5 pitfalls to address when dealing with stakeholders’ expectations

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Effectively meeting stakeholders’ expectations requires project managers to recognize and address these five pitfalls.

Image: iStockphoto/monkeybusinessimages

Managing stakeholders’ expectations is a crucial part of project management. Stakeholders’ expectations must be clearly identified, documented, and managed. Do you and your team have a plan for successfully addressing expectations? Here are five stakeholder pitfalls a project manager (PM) should address.

SEE: IT project management: 10 ways to stay under budget (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

1. Identifying all of the stakeholders

Usually, a project has many stakeholders, and it can be difficult to recognize all of them. A stakeholder may be a person, a group, an organization, or a group of organizations that have an active interest in or might be affected by the project. Stakeholders can influence a project in many ways. 

For example, if the stakeholder is a senior manager in an organization, and he or she is not fully onboard with a project, it might significantly reduce buy-in throughout the company. Founders or C-suites are also stakeholders who can positively or negatively influence a project. Thorough identification of stakeholders is a key step in managing expectations.

2. Classifying stakeholders

Effective stakeholder management requires a project manager to classify stakeholders in terms of their role in project completion. A PM must identify which stakeholders are advocates and which may pose an obstacle to the project. 

Without being able to classify stakeholders, it can become challenging to identify the types of risks, where and when each risk resides, the impact to the project, or how to develop strategies to address potential risks. 

3. Mapping expectations

It falls on a PM to address potential issues, keep stakeholders engaged and interested, and complete the project as desired. A PM needs to have a clear picture of the expectations of all the stakeholders. Stakeholder analysis and adequate documentation can play an important role in mapping expectations. Various stakeholders may have different priorities regarding the completion of tasks, milestones, or the entire project. Their interests may have an alternate meaning, and they may have different definitions of success. 

For example, a stakeholder may have the number one priority for on-time completion of a project, and another stakeholder may define success as staying within budget. Mapping expectations and gaining clarity among all stakeholders increases the likelihood that a PM and his or her team can execute a project successfully.

4. Using appropriate communication methods

Determining and leveraging proper methods of communication is essential for stakeholder management. A PM needs to first identify the available and preferred communication methods for stakeholders to effectively manage the stakeholder’s expectations. The wrong or erroneous communication method may cause a lack of trust and frustration between stakeholders and a project manager. 

It may also be necessary to vary techniques and frequency of communication depending on factors such as timing, the message, the purpose, confidentiality, or changes relating to the stakeholders. 

5. Engaging stakeholders

Engagement of stakeholders during the project with timely updates improves the confidence level of stakeholders, and this is necessary for the success of a project. Efficient stakeholders management requires a PM to engage stakeholders in decision-making. 

Although a PM might think he or she has already devised the best course of action, they should include stakeholders in processes and relevant conversations to ensure all avenues have been explored; without doing so, valuable opportunities and expectations could become lost.

In summary

Recognizing five of the potential pitfalls around stakeholders’ expectations makes it more likely that you and your team will not only correctly manage issues, but also meet the right goals on time.

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