asked potentially sensitive questions by anyone not clearly involved in the project. Proactively offer sponsors and end users talking points, or give them a stack of business cards they can hand out with the appropriate person’s contact information. These simple steps will shield them from what may be a very uncomfortable and potentially compromising interaction.

Open house events. 

These types of activities provide Project Teams with great marketing opportunities, but they can be stressful and highly disruptive for stakeholders. Timing is often key, as end users may be busy commissioning equipment or doing other punch list tasks, or even preparing for the next project. This could leave them with little leeway to make their area presentable. It’s also likely they won’t have a lot of free time available to act as tour guides or to provide benchmarking and other data that’s often presented as part of an open house.

One good strategy to avoid open house pain is to get it on the schedule far in advance. Work with stakeholders to identify when it would be least disruptive to hold the event. Honor this schedule by posting clear hours for the open house and sticking to them. Unless stakeholders are eager to participate, do your best to minimize their involvement. The project office should spearhead all tour and presenter duties, as well as creating information sheets, charts, maps, and related documentation.

Regain Project Stakeholder Trust

Stakeholders’ trust in the project team is paramount to success. The organization’s executive group, project sponsors, end users, and outside business partners must be confident in the Project Team’s ability to plan and execute even the most complex projects. But there are some ways PMP®s inadvertently erode that trust, through their actions and sometimes through inaction. If a lack of trust is causing issues for your project office, see if you’re unwittingly contributing to the problem.

Re-assess unreasonable schedules.
Few things chip away at stakeholder confidence faster and more completely than a team’s inability to stick to the agreed-upon timeframe. Missed milestones can quickly snowball, leading to a project that’s dangerously behind schedule as team members scramble to catch up. Budget overages are a common side effect when projects are late, with the Project Team incurring rush shipping charges or inflated contracting or labor fees in an attempt to get things back on track.

The solution: Rather than watch one deadline after another fall by the wayside, teams should instead implement a project management methodology that leverages strict controls designed to ensure tasks are executed as planned. If unexpected issues arise—delays in the delivery of materials, for example, or inclement weather that disrupts activities—a proven methodology will enable the team to realign tasks so the final completion date remains intact. By being alerted early to problems that could put the schedule in peril, the team will be able to develop a solution and adjust the task sequence so the final completion date doesn’t slip.

Leverage outside expertise.
Very few project offices contain all the knowledge and skills in-house that are needed to plan and execute every type of project. Unfortunately, a lot of teams see the use of outside consultants as a sign the Project Team is weak or that it lacks competence. This display of ego may be seen as poor judgment, and it can undermine stakeholders’ confidence in the team’s ability to weigh difficult choices and make the best decisions for the organization.

The solution: Even when budgets are lean, Project Teams may still be well-served in the long run by carefully—and candidly—evaluating where the expertise and resources of an external partner can provide valuable benefits. The team will be held in higher regard when they’re able to review the project’s needs objectively and bring in knowledgeable support when it’s in the best interests of the project and its stakeholders.

Don’t turn a blind eye to scope creep.
Even those stakeholders unfamiliar with the phrase “scope creep” will have no trouble spotting the phenomenon when it occurs. The project’s sponsors and the executive group will all be counting on the expertise and guidance of the team to keep scope creep in check and to adhere to the project’s schedule as well as its budget. PMP®s who can’t do that will quickly earn a poor reputation and may not be given the opportunity to work on high-profile or strategically important efforts.

The solution: Inaction simply isn’t an option when it comes to scope creep. To avoid the damage that often results when a project’s parameters are continually expanded, the team must be proactive in their mission to keep the project within the defined scope. It’s critical that PMP®s stay one step ahead of uncontrolled changes and that they voice their concerns as soon as any potential problem is spotted. It’s also wise to present a solution at the same time, so it’s clear the Project Team is in full control of the situation and is ready to ensure that progress isn’t hindered.

PMAlliance, Inc uses a team of highly experienced and certified professionals to provide project management consultingproject management training and project portfolio management.