Wishing our Stakeholders a happy and successful 2013

December 31, 2012

The 2012 annual report for this blog prepared by WordPress.com shows a good level of interest, thanks to you with 19,000 views.

We are working to make 2013 even better!!

Click here to see the complete report.

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The Stakeholder Mutuality Matrix

December 18, 2012

Whilst the stakeholder community for any project or program can be a very diverse group of people and organisations, there is a key sub-set that either require goods, services or other outputs from the project, or have to supply resources, services or support to the project. These ‘logistical’ relationships need careful management as they directly affect the project’s ability to achieve its defined goals.

Altruism and charitable actions are wonderful, but it is dangerous to base the success of your project on the assumption that all of your ‘logistical’ stakeholders are automatically going to be altruistic and generous. The Stakeholder Mutuality Matrix™ described in this post provides a pragmatic framework to help craft communications and build relationships with the stakeholders that matter from a logistics management perspective, within the project’s overall stakeholder management framework.

Understanding your Stakeholder Community

Project communication takes time and effort, both of which are in limited supply. Therefore, most of your communication effort needs to be focused on stakeholders that are important to the success of your project. This requires answering two key questions about each stakeholder:
1.  Who are the most important stakeholders at this point in time?
2.  Why are they important?

Understanding who is important is fairly straightforward, based on an assessment of the stakeholder’s power and involvement in the project. The Stakeholder Circle® uses a combination of power, proximity and urgency to define the most impotent stakeholders. The amount of power held by a stakeholder and their degree of involvement with the work of the project (proximity) are fairly static. Urgency, defined as a combination of the value of the stakeholders ‘stake’ in the project and the degree of effort they are likely to use to protect that ‘stake’ changes significantly and can be influenced by the effectiveness of the project’s communications and the strength of the relationships between the project team and the stakeholder. (See more on prioritising stakeholders).

Whist this process is highly effective at defining who the most important stakeholders are ‘at this point in time’, from a logistics perspective there is a second important group that also needs attention. Care needs to be taken to ensure that lower priority stakeholders who have to provide the support and resources needed for the project’s work are not overlooked in the communication framework. Effective ‘preventative’ communication can keep this group of logistically important stakeholders happy and low on the priority listing, whereas failing to communicate effectively can lead to problems and the person rapidly moving up the prioritisation listing.

Using the Stakeholder Mutuality Matrix

Once you know who is important either from a logistical or prioritisation perspective, you also need to understand why each of these stakeholders is important to define the type of relationship you need to develop and plan your communication accordingly.

The Stakeholder Mutuality Matrix™ provides a useful framework to help in this part of your communication planning. The matrix has two primary dimensions:

  • Each stakeholder will either need something from the project to further their interests or alternatively need nothing from the project.
  • Similarly the project either needs the active support of the important stakeholders, usually in the form of assistance or resources; or alternatively requires nothing from the stakeholder.

Stakeholder Mutuality Matrix

The result is four quadrants that provide a framework for communication and within this framework each stakeholder will also be either supportive or negative towards the project (for more on supportiveness see the SHC Engagement Matrix).

All high priority stakeholders need to be considered plus any low priority stakeholders that have to supply goods, services or support to the project.

  • Project needs nothing / stakeholder needs nothing: Important stakeholders in this quadrant are almost invariably ‘protestors’ or ‘objectors’ attempting to block or change the project. Occasionally very powerful and interested stakeholders have no requirements of the project.
    • Approach for positive stakeholders: Keep informed and engaged.
    • Approach for negative stakeholders: There are two communication options:
      – You may be able to defuse the ‘protests’ by providing better information, but this only works if the protest is based on false assumptions.
      – The alternative is to choose not to communicate with the stakeholder beyond some necessary minimum.
      The only other alternative is to change the project to remove the cause of objection but this is rarely within the authority of the project team.
  • Project needs nothing / stakeholder needs something: These stakeholders are the easiest to manage from a logistical perspective; providing their requirements are part of the projects deliverables. If their requirements are outside of the project’s scope the stakeholder needs to initiate a change request.
    • Approach for positive stakeholders: All that is needed is regular reassurance that their needs will be fulfilled.
    • Approach for negative stakeholders: Provide information to clearly demonstrate your deliverables to them will be beneficial and are aligned with their core interests. These stakeholders are typically an organisational change management challenge.
  • Project needs something / stakeholder needs something: This group needs active management. Project communication needs to clearly link the provision of the required support or resources by the stakeholder to the project being able to fulfil the stakeholder’s requirements. Time needs to be spent developing robust relationships to facilitate an effective partnership that supports both parties interest.
    • Approach for positive stakeholders: A strong relationship is important to ensure a good understanding of both parties’ requirements. Including clearly defined information on what you need from them and when it’s required, linked to reassurance that their needs will be fulfilled.
    • Approach for negative stakeholders: Significant effort is required to change the dynamic of the relationship. You need their support and they need to understand that this is in their best interest if their needs are going to be fulfilled.
    • Approach for low priority stakeholders: All that is usually needed is clearly defined information on what you need from them and when it’s required, linked to reassurance that their needs will be fulfilled.
  • Project needs something / stakeholder needs nothing: This group are your major risk; it typically consists of regulatory authorities and others who have to inspect or approve the project’s work as part of their normal business. Care is needed to build a proper ‘professional’ relationship that respects the integrity of the stakeholder’s position whilst at the same time ensuring your communications are received and acted upon.
    • Approach for positive stakeholders: A good relationship is helpful; however, the key requirement is clearly defined information on what you need from them, when it’s required and why their input is important to the project.
    • Approach for negative stakeholders: Significant effort is required to change the dynamic of the relationship. They are important to you, but you are not important to them and have very little to ‘trade’. To change their attitude, you need to understand the source of the negativity and use any available option to build rapport either directly or through other supportive managers, or by appealing to some greater good.
    • Approach for low priority stakeholders: Ensure clearly defined information on what you need from them, when it’s required and why their input is important to the project is provided in adequate time to allow the stakeholder to do its work.

Once you understand the mutuality matrix, the way you communicate with each of the important stakeholders can be adjusted to ensure both parties in the communication achieve a satisfactory outcome.


Stakeholders and Risk

December 12, 2012

Probably the biggest single challenge in stakeholder communication is dealing with risk – I have touched on this subject a few times recently because it is so important at all levels of communication.

Projects are by definition uncertain – you are trying to predict a future outcome and as the failure of economic forecasts and doomsday prophets routinely demonstrate (and bookmakers have always known), making predictions is easy; getting the prediction correct is very difficult.

Most future outcomes will become a definite fact; only one horse wins a race, the activity will only take one precise duration to complete. What is uncertain is what we know about the ‘winner’ or the duration in advance of the event. The future once it happens will be a precise set of historical facts, until that point there is always a degree of uncertainty, and this is where the communication challenge starts to get interesting……

The major anomaly is the way people deal with uncertainty. As Douglas Hubbard points out in his book the Failure of Risk Management: “He saw no fundamental irony in his position: Because he believed he did not have enough data to estimate a range, he had to estimate a point”. If someone asks you what a meal costs in your favourite restaurant, do you answer precisely $83.56 or do you say something like “usually between $70 and $100 depending on what you select”? An alternative answer would be ‘around $85’ but this is less useful than the range answer because your friend still needs to understand how much cash to take for the meal and this requires an appreciation of the range of uncertainties.

In social conversations most people are happy to provide useful information with range estimates and uncertainty included to make the conversation helpful to the person needing to plan their actions. In business the tendency is to expect the precisely wrong single value. Your estimate of $83.56 has a 1 in 3000 chance of actually occurring (assuming a uniform distribution of outcomes in a $30 range). The problem of precisely wrong data is discussed in Is what you heard what I meant?.

The next problem is in understanding how much you can reasonably expect to know about the future.

  • Some future outcomes such as the roll of a ‘true dice’ have a defined range ( 1 to 6) but previous rolls have absolutely no influence on subsequent rolls, any number can occur on any roll.
  • Some future outcomes can be understood better if you invest in appropriate research, the uncertainty cannot be removed, but the ‘range’ can be refined.

This ‘know-ability’ interacts with the type of uncertainty. Some future events (risks) simply will or won’t happen (eg, when you drop your china coffee mug onto the floor it will either break or not break – if it’s broken you bin the rubbish, if it’s not broken you wash the mug and in both situations you clean up the mess). Other uncertainties have a range of potential outcomes and the range may be capable of being influenced if you take appropriate measures.

The interaction of these two factors is demonstrated in the chart below, although it is important to recognise there are not absolute values most uncertainties tend towards one option or the other but apart from artificial events such as the roll of a dice, most natural uncertainties occur within the overall continuum.

Stakeholders and Risk - Risk Matrix

Putting the two together, to communicate risk effectively to stakeholders (typically clients or senior managers) your first challenge is to allow uncertainty into the discussion – this may require a significant effort if your manager wants the illusion of certainty so he/she can pretend the future is completely controllable and defined. This type of self-delusion is dangerous and it’s you who will be blamed when the illusion unravels so its worth making the effort to open up the discussion around uncertainty.

Then the second challenge is to recognise the type of uncertainty you are dealing with based on the matrix above and focus your efforts to reduce uncertainty on the factors where you can learn more and can have a beneficial effect on future outcomes. The options for managing the four quadrants above are quite different:

  • Aleatoric Incidents have to be avoided (ie, don’t drop the mug!)
  • Epistemic Incidents need allowances in your planning – you cannot control the weather but you can make appropriate allowances – determining what’s appropriate needs research.
  • Aleatoric Variables are best avoided but the cost of avoidance needs to be balanced against the cost of the event, the range of outcomes and your ability to vary the severity. You can avoid a car accident by not driving; most people accept the risk and buy insurance.
  • Epistemic Variables are usually the best options for understanding and improvement. Tools such as Monte Carlo analysis can help focus your efforts on the items within the overall project where you can get the best returns on your investments in improvement.

Based on this framework your communication with management can be used to help focus your efforts to reduce uncertainty within the project appropriately. You do not need to waste time studying the breakability of mugs when dropped; you need to focus on avoiding the accident in the first place. Conversely, understanding the interaction of variability and criticality on schedule activities to proactively managing those with the highest risk is likely to be valuable.

Now all you have to do is convince your senior stakeholders that this is a good idea; always assuming you have any stakeholders after the 21st December!*

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*The current ‘doomsday’ prophecy is based on the Mayan Calendar ending on 21st December 2012 but there may be other reasons for this:

Stakeholders and Risk Myan Prediction