The PMO and Stakeholder Engagement

Both hand holding the peoples

Lindsay Scott

It’s a question that still gets raised when the PMO looks beyond the more technical and analytical aspects of their work in supporting portfolio, programmes and projects in an organisation and thinks about how they can assist and support behavioural interactions.

Everyone knows that stakeholders are crucial to project success – and right now, stakeholder management has been sidelined to make way for stakeholder engagement.

In this article, we take a look at who stakeholders are – how they are engaged rather than managed – how a stakeholder mindset is established – the different types of stakeholders and finally how PMOs can get involved in project and programme stakeholder engagement and whether stakeholder engagement can also be utilised by the PMO itself.

We start by understanding who stakeholders are, and draw on the PMI PMBoK definition. Stakeholders are:

an individual, group or organisation who may affect or be affected by or perceived itself to be affected by a decision, activity or outcome

An even shorter definition, stakeholders in projects are “the involved or the affected”.

There’s been a real shift away from the term “stakeholder management”. Management implies the co-ordination and control of people (stakeholders) rather than the participation and responsiveness of the term engagement [Read more about the 5 ‘Musts’ of Stakeholder Engagement]

In projects today, we’re looking for meaningful engagement which roughly translates to:

It’s a two-way street and its the job of the project manager to be able to foster that kind of culture, create the right kind of environment to enable conversation, debate and decisions to be made.

It may feel like a subtle change – from management to engagement, yet we know wherever people exist on projects, it’s never going to be an easy ride.

We’re interested in everyone, the “involved and affected”in projects yet some stakeholders are more important than others. Traditionally, understanding role-based stakeholders are where most of the project management training has focused.

Role-based stakeholders – when we look at the different types of projects below – are the ‘involved’- the people and groups who have a defined relationship to the project. In less complex projects there are relatively few stakeholders and where there are, they tend to be role-based. As projects become increasingly complex, with more stakeholders, the profiles of these stakeholders change.

They become agenda-based stakeholders. These people and groups may feely very strongly  (passionately) about the project but you won’t necessarily identify them by going to your governance documents.  They may be obvious – they may not.  They may emerge late on in the project – if you like, the affected.  The way you identify, assess and engage with these groups is often quite different from the role-based stakeholders. You see these types of stakeholders a lot when the projects affect the general public, like a new runway or building a new nuclear power station.

The approach – the project management techniques, processes and tools – differ depending on the type of stakeholder.

They’re the custodian of the different methods, frameworks, processes and techniques. They’re there to assist the project manager in whichever activity they can.

Sometimes the role of the PMO as a Centre of Excellence means they’re there to support/educate / coach – offer training for project managers if its felt it is needed.

Sometimes the more directive PMO will offer hands-on support in approaches such as SEAM (Stakeholder Engagement Assessment Matrix), RACI (Responsibility Assignment Matrix) and the facilitation of them. They’ll also pick up communication activities that touch stakeholders frequently with the right messages.

For more agenda-based stakeholders, PMOs can work with project managers to determine Power – Interest Matrices, use their own connections and relationships to provide input into salience analysis and cognitive mapping. There’s much for the PMO to explore here, new thinking and approaches that can be adopted by the project delivery organisation.

The PMO as connectors are also very useful for understanding ‘who’s who in the zoo’, the political relationships in the organisation, the organisational network analysis of who is connected to who and with what agendas. The PMO see and hear a lot.

The PMO’s role is to support good project delivery – not manage it. The role of the PMO in stakeholder engagement is to help the Project Manager foster an environment where stakeholder engagement can flourish. The PMO has to take its own medicine and engage with the Project Manager to understand how and where it can assist.

The PMO should be exemplary and that starts with their own stakeholder engagement.

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