The critical role of sponsors and stakeholders is a well-understood dependency of any change whether the change is IT, organisation or process led.
And yet, sponsorship and stakeholder commitment is cited as the most difficult to achieve and often the greatest cause of concern or even failure of the programme. We hear daily a litany of sponsor and stakeholder issues:
- Our sponsor and stakeholders do not appreciate the issues;
- We can't get the sponsor and/or stakeholders together;
- Our stakeholder meetings are ineffectual;
- The stakeholders are not involved enough;
- The stakeholders are actively not supporting the programme;
- They seem to change their mind - we're driven by their latest whim.
A stakeholder is any person who is affected by the change or is critical to the delivery of change. IT is actually a stakeholder in most change programmes. This fact is often overlooked and IT is frequently forced into a 'reporting relationship' to the sponsor and other stakeholders.
It's pretty near impossible to be both 'reportee' and 'manager' to a single manager much less a team of managers who barely agree with one another. Nonetheless this is the relationship IT is often working with and therefore it's the one we need to learn to make work.
Number of the beast
Usually the Stakeholder team is formed from the senior management and executive team. These people manage the operational functions of the business, which means there is a natural tension between their responsibilities.
This inevitably results in friction between the individuals and it's not uncommon for heads of functions to be frustrated with their peers.
A senior manager or executive rarely falls into their positions by sheer chance. Usually there is a degree of individual ambition. They are people who are focussed on business and personal success, which results in a tendency to avoid failure and invest only when they are sure success is inevitable.
Effective stakeholder management relies on appreciating the likely tension between stakeholders and appreciating the temperament of the people involved.
Understanding their roles
The first step in the game is to clearly understand what they should be doing. If you do not have clarity they certainly won't make it any clearer.
- Setting the high level objectives, scope, anticipated benefits, budget constraints, timing and priority;
- Ensuring the programme supports the corporate strategy;
- Acting as the 'owner' of the solution;
- 'Legitimise' the change within the organisation;
- Provide clarity of direction;
- Define measurable goals;
- Providing final 'authority' for all key decisions;
- Monitoring the programme at the highest level;
- Leading the stakeholder group;
- Resolving critical issues;
- Agreeing to scope changes;
- Reporting to the board or executive;
- Liasing with other key managers;
- Ensuring there is funding for the programme.
- Represent their business area;
- Ensure that all business areas are aware of the programme and their responsibilities;
- Ensure that the correct priority is given to activities and resources for the programme;
- Cascade the change through the organisation;
- Set and agree detailed objectives, anticipated benefits, timings and costs to fit with their overall and individual responsibilities;
- Resolve design conflicts (between areas and requirements);
- Make key decisions for the programme;
- Agreeing to scope changes;
- Address issues and risks for the programme.
Engaging and managing stakeholders can be achieved through some straightforward steps:
- Understand each and every player - their history, political position, business relationships, drivers, role to the business, motivation, management style, communications style and immediate issues.
- Clearly articulate their role - individually and as a team.
- Build their role into the programme plan - give them clear deliverables and actions (not just attendance at meetings). Make the programme visibly dependent on them.
- Drive engagement through one-on-one meetings, listen and formally feedback; document their concerns, issues and risks.
- Facilitate them as a team - don't expect them to naturally work as a team. Remember there is a tension and ambition in every meeting and you don't want to become a target. If necessary use an external facilitator who is not part of the political frame.
- Don't become the victim - don't 'report' to the stakeholders. Facilitate and drive the stakeholders to think through issues and what they will do resolve any issues.
- Work with the individual agendas - they will not go away. Take time to understand the agenda and the reasoning and work to deliver in part each and every agenda.
- Promote team success - no one gets to walk away.
- Create dependencies between stakeholders and make those dependencies visible.
- Don't waste time on trivialities. If an issue will be resolved without the stakeholders then they don't need to know about it. Use time well and don't allow the team to waste time on irrelevant issues.
- Make sure you allocate enough time to manage the sponsor and stakeholders. Effective management takes time.
Key to success
Good sponsor and stakeholder management can retrieve a disastrous programme. And, they can make or break the best programme by sheer interpretation of the outcome.
Making sponsors and stakeholders work for the programme is a question of understanding the position of IT and the nature of the problem. It comes down to having the time to manage people and politics well.