Managing The New “Special” Project Stakeholders

project management

By Ayo Morakinyo

 

VENTURES AFRICA – Stakeholders include persons who come about the idea of a project, provide funds for executing it, work to achieve its objectives, intermittently observe the work to measure its progress and finally utilise its deliverables. Simply put, they are the reasons why projects exist. Since projects are unique and timely endeavours aimed at producing verifiable end results and stakeholders are those whose behaviours affect the project positively or otherwise, then no project can be successful without receiving suitable inputs from its stakeholders. Yet, the responsible personnel must effectively manage all these stakeholders or people with different personalities.

 

Though he has other responsibilities, it is the job of the project manager to identify and manage all stakeholders. Any error made in these two processes could be very critical as they may lead to failure, rework or additional cost. When the project manager has prior experience in the project type, his problems are reduced. He can apply background knowledge obtained from previous projects to the current work and consult subject matter experts or more experienced team members. Additionally, the organisation’s bank of historical records may provide more illumination on this task. That is why the updating of lesson learned documents remains vital in all ongoing projects. But if still in doubt that all stakeholders have been appropriately identified, it will be in his best interest to consult a senior management personnel.

 

However, when handling new projects or starting off your first job as a project manager, stakeholders can be quite difficult to identify and manage. In certain locations in Africa, where new and special stakeholders often emerge everyday, it is not an easy job to know who could suddenly decide to have a stake in your project. An example is found in Nigeria where the indigenes of certain areas often disturb project’s progress when their demand for money is not met. Though without legal backing, these natives claim they ought to be paid before any work can be done at project sites. Unfortunately, failure to give them audience or cooperate and negotiate with them may affect the successful implementation of the project.

 

Yet, requests for such incentives may recur throughout the project duration and increase the cost of completing the project. As such, it is advisable for the project manager to not just base his planning judgements on experience, team member information and historical records. Sparing time to examine the project location and enquire about the environment from its inhabitants and regular visitors is very applicable.

 

Most times, being present at the location of the project to perform careful examination and worst-case scenario exercises help reduce the rate at which stakeholder surprises emerge during the project.

 

Changes will always occur and the national condition also matters.

 

As a project team member, you cannot accurately estimate the condition in which the project will be executed. Consequently, you cannot ascertain the cost and time duration to the most accurate digits. When changes occur, they may affect project constraints and render the baselines outdated. So, if care is not taken, the project manager will appear incompetent and unreliable to the project sponsor(s); especially if they are not familiar with the factors influencing project baselines and project management plans. It is therefore imperative for project managers to properly identify stakeholders, analyze their degree and impact of influence and ensure they are effectively managed throughout the project life cycle. Failure at one or more of the aforementioned activities may result in the use of ineffective communication techniques.

 

The multiplied effects of these also include: gradual loss of project control, large deviation from baselines and recurrent need to perform objectives. In the end, the competence of the project manager becomes questionable and the sponsor’s and/or customer’s trusts are lost. Examples of special stakeholders in Nigeria today are the Niger Delta militants, the North-based Boko Haram Terrorism group and the Area boys (hoodlums) of overpopulated metropolises. Other groups may clearly exist, arise or even be subtle in various project areas. Therefore, to successfully execute and close projects in such areas, the project manager in conjunction with his team must identify and manage them proactively.