Is the project about the stakeholder, or about you? With everything Project Team teams invest in each project they oversee, it’s sometimes difficult to separate themselves from the needs and desires of stakeholders. This deep connection with a project’s achievables, when it becomes overbearing, may interfere with advocating for stakeholder requests and responding to concerns.
Being an effective advocate for stakeholders requires project teams to set aside their own agendas. If you suspect your Project Team is running into this dilemma, the following questions will help gain better clarity into where advocacy efforts are being overrun or prioritized too low.
What does your communication flow look like?
Much of the communication traveling through the project office is internal to the team. Most information sharing efforts are a function of the PMP®s working on the project. However, it’s worth looking at where and how frequently that communication flow touches each stakeholder group—end users, champions, the executives, vendors, and others. If most discussions are one way, if questions are frequently answered with canned responses or with links to FAQs, or if communication channels coming into the project office are limited or cumbersome, consider it an opportunity to reassess if the team’s advocacy efforts are supporting stakeholders in the best way.
How do budget requests and approvals happen?
While it’s common for most organizations to run funding requests and expenditure approvals through Accounting or another dedicated department, looking at the details supporting those requests will illustrate your team’s connection to its stakeholders. Are business cases built with input from stakeholders? Do stakeholder groups provide historical or benchmarking data for their specific function, or do they at least partner with the Project Team to gather and present that information? Shepherding budget requests through the process with as much solid supporting material as possible is an important facet of the project team’s advocacy role.
Who defines the project scope?
Project management professionals are excellent negotiators. The downside is that these negotiations have the potential to become more about what the Project Team is able to support and less about finding ways to ensure stakeholders get what they need. Take a minute to think about how your team works through the process of defining each project’s scope. When conflicts arise, how does the Project Team address them? Are facilitators available to ensure everyone is able to participate in discussions about scope? Defining a project’s scope appropriately is a crucial function of an advocate, one that is sometimes hampered when resources bump up against requests.
How are change requests handled?
Change orders are a natural part of the project management process. How your team handles change requests says a lot about how it approaches its advocacy role. Are stakeholders given a clear protocol for submitting change requests? Does the team use a standard methodology for evaluating requests? If the project office routinely exercises significant discretion in reviewing and responding to stakeholder-generated requests for changes to a project’s scope or in how activities are to be managed—without engaging the stakeholder or without pushing the request through for approval by the leadership team—a candid analysis of whether those protocols meet the definition of authentic advocacy may be in order.
Where does customer service rank?
Project advocacy and customer service are closely linked. Even if a stakeholder group doesn’t succeed in getting every request into the project scope, good customer service will reassure them their concerns are being heard and the project’s final outcome will be worth the effort. Is customer service a priority for everyone in the Project Team? If not, it’s time to reevaluate the team’s commitment to being good project advocates.