Managing Perception as a Risk
Managing risks is a key element of any project manager’s job. Identifying standard risks that come with any project as well as staying tuned to the early warning signs of other risks is vital to keeping your project in a green status. But what about the risks that don’t materialize themselves as true threats to your project, but as perceptions and opinions of secondary stakeholders who can influence the perceived success or failure of your project? This post will talk about how to manage stakeholder perception as a risk.
Identify All Stakeholders, Regardless of Impact
The first step in managing stakeholder perception is to identify all of the stakeholders, primary and otherwise. It is those stakeholders who will form perceptions that will have a direct impact on your project, either during the project or afterwards when it’s success or failure is evaluated. For example, if your project is to roll out a new electricity billing system for a local utility, you will of course identify your primary stakeholders such as the project sponsor, project manager, technical infrastructure staff, your billing subject matter experts to name a few. But what about other, more extraneous stakeholders who, while not having a direct impact on how the project is executed, will contribute to the overall perception of success or failure of your project. In this example, perhaps the utility end customers who will receive a bill from the new system you are implementing. They don’t have a say in how the project is delivered, but they will have been directly impacted by the outcome of the project and as such will have a perception on whether or not the project should be deemed a success. Only when you identify all of the stakeholders who have a vested interest in the success (or failure) of your project, will you be able to truly have a level playing field for ensuring that you are doing all you can to manage perception.
Understand What Drives Perception
Being able to know what influences the perception of all your stakeholders, primary and otherwise gives you a fighting chance of being able to manage that perception through delivery of your project and how you influence other key stakeholders who may be able to sway perception of others. Know what each stakeholder profile is seeking to gain as an outcome of your project is vital to being able to meet (or manage) those expectations. In the example cited above, your utility end customers are likely seeking an accurate bill with perhaps a slight rate decrease (due to the increased efficiency your new system is bringing). Knowing what drives the perception of success will help establish what your true project finish line should be (keeping in mind your contracted scope), but it will also help you to guide other stakeholders who want the project to succeed to ensure that steps are taken to ensure that your project is perceived as a success (provided it really is successful).
Stakeholder perception is one of the key elements of a project manager’s job description. When you hear the term “managing expectations”, this is all about stakeholder perception and making sure that those who are impacted by your project are seeing the work you and your team are doing as in line what they are interested in. In short, keep your stakeholders feeling that you are working towards their vision and you will be effectively managing expectations.