The initiation phase of a project can be a chaotic time for a project manager. Project objectives and deliverables are being defined, resource managers are working to assign team members for the project and budgets are being worked out. All these unresolved details can create uncertainty and restlessness on the part of stakeholders who are anxious to get to work. Many enterprise project managers take advantage of this time to schedule meetings with project stakeholders to discuss their understanding of the project, their personal goals and any concerns they might have going into the project.
There are several benefits to sitting down with project stakeholders before a project begins. Perhaps most important is the fact that face-to-face meetings often allow you to get details that are not captured in the documents (sales contracts or scope documents, for example) that you’ll be using to create your project plan. Stakeholder meetings also help you get a feel for the different personalities and working styles you’ll be dealing with on the project, which can help you create more effective task assignments and communication plans.
Consulting beforehand also makes stakeholder management simpler over the entire life of the project, because your stakeholders are more likely to feel that they had input into the way the project is structured and executed. This gives them more of a sense of ownership in the project, which in turn keeps them more engaged and focused, even when things become difficult. Different projects will naturally involve different types of stakeholders, but in most cases, project managers should try to consult with the groups listed below before each project.
Senior Leaders/Executive Sponsors
It’s a good idea to start by scheduling time with the higher-level stakeholders who are accountable for aligning the project with the organization’s strategic goals. If you have any questions about what the project is supposed to accomplish, these are the stakeholders who can give you the insight you need. Plus, they’ll be able to effectively communicate the importance of your project to the rest of the organization.
Subject Matter Experts
On most projects, the bulk of the actual work will be done by subject matter experts—team members who have deep experience in one or more of the hands-on tasks that need to be completed. Meeting with these stakeholders can help you understand their work styles, and also gives you a chance to confirm that your team is composed of people with the correct skill sets to complete the deliverables.
Few enterprise projects are completed entirely by internal resources. Vendors and other third parties often account for a large percentage of a project’s tasks and budget allocation. Take the time to meet with key vendors and consultants to ensure that everyone will be up to speed when it’s time for their work to begin.
Project Manager Counterparts
Enterprise project managers spend a large amount of their time coordinating efforts with other PMs who are managing the other end of the same project for a customer or vendor. If this is your first time working with a particular project manager, be sure to set aside an hour or two to talk through your preferred methods of communication and collaboration. The more you understand each other’s style and preferred project management methodology before work begins, the easier it will be to stay on the same page throughout the project.