Why is stakeholder communication important?
Once you have initial buy-in for a PIM project, how do you encourage the people who have an interest in the outcome of the project to stay engaged? How can you ensure that the right people will be available to do the work, share their expertise, answer questions, or provide feedback to keep the project aligned with its objectives? The key is effective stakeholder communication.
Project stakeholders include:
- employees who complete the work,
- subject matter experts who provide relevant specialized knowledge,
- leadership or shareholders of your organization.
Stakeholders outside of your organization include clients and their customers, suppliers, vendors, and industry groups. Depending on the kind of project, stakeholders might also include governmental or regulatory organizations.
Effective communication with these stakeholders can help
- avoid or reduce confusion,
- remove obstacles,
- build trust, and
- ensure that everyone understands and is working towards the same set of project objectives.
Failing to have a good communication plan can slow or derail your project, so it’s worth putting in the time to establish one.
So, what kind of information do stakeholders want, and what are the best methods for communicating with them?
WHAT to Communicate
Once a project is underway, ongoing status updates are critical for keeping stakeholders up to date on project progress. It’s important that these updates occur frequently to help keep stakeholders on the same page and address issues quickly. Progress reports work best when they’re delivered in a standard format and on a set schedule, so participants know what kind of information they’ll receive and when to expect it.
Plan to summarize the past week’s completed work and list the assignments, due dates, and individuals responsible for the next week’s project tasks.
Meeting notes are an important way to keep track of discussion topics, questions, conclusions, and action items generated during discussions. Especially for longer projects, it can be valuable to keep a record of which stakeholders were present during which conversations, which topics were discussed, how issues were resolved, and what tasks or action items were identified.
For key milestones and distinct phases of project work, a summary report or presentation is a great way to recap the work that has been completed and highlight key results and takeaways. For example, many projects begin with a discovery phase, where teams gather requirements, identify pain points, and obtain information from subject matter experts (SMEs) to plan for the next phase of project work. Condensing this information and sharing it with stakeholders helps ensure that they understand the inputs, constraints, and challenges involved, and keeps them engaged in identifying priorities as project work continues.
HOW to Communicate
There are a variety of methods for communicating with stakeholders involved in your project.
There’s a reason meetings are the most common communication method in most organizations: they allow you to present information, and receive direct feedback on that information in real time. Meetings are critical when the information being shared needs to be acknowledged or approved before action can be taken, or when there are questions or issues that need to be discussed.
Group meetings consume valuable time and energy, so try to reserve them for situations when you want to create discussion among multiple stakeholders to:
- enable SMEs to share insight and provide input to guide future project work,
- allow participants to ask and answer questions, or
- provide and gather feedback on existing project work.
Individual meetings are the best way to build a meaningful relationship with a specific stakeholder. One-on-one discussions allow you to gain a better understanding of a stakeholder’s unique interests, priorities, and needs, and provide an opportunity for you to gauge their attitudes toward the project.
Use meetings to build meaningful relationships.
Email is one of the simplest ways to deliver information to a large group of individuals. It’s an ideal method for sharing meeting notes, summarizing tasks when specific action needs to be taken, or sending smaller project files. Email gets complicated when there are complex issues to be resolved or questions that require input from multiple stakeholders.
Reports & Presentations
Reports and presentations are other useful ways to deliver project information to multiple stakeholders at once. These methods are better than email when there’s a larger volume of material or more complex information to be shared.
Tips for Effective Communication
Communicate on their terms
An essential principle of communicating with stakeholders is to do so in the format and method that work best for them. Each stakeholder will have different preferences about when, how often, and what kinds of information they want communicated to them. Learning and accommodating these preferences is a quick way to show stakeholders that you’re listening to their needs. Stakeholders are also more likely to absorb important information when it’s communicated in the format and timeframe they prefer.
Quality communication is also necessary for building trust, which is a key component of successful projects. People are more likely to ask questions, share ideas, and raise issues in settings where they believe their input will be valued and taken seriously. Want to create an environment of creativity and collaboration? Make sure that you support transparent and honest communication with your project stakeholders.
Try to remain open and curious about each stakeholder’s perspective. What are their challenges, frustrations, or concerns about the project, and how can you work together to address them? You’re more likely to find creative solutions, uncover opportunities for improvement, and reduce miscommunications when you are receptive to their input.
The individuals and groups that are stakeholders in your project have a direct impact on its outcome. Each stakeholder will have different priorities, preferences, and needs. Effective communication ensures that each stakeholder receives the information they need, when they need it, to stay engaged during the project and keep the project on track.
Stakeholder communication is just a piece of your data governance process. Our ebook: Data Governance and Digital Transformation provides insights on how to develop the strategic, tactical, and advisory layers of a governance framework.