Environment control through stakeholder communication
Stakeholder communication refers to the regular exchange between the project and its stakeholders. In order for it to have a lasting effect and be used to steer the project environment, it must be carried out systematically, i.e. a loose collection of irregularly carried out actions is not sufficient. Knowing who the stakeholders are and what their attitudes, motives and goals are, the project manager can resort to discursive, participatory and repressive communication strategies to achieve effects.
With consistent dialogue with stakeholders, the feedback and lessons learned can be used to institutionalise a continuous improvement process in the project.
The discursive strategy aims to balance the different interests of the stakeholders. For this purpose, the stakeholders are listened to, their opinions are recorded and, if possible or necessary, processed in the project. Stakeholders are talked to and the project manager conducts meetings and negotiations, information rounds and status meetings. Active participation of the stakeholders in the project is not required.
The application of a participatory strategy involves a partnership-based inclusion of stakeholders. For this, they must be involved in the project and, if necessary, actively participate. The project manager has various possibilities to achieve integration into the project. For example, a stakeholder can be integrated into the steering committee (as a co-decision-maker in the project), be part of the core team (as a supporting pillar in the project) or be involved as a project member. Depending on the project, this can be planned for the entire duration of the project, but also only with reference to phases or for the specific processing of a work package.
In the discursive and participatory strategy, the project manager can define different levels of participation intensity:
- Level 1 - low intensity of participation through information and communication
- Level 2 - medium participation intensity through participation in the sense of working on the project
- Level 3 - high participation intensity through participation in the sense of co-decision-making in the project
The time intervals and regularity of participation must also be determined depending on the project.
It often happens that stakeholders are not allowed to be involved in the project and its processes at all; in this case the participation intensity would be below level 1, at level 0.
- Level 0 - no participation in the project desired
Which brings us to the third strategy, the repressive strategy.
Repressive strategy is based on the idea of being able to control the environment through selective information or exclusion from the flow of information, exerting pressure or creating a fait accompli, and other forms of use of power.
Examples from the world of project management
Example 1 "Development project”
According to the definition, competitors can be stakeholders in the project, but of course they must not receive any information about the project, let alone be involved in it. The repressive strategy can be applied here, e.g., by agreeing non-compete clauses with key project personnel or confidentiality agreements with system suppliers who supply both the project and the competitor.
Example 2 "Organisational project”
In the case of a planned merger of two companies, discussions about this in public would be harmful. By placing the project team in a neutral location and keeping the project absolutely secret, these discussions can be prevented.
It always becomes problematic when the classification of stakeholders has been done incorrectly and the packages of measures have been inadequately decided. If important decisions have been made but the relevant stakeholders have only been involved in an apparent way, conflicts arise at the latest when the stakeholders rebel against this decision.
Therefore, good arguments are required for each of the communication strategies described. This applies to the classification of the stakeholders, the definition of individual measures and their chronological sequence. The stronger and more well-founded these arguments are built up and presented, the better the communication strategy can unfold its effect.
Author: Dr. Roland Ottmann
Keywords: Project management, Stakeholder communication