Onboard Project Stakeholders
You’re starting a new project. There are people on the team who haven’t worked with the PMO before and are new to the concept of project governance.
Everyone wants to get the project off to a speedy start, but it is important to take the time to onboard new stakeholders properly. That’s the best way to ensure they know how to engage with the project, the PMO and the wider governance principles for the organization.
How do you onboard project stakeholders? What should you discuss with them? Here are five key areas to cover in your project onboarding conversations.
Start by explaining what you can do for them: how you will keep them informed of project progress. Talk about what they can expect to hear from you and when.
Ideally, this should be a negotiated agreement. Instead of simply telling them what project communications you intend to do – or what normally happens on projects – explain what you think they will need to know about and ask how they would like to be kept informed. They might want a bespoke report or for you to book time via their online calendar to meet with them once a quarter. They might be OK with reporting by exception or they might want full status updates at a weekly briefing. Work with them to determine a communications schedule that suits you both.
You’ll only want to do that for your most senior and influential stakeholders because designing bespoke project communications for every stakeholder might be too time-consuming on a large project. Think about how much individual engagement you are prepared to commit to before you make the offer!
Not all stakeholders are required at every meeting, but there will definitely be some expectation on them to show up – virtually or in person – to contribute to the project.
Think about what meetings are in your calendar and what involvement each stakeholder needs to have in them. The core subject matter experts might be needed at every weekly team call, but executives who sit on the project governance board may only need to turn up once a month.
In our experience, people sometimes underestimate the amount of time they will be expected to engage with the project in the setting of a meeting, whether that’s a requirements gathering workshop, a formal session for signing off a deliverable or simply regular catch ups to check on status and direction. Be clear on what is expected of them and invite them to meetings as soon as you can so they hold the time in their calendar.
Hopefully, you won’t have to deal with too many escalations on the project, but it’s always a good idea to inform new stakeholders about how that process works. They need to know their freedom of action and what decisions they can take alone. When they have clarity about those boundaries, they’ll be able to escalate appropriately.
Make sure they know what the escalation path is – probably to the project manager in the first instance and then upwards to the program manager or project sponsor as necessary.
Stakeholders at all levels should feel confident that someone is looking out for them and that there are processes and individuals to support them if they need it.
4. Their contribution
Next, talk to them about their contribution. Sometimes, there’s an expectation amongst new project stakeholders that they won’t have to do very much. They believe the ‘project team’ will do the actual work and they simply need to turn up at the end and approve what is delivered.
That’s very far from the truth, so it’s worth setting the expectation early that they will have to be hands on with the project! If they have been nominated to work on the project, they should expect to have certain tasks allocated to them. They’ll also have to provide regular updates to the project manager, take decisions, identify risks and contribute to the thought leadership that goes into doing the right work. They might have to help out in a crisis, take the lead on resolving an issue, lend a hand during testing or anything else that keeps the project moving forward.
Even executive level stakeholders need to be involved in a myriad of ways: influencing their peers, securing resources, giving briefings, being the ears of the project and feeding back information about things happening elsewhere that might affect the project, and more.
Set the expectation that being on the team is not a passive role!
Finally, talk about the need to stay on time. If the stakeholder hasn’t worked in a project capacity before, they might not appreciate the impact that a late delivery on their part will have on other areas of the project. Explain the key dependencies as laid out in the project schedule. Make sure they understand where there are handoffs to others and what happens to their work after they have completed their part.
Talk about the overall target deadline and where that has come from. It helps to understand the urgency and the drivers behind the dates, especially when many team members will be working on more than one project and having to juggle delivery dates for a couple of project managers, as well as managing their own day job.
Stakeholders and team members are an essential part of the project ecosystem and they need to know what is expected of them. Don’t expect them to work it out by themselves, because they might not be able to, or they might assume the wrong things! Complete your onboarding by discussing these five points, but keep the conversation open throughout the project as you all learn to work together effectively.