The Yin and Yang of Integrated Data Systems

December 13, 2016

Integrated project management information systems (PMIS) are becoming more common and more sophisticated ranging from ‘web portals’ that hold project data through to the potential for fully integrated design and construction management using BIM[1].  The benefits from using these systems can be as much as 20% on complex construction projects using BIM.

pmisThe advantages of this type of information storage and retrieval system include:

  • Ready access to data when needed via PDAs and ‘tablets’ significantly reducing the need for ‘push’ communication and the existence of ‘redundant data’[2].
  • One place to look for information with indexing and cross-referencing to minimise the potential for missed information.
  • Audit trails and systems to ensure only the latest version of any document is available.
  • Cross-linking of data in different documents and formats to assist with configuration management, requirements traceability and change control.
  • Controls on who can ‘see’ the data, access the data and edit the data.
  • Workflow functions to remind people of their next job, list open actions, record actual progress, etc[3].
  • A range of built-in functions to validate data and avoid ‘clashes’, including locking or ‘freezing’ parts of the data set when that information has been moved into ‘work’.

These benefits are significant and a well-designed system reduces errors and enhances productivity leading to reduced costs, but the ‘yin’ of well-designed PMIS comes with a ‘yang’!

People increasingly tend to believe information produced from a computer system, this is true of ‘Facebook’, Wikipedia and flows through to more sophisticated systems. There also seems to be a steady reduction in the ability of younger people in particular to critically analyse information; in short if it comes from the computer many people will assume it is correct. Add to this the ability of many of the more sophisticated PMIS tools to transpose and transfer information between different parts of the systems automatically or semiautomatically and there is a potential for many of the benefits outlined above to be undermined by poor data. This issue has been identified for decades and has the acronym GIGO – garbage in, garbage out.

The question posed in this blog is how many projects and project support organisations (PMOs, etc.) consider or actively implement effective data traceability.  Failed audits, overruns from scope oversights, and uninformed or ill-informed decision-making are just a few of the consequences project teams suffer from if they do not have full traceability of their project management data. This issue exists in any information processing system from basic schedule updating, through monthly reporting to the most sophisticated, integrated PMIS. If you cannot rely on the source data, no amount of processing will improve the situation! And to be able to rely on data, you need to be able to trace it back to its source.

tracabilityTraceability is defined as ‘the ability to trace the location, history and use of each data element’. This sounds simple but in reality can be very challenging, and the results of poor visibility can be devastating to a project. Some of the key questions to ask are:

  • Where did this data or these actuals come from?
  • What is the authorizing document and when did it get signed/approved?
  • Has everyone approved the change request or action item?

Traceability does not happen by accident! Project management information systems have to be designed with traceability as a key element in each of its aspects.  As information comes into the system the author or the origin of the information has to be recorded (preferably automatically). Depending on the nature of the information it may need to be quarantined until appropriate checks have been carried out and/or approvals have been obtained and then there needs to be traceability of any subsequent changes. The foundation of traceability is the combination of processes (people) and data management.

Therefore, the ‘yang’ of a sophisticated integrated project management information systems is that as the systems become more integrated and sophisticated people will come to rely on the information provided and ‘trust it’ whilst the source and veracity of the data used becomes less obvious.

Resolving this is partly process and partly people. The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) has produced the Time and Cost Management Contract Suite 2015 focused on complex construction projects using BIM.  This contract defines a number of key support roles (largely independent of the parties) focused on managing the information flows into and out of the system to ensure its accuracy and validity. Similar roles and responsibilities are essential in any effective PMIS.

My latest post on the PMI ‘Voices blog’, From Data to Wisdom: Creating & Managing Knowledge highlights the importance of data as the underpinning of all reporting and communication.  So the question is, how much focus does your project team or PMO put on ensuring the data it is using is timely, complete, accurate and traceable?

_________________

[1] BIM = Building Information Modelling, see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1082_BIM_Levels.pdf

[2] For more on planning project communication see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Mag_Articles/ESEI-09-communication-planning.pdf

[3] A discussion on how these capabilities can enhance project controls is at: https://mosaicprojects.wordpress.com/2016/11/26/the-future-of-project-controls/


Selling Change – lessons from Brexit

June 30, 2016

Is the reason so many change initiatives fail an excessive focus on the ‘technical benefits’ and future value?  Some of the lessons from the Brexit campaign would suggest ‘YES’!

brexitBefore people will buy into a new opportunity (the ‘change’) it helps if they are unhappy with the status quo.  If this unhappiness can be magnified the willingness to embrace an uncertain future can be increased.  The Brexit ‘leave’ campaign is an extreme example of creating this desire. Most of the focus of ‘Leave’ campaign seems to have been tailored towards raising the level of unhappiness with the status quo. A few key examples:

EU bureaucracy – it exists and it is a significant burden; by simply focusing on the ‘perceived pain’ (most electors have very little contact with the regulations) a desire to leave was generated. The counter points carefully ignored include:

  1. If the UK leaves it will need its own regulations for public health and safety
  2. Firms that want to export to Europe will have more bureaucracy to deal with, complying with both the UK rules and the EU rules (the alternative is to cut off 50% of your export market).

EU bureaucrats – the unelected and unaccountable masses in Brussels!  This ignores the fact UK bureaucrats are unelected and both sets are accountable to their respective parliaments.  However, the perception of lack of control and accountability was significant despite the fact 99% of the UK electors have no control over UK bureaucrats.

Immigration and Islam. ‘Taking control of UK borders’ seemed to be the biggest factor in the debate.  It’s a nice idea that ignores history:

  1. The vast majority of Islamic migrants in the UK arrived before the UK joined the EU (or these days their parents arrived…). Until the 1960s Commonwealth citizens had UK passports and a right of residence in the UK.
  2. The EU is less than 5% Islamic.
  3. Freedom to work in the EU is a two-way process – the right to work and access to workers is important (and has virtually nothing to do with ‘immigration’).

Trade deals. Negotiating ‘trade deals’ to the benefit of the UK…..   Ignoring the fact that any trade deal requires concessions and most take 5 to 10 years to negotiate. The ‘other party’ has to see a significant benefit.

 

Lessons from Brexit!

The positive lesson for change proponents is to spend more time on creating the desire for change. Most people in an organisation can ‘live with’ the status quo (but are aware of the problems and pain points), and are likely to be frightened with the perceived threats and challenges of the proposed change.  Digging into the ‘pain points’ and offering constructive solutions may provide a powerful basis for building the desire for change.  This is a very different approach to starting with an emphasis on the future benefits and opportunities the proposed change will bring.

The processes needed to sell the change to the organisation’s executive decision makers have to focus on benefits and value, but Brexit suggests a different approach may be beneficial when approaching the people within the organisation affected by the change.

Ethics matter!  “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time[1]”. What has yet to wash out in the Brexit aftermath is the lack of ethics and in some cases blatant dishonesty of the ‘Leave campaign’. I suspect there will be a major backlash against the people responsible for the ‘Leave campaign’ as people become aware of the exaggerations and deceptions.  The current crash in the Pound and the almost inevitable recession it will cause were predicted.  What was missed from the UK debate, and is essential in an organisational change initiative, is recognition of the challenges of the change – offset by the vision of future benefits. Ethics are not negotiable!

Simple language is important.  Creating and emotional commitment to change requires the use of language that is easy to understand. The ‘Leave vision’ was simplistic rather than simple but it worked – ‘make Britain great again’ and ‘regain sovereignty’ sound appealing[2] but lack substance.  The difference between the Brexit ‘con job’ and ‘informed consent’ is understanding what you are committing to, both the vision and the journey. But the language of projects, engineers and technicians used to define and develop a change proposal is frequently inappropriate for effective communication to the rest of the people affected.  This is discussed in my paper: Understanding Design – The challenge of informed consent.

Summary

The Brexit campaign is an extreme example of creating a desire for change based on developing a level of dissatisfaction with the status quo.  This tactic can be a very useful early phase in the communication processes around a proposed organisational change – dissatisfaction with the current state is a powerful driver to accept change.  The flip side, also observable in the Brexit campaign, is that ethics and honesty matter. Democracy requires informed consent!  We have no idea what the consequences in the UK would have been if the ‘Leave campaign’ had been more ethical and spelt out a future; but judging from the reaction of many, large numbers of people now seem to feel conned by the ‘leave’ campaign.

In an organisational context, this loss of trust will be disastrous.  However, the fact the ‘Leave campaign’ could persuade a majority in the UK to vote in favour of an uncertain future that will reduce living standards and increase costs in the short-term (at least) without even bothering to paint a clear vision of their proposed future (or how to get there) shows how powerful the techniques discussed above can be.

The challenge for ethical organisational change is to harness the power without resorting to the deceptions.

 

 

 

[1] Adapted from: “Traité de la Vérité de la Religion Chrétienne” by Jacques Abbadie (1684, Chapter 2)

[2] Britain was ‘Great’ in the period leading up to WW1 based on its Empire (not the Commonwealth); it is and has been a sovereign nation since 1066…… Neither of these concepts was fleshed out possibly allowing 1000s of different self-made visions to fill the space. Potentially a good tactic but fraught with problems going forward.


Stakeholders and Reputational Risk

April 25, 2016

trust-valueYour reputation and your organisation’s reputation are valuable assets that need nurturing. The willingness of others to trust you, their desire to work with you and virtually every other aspect of the relationship between you and your stakeholders is influenced by their perception of your reputation (see more on The value of trust).  But reputations are fragile: they can take a lifetime to build and seconds to lose.  Some of the factors influencing them are:

  1. Reputation cannot be controlled: it exists in the minds of others so it can only be influenced, not managed directly.
  2. Reputation is earned: trust is based on consistent behaviour and performance.
  3. Reputation is not consistent: it depends on each stakeholder’s view. One organisation can have many different reputations, varying with each stakeholder.
  4. Reputation will vary: each stakeholder brings a different expectation of behaviour or performance and so will have a distinct perception of reputation.
  5. Reputation is relational: you have a reputation with someone for something. The key question is therefore: ‘with whom, for what?’
  6. Reputation is comparative: it is valued in comparison to what a particular stakeholder experiences or believes in relation to peers, performance and prejudice.
  7. Reputation is valuable: but the true value of reputation can only be appreciated once it is lost or damaged.

Estimating the ‘true value’ of your reputation is difficult and as a consequence decisions on how much to invest in enhancing and protecting your reputation becomes a value judgment rather than a calculation. Your reputation is created and threatened by both your actions and their consequences (intended or not).  Some actions and their effects on your reputation are predictable, others are less so and their consequences, good or bad are even less certain. This is true regardless of your intention; unexpected outcomes can easily cause unintended benefit or damage to your reputation.

Building a reputation requires hard work and consistency; the challenge is protecting your hard earned reputation against risks that can cause damage; and you never know for sure what will cause reputational damage until it is too late – many reputational risks are emergent.

Managing Reputational Risk in Organisations

Because an organisation’s reputation is not easy to value or protect, managing reputational risk is difficult! This is particularly true for larger organisations where thousands of different interactions between staff and stakeholders are occurring daily.

The first step in managing an organisation’s reputational risk is to understand the scope of possible damage, as well as potential sources and the degree of possible disruption. The consequence of a loss of reputation is always the withdrawing of stakeholder support:

  • In the private sector this is usually investor flight and share value decline; these can spiral out of control if confidence cannot be restored.
  • In the public sector this is typically withdrawal of government support to reflect declining confidence.
  • In the professional sector client confidence is vital for business sustainability; a loss of reputation means a loss of clients.

Each sector can point to scenarios where the impact of reputation damage can vary from mild to catastrophic; and whilst the consequences can be measured after the effect they are not always predictable in advance.  To overcome this problem, managing reputation risk for an organisation requires three steps:

  • Predict: All risk is future uncertainty, and an appropriate risk forecasting system to identify reputation risk is required – creative thinking is needed here! The outcomes from a reputational risk workshop will be specific to the organisation and the information must feed directly into the governance process if reputation risk is to be taken seriously (see more on The Functions of Governance).
  • Prepare: Reputation risk is a collective responsibility, not just the governing body’s. All management and operational staff must recognise the organisation’s reputation is important and take responsibility for protecting it in their interaction with stakeholders. The protection of reputation should also be a key element in the organisation’s disaster recovery plans.
  • Protect: A regular vulnerability review will reveal where reputation risk is greatest, and guide actions to prevent possible damage. Each vulnerability must be assessed objectively and actions taken to minimise exposure. Significant risks will need a ‘protection plan’ developed and then implemented and monitored.

Dealing with a Reputational Risk Event

When a risk event occurs, some standard elements needs to be part of the response for individuals and organisations alike. For reputation enhancing risk events, make sure you acknowledge the ‘good luck’ in an appropriately and take advantage of the opportunity in a suitably authentic way. Over-hyping an event will be seen as unauthentic and have a negative effect on reputation; but good news and good outcomes should be celebrated. Reputation threatening risk events need a more proactive approach

  • Step 1: Deal with the event itself. You will not protect your reputation by trying to hide the bad news or ignoring the issue.  Proactively work to solve the problem in a way that genuinely minimise harm for as many stakeholders as possible minimises the damage that has to be managed.
  • Step 2: Communicate. And keep communicating – organisations need to have a sufficiently senior person available quickly as the contact point and keep the ‘news’ coming. Rumours and creative reporting will always be worse then the fact and will grow to fill the void. All communication needs to be open, honest and as complete as possible at the time.  Where you ‘don’t know’ tell people what you are doing to find out. (see Integrity is the key to delivering bad news successfully).
  • Keep your promises and commitments. If this becomes impossible because of changing circumstances tell people as soon as you know, don’t wait for them to find out.
  • Follow up afterwards. Actions that show you really care after the event can go a long way towards repairing the damage to your reputation.

Summary

Reputation is ephemeral and a good reputation is difficult to create and maintain. Warren Buffet in his 2015 memo to his top management team in Berkshire Hathaway emphasised that their top priority must be to ‘zealously guard Berkshire’s reputation’. He also reminded his leadership team that ‘we can afford to lose money–even a lot of money. But we can’t afford to lose reputation–even a shred of reputation’ (discussed in Ethics, Culture, Rules and Governance). In the long run I would suggest this is true for every organisation and individual – your reputation is always in the minds of other people!


Project Risk Management – how reliable is old data

January 28, 2016

One of the key underpinnings of risk management is reliable data to base probabilistic estimates of what may happen in the future.  The importance of understanding the reliability of the data being used is emphasised in PMBOK® Guide 11.3.2.3 Risk Data Quality Assessment and virtually every other risk standard.

One of the tenets underpinning risk management in all of its forms from gambling to insurance is the assumption that reliable data about the past is a good indicator of what will happen in the future – there’s no certainty in this processes but there is degree of probability that future outcomes will be similar to past outcomes if the circumstances are similar. ‘Punters’ know this from their ‘form guides’, insurance companies rely on this to calculate premiums and almost every prediction of some future outcome relies on an analogous interpretation of similar past events. Project estimating and risk management is no different.

Every time or cost estimate is based on an understanding of past events of a similar nature; in fact the element that differentiates an estimate from a guess is having a basis for the estimate! See:

–  Duration Estimating

–  Cost Estimating

The skill in estimating both normal activities and risk events is understanding the available data, and being able to adapt the historical information to the current circumstances. This adaptation requires understanding the differences in the work between the old and the current and the reliability and the stability of the information being used. Range estimates (three point estimates) can be used to frame this information and allow a probabilistic assessment of the event; alternatively a simple ‘allowance’ can be made. For example, in my home state we ‘know’ three weeks a year is lost to inclement weather if the work is exposed to the elements.  Similarly office based projects in the city ‘know’ they can largely ignore the risk of power outages – they are extremely rare occurrences. But how reliable is this ‘knowledge’ gained over decades and based on weather records dating back 180 years?

World-Temprature

Last year was the hottest year on record (by a significant margin) as was 2014 – increasing global temperatures increase the number of extreme weather events of all types and exceptionally hot days place major strains on the electrical distribution grids increasing the likelihood of blackouts.  What we don’t know because there is no reliable data is the consequences.  The risk of people not being able to get to work, blackouts and inclement weather events are different – but we don’t know how different.

Dealing with this uncertainty requires a different approach to risk management and a careful assessment of your stakeholders. Ideally some additional contingencies will be added to projects and additional mitigation action taken such as backing up during the day as well as at night – electrical storms tend to be a late afternoon / evening event. But these cost time and money…..

Getting stakeholder by-in is more difficult:

  • A small but significant number of people (including some in senior roles) flatly refuse to accept there is a problem. Despite the science they believe based on ‘personal observations’ the climate is not changing…….
  • A much larger number will not sanction any action that costs money without a cast iron assessment based on valid data. But there is no valid data, the consequences can be predicted based on modelling but there are no ‘facts’ based on historical events……..
  • Most of the rest will agree some action is needed but require an expert assessment of the likely effect and the value proposition for creating contingencies and implementing mitigation activities.

 

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it???? 

The challenge facing everyone in management is deciding what to do:

  • Do nothing and respond heroically if needed?
  • Think through the risks and potential responses to be prepared (but wait to see what actually occurs)??
  • Take proactive action and incur the costs, but never being sure if they are needed???

There is no ‘right answer’ to this conundrum, we certainly cannot provide a recommendation because we ‘don’t know’ either.  But at least we know we don’t know!

head-in-sandI would suggest discussing what you don’t know about the consequences of climate change on your organisation is a serious conversation that needs to be started within your team and your wider stakeholder community.

Doing nothing may feel like a good options – wait and see (ie, procrastination) can be very attractive to a whole range of innate biases. But can you afford to do nothing?  Hoping for the best is not a viable strategy, even if inertia in your stakeholder community is intense. This challenge is a real opportunity to display leadership, communication and negotiation skills to facilitate a useful conversation.


How to succeed as a PM in 2016

January 6, 2016

On-the-busProjects are done by people for people and through the medium of social media, people power is growing.  Successful project managers know this and use it to their advantage; they create a team culture focused on working with other stakeholders to create success.

Project managers know when they get this right because their project team will challenge, follow and support them, and each other, in order to get the job done. Not only that, but word spreads and other people inside the organisation will want to join the team or be associated with its success. When a PM achieves this, they know they have created something special and paradoxically are under less pressure, can get a good night’s sleep, and as a consequence are fully refreshed each day to keep building the success. This is good for the people and great for the organisation!!

Developing the skills and personal characteristics needed to develop and lead a committed team needs more then technical training. Experience, reflection, coaching and mentoring all help the project manager grow and develop (and it’s a process that never stops). Five signs that they are on the path to becoming a great team leader are:

  1. They’re well liked. Great leaders make people feel good about themselves; they speak to people in a way that they like to be spoken to, are clear about what needs to be achieved[1], and are also interested in their lives outside work and display a little vulnerability every now and again to demonstrate that they are human. They’ll always start the day with a ‘good morning’, the evening with a ‘good night’ and every question or interaction will be met with courtesy. When the team picks up on this the project area will be filled with good humour and great productivity.
  2. They put effort into building and maintaining teams. Designing great teams takes lots of thought and time – you need the right people ‘on the bus[2]’ and you need to get the wrong people ‘off the bus’. A great project manager doesn’t accept the people who are ‘free’ or ‘on the bench’ unless they’re the right people and they’ll negotiate intensely for the people that they really need, going to great lengths to recruit people into the vision that they have. Once the team is in place, they never stop leading it, building it, encouraging it, performance managing it and celebrating it.
  3. They involve everyone in planning. Or at least everyone that matters! The PM identifies the team members and other stakeholders that need to be involved; creates a productive, enjoyable environment, and leads the process. They want to ensure that they get the most out of the time and at the end have a plan that the team has built and believe in.
  4. They take the blame and share the credit. Great project managers are like umbrellas. When the criticism is pouring down they ensure that the team is protected from it. They then ensure that the message passed down is presented as an opportunity to improve not a problem to be fixed. Similarly, when the sun is out and the praise is beaming down, they ensure that the people who do the real work bask in it and are rewarded for it. When they talk about how successful a project has been, they talk about the strengths of the team and the qualities they have shown, never about themselves.
  5. They manage up well. Stakeholder engagement, particularly senior stakeholder engagement is the key to project success[3]. Great project mangers know they need senior executive support to help clear roadblocks and deliver resources and know how to tap into the organisation’s powerlines for the support they need.

Great project mangers are also good technical managers; they have an adequate understand the technology of the project and they know how the organisation’s management systems and methodologies work. But they also know they can delegate much of this aspect of their work to technologists and administrative experts within their team. And if the team is fully committed to achieving project success, these experts will probably do a better job than the project manager anyway.

Projects are done by people for people and the great project managers know how to lead and motivate[4] ‘their people’ to create a successful team that in turn will work with their stakeholders to create a successful project outcome.

 

[1] For more on delegation see:  http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1091_Delegation.pdf

[2] In the classic book Good to Great, Jim Collins says, “…to build a successful organization and team you must get the right people on the bus.”

[3] This is the focus of my book Advising Upwards: A Framework for Understanding and Engaging Senior Management Stakeholders, see http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Book_Sales.html#Adv_Up

[4] For more on leadership see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1014_Leadership.pdf


Defining Stakeholder Engagement

August 6, 2015

Two earlier posts have discussed the concepts of stakeholder engagement.

Stakeholder Engagement GroupThis post builds on these foundations to look at the tools and techniques of proactive stakeholder engagement. Effective stakeholder engagement is a mutually beneficial process designed to enable better planned and more informed policies, projects, programs and services.

For stakeholders, the benefits of engagement include the opportunity to contribute as experts in their field or ‘users’ of the deliverable, have their issues heard and participate in the decision-making process. This should lead to:

  • Greater opportunities to contribute directly to the development of the outputs from the work;
  • More open and transparent lines of communication, increasing accountability and driving innovation;
  • Improved access to decision-making processes, resulting in the delivery of better outcomes;
  • Early identification of synergies between the stakeholders and the work, encouraging integrated and comprehensive solutions to complex issues.

For the ‘organisation’, the benefits of stakeholder engagement include improved information flows, access to local knowledge and having the opportunity to try out ideas or proposals with stakeholders before they are formalised. This should lead to:

  • Higher quality decision-making;
  • Increased efficiency in and effectiveness of delivery;
  • Improved risk management practices – allowing risks to be identified and considered earlier, thereby reducing future costs;
  • Streamlined development processes;
  • Greater alignment with stakeholder interests – ensuring outputs are delivered in collaboration with stakeholders and provide outcomes which meet their needs;
  • Enhanced stakeholder community confidence in the work being undertaken;
  • Enhanced capacity to innovate.

As with any stakeholder management process, ‘not all stakeholders are equal’ some stakeholders should be engaged because they are important to the work being undertaken, others simply need to be kept informed by appropriate levels of communication (for more on this see The three types of stakeholder communication).

The various levels of stakeholder communication, management and engagement are:

  • Inform: You provide the stakeholder with an appropriate level of communication, generally either PR or reporting.
  • Manage: You direct your communication to achieve a desired change in the attitude of the stakeholder or to manage an emerging situation.
  • Consult: You invite the stakeholder to provide feedback, analysis, and/or suggest alternatives to help develop a better outcome.
  • Involve: You work directly with stakeholders to ensure that their concerns and needs are consistently understood and considered; eg, the business representative involved in an Agile sprint).
  • Collaborate: You partner with the stakeholder to develop mutually agreed alternatives, make joint decisions and identify preferred solutions; eg, typical ‘alliance’ and ‘partnering’ forms of contract.
  • Empower: You place final decision-making in the hands of the stakeholder. Stakeholders are enabled (but also need to be capable) to actively contribute to the achievement of ‘their’ outcomes.

Stakeholder CollaborationThe first three bullets above are Stakeholder Management activities, the last three various levels of Stakeholder Engagement. Deciding which level of interaction is appropriate is a key driver of success, in any project, program or other work, some stakeholders will be best managed by simply keeping them informed, whereas the higher levels of engagement such as collaboration and empowerment require stakeholders with sufficient skills and knowledge to be able to actively participate in the endeavour, and importantly the desire to be involved!

The Stakeholder Circle® methodology provides the foundations needed to understand your stakeholder community and decide on the appropriate level of engagement for the ‘high priority’ stakeholders affected by the work. When you get to ‘Step 4 – Engagement’ the additional questions that need answering include:

  • What is the purpose and desired outcomes of the engagement activity?
  • What level of engagement is required to achieve this outcome – consult, collaborate, empower?
  • What method of engagement will you use?
  • What are the timing issues or requirements?
  • What resources will you need to conduct the engagement?
  • Who is responsible for engagement?
  • What are the risks associated with the engagement?

 

Finally, as with any stakeholder management process, the success or otherwise of the overall process needs to be reviewed regularly and appropriate adaptation made to optimise outcomes (step 5 in the Stakeholder Circle® methodology)

Summary:

Stakeholder engagement is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to managing stakeholders and needs to be planned into the overall development of the work:

  • Some of the questions outlined above need asking at the very earliest stages of a project or program during the ‘strategic planning phase’ and will affect the way the whole of the work is planned and undertaken.
  • The culture of the organisation undertaking the work will determine how open it is to inviting stakeholder collaboration or engagement, a degree of ‘culture change’ may need to be planned into the work.
  • Stakeholder engagement is always a two-way process, the skills, capability and culture of the key stakeholders will also be a constraint on what is feasible or desirable. You may need a strategy to ‘get the stakeholders on-side’.

Overall time and effort spent on stakeholder engagement will pay dividends (see: Valuing Stakeholder Management), stakeholder engagement is simply the most proactive way of helping your stakeholders to help you deliver their requirements successfully.


The Elements of Stakeholder Engagement

July 20, 2015

Effective stakeholder engagement is a two-way interactive relationship that encourages stakeholder involvement in the organisation for the benefit of both the stakeholders and the organisation.  The trend is increasingly clear; organisations that effectively serve the needs of their stakeholders outperform those that do not.

However, what is also apparent is confusion on the part of many managers as to precisely what stakeholder engagement is, and what systems facilitate effective stakeholder engagement.  This post suggests there are three basic systems that together form the foundation for effective stakeholder engagement in most organisations, but the foundations are just that, necessary underpinnings, stakeholder engagement itself rises above the foundations to create an entirely new way of engaging with stakeholders. Let’s start with a look at the three basic components:

Stakeholder Engagement

PR = Public Relations

PR is probably the oldest of the three foundations (particularly if you include advertising within the overall ambit of PR).  For thousands of years people and organisations with something to sell to ‘the public’ have recognised the need to tell potential customers about their offering and suggest there is a good reason for the potential customer to become an actual customer or client.

Camel Market

Smart merchants realised they needed to give potential customers a reason for doing business with them (rather than someone else) and that competing on price alone was not a good move in a crowded market place.

The role of advertising is in part to make potential customers aware of your offering and in part to create a desire for the type of goods or services you are providing. Effective advertising creates a ‘call to action’ which the customer heeds.

Public Relations (PR) has a different focus.  Good PR is built around creating a positive image of the organisation in the minds of its wider stakeholder community. PR is not directly aligned to sales in the way advertising is, but does seek to make the organisation appear to be one that most stakeholders in its target audience will want to be associated with.  This may be because of exclusivity, or status, because the organisation is seen to be ‘good’, or for any one of a dozen other reasons.  Effective PR has many purposes including:

  • Underpinning its advertising by creating a ‘good first impression’ of the organisation, thereby allowing the stakeholder to take note of its advertising.
  • Explaining the value of the organisation to a wider community minimising resistance to the functioning of the organisation and facilitating its operations.
  • Making the organisation appear to be a desirable ‘citizen’ within its community; etc.

Good PR is of course authentic and reflective of the true nature of the organisation, in the modern age ‘spin’ is easily uncovered and can be very damaging.

The fundamental nature of both PR and advertising is ‘push’ communication – the organisation pushes its message out to the wider community, hopes someone listens, and then measures its impact after the event with a view to improving the ‘message’ and the effect.

 

CRM = Customer Relationship Management

CRM is focused on providing a great experience to every customer.  The commercial driver for CRM is in part the generally accepted fact that it is far cheaper to retain an existing customer then to attract a new one and in part from a win-win view that the ability to quickly and efficiently service the unique needs of each customer reduces the transaction costs for the organisation.

Customers or clients are clearly stakeholders with a significant interest in the organisation, so focusing effort on providing them with the best possible level of service, delivered quickly and efficiently is a win-win outcome. Happy customers are more likely to recommend an organisation to their friends and colleagues as well as becoming regular clients of the organisation.

Unfortunately the concept of CRM seems to have been hijacked by software systems, overseas call centres and ‘big data’; bought with a view to ‘reducing costs’.  There’s nothing wrong with any of these concepts provided the outcome is improved customer service. Where the outcome is a reduction in service, any cost savings are likely to be offset by reduced business and the cost of attracting new customers to replace the ones lost by poor service.

Whilst CRM at its best is interactive and focused on a win-win outcome for both the organisation and its stakeholders, the stakeholders directly affected by CRM are limited to the organisations customers and clients.

 

Stakeholder Management

Stakeholder management is process focused; it involves planned interaction with a wider stakeholder community, both to manage the consequences of any crisis as well as providing information and facilitating two-way communication with key stakeholders.

Good stakeholder management is a proactive process, focused on facilitating regular communication and anticipating needs, issues and problems that are likely to arise within the stakeholder community. Tools and methodologies such as the Stakeholder Circle® are designed to facilitate efficient stakeholder management. Stakeholders are identified, there needs assesses and their relative importance determined. Based on this assessment, communication and other interactions are initiated to gather the support and assistance needed by the organisation and to head off or minimise any threats or problems.

The focus of stakeholder management tends to be ‘defensive’, and is aimed at creating the best possible stakeholder environment to allow the organisation to do its work efficiently   The process is interactive, seeking to engage constructively with the organisations stakeholders and looking for win-win outcomes that benefit the organisation and the stakeholder, but is driven by the organisation, from the perspective of the organisation.

 

Stakeholder Engagement

Stakeholder engagement builds on these three foundations (particularly ‘stakeholder management’) to create a different paradigm.  Stakeholders are encouraged to actively engage with the organisation and contribute to its growth and development whilst at the same time the organisation and its staff engage with their community through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives and the like. These engagement processes build a strong, two-way relationship in which the stakeholders and the organisation work together to build a common future that is both mutually desirable and beneficial.  I will be writing about stakeholder engagement in a future post.

 

Conclusion

The three foundations of Stakeholder Engagement: ‘Stakeholder Management’, CRM and PR are quite different processes focused on achieving different outcomes.  In a well managed organisation all three functions work together to crate a supportive stakeholder environment and a successful organisation. However, whilst the systems need to be aligned and compatible they are very different and should not be confused.

In particular CRM and Stakeholder Management systems have very different objectives, focus on quite different stakeholder groupings, need significantly different information sets, and have very different measures of success:

  • CRM focuses on customers (or clients). Whilst customers as a ‘class’ of stakeholder are important, generally an individual customer is not. The focus of a CRM system is managing large amounts of data to provide ‘all customers’ with a generically ‘good’, potentially ‘tailored’ experience.
  • Stakeholder Management focuses on indentifying the key stakeholders ‘at this point in time’ that require specific management focus as well as the wider group of stakeholders that need to be engaged (or at least watched). In most situations very few individual clients or customers would be sufficiently important to feature in this list, but there will be lots of stakeholders who are highly unlikely to ever become ‘customers’, for example suppliers and competitors.

The shift to ‘stakeholder engagement’ does not add new systems but does require a paradigm shift in thinking. The key element of stakeholder engagement is opening up to the ‘right stakeholders’ and either inviting them into the organisation, or reaching out to them, to help create a mutually beneficial future – more on this later.