Let’s face it, for all the kumbaya “let’s all get along” talk at management training sessions, as an IT project manager (IT PM) there will come a time when you have a stakeholder who you do not get along with. CIO Magazine recently published an article on this subject called “When You’ve Had it with a Stakeholder” but only gives a quick two sentence blanket suggestion of how to walk away from a stakeholder. I think this should rarely be an option. Unless the stakeholder is doing something unethical or illegal, you were hired to provide a service and should have the guts to stick it out.
IT PM’s have a unique role in working with both internal and external clients and trying to balance the needs and motivations of both groups at the same time. Flat out, it is your job as the PM to get along with everyone involved in a project well enough so that efficiency is not compromised. You don’t have to like everyone you are working with — nobody asked you to make your project team or your stakeholders your best friends. However, you have been hired as a PM because of your emotional maturity and ability to manage the project implementation and lead the selected personnel.
In my experience, there are three type of stakeholders who can really get under the skin of a PM and have the ability to derail your project if you are not careful. The likelihood that you will identify with at least one of these examples is high.
Personality Paul: There are some people who are difficult to get along with because of their personality. The stakeholder’s personality may grate you wrong in so many ways that you would rather jump into a pool full of gators than sit through another meeting with them. Regardless of what the motivation is, this is a person you just don’t like. Your relationship with them is hurting your communication and ultimately your ability to get things done. You find yourself sending emails when you should be picking up the phone or talking with them face to face.
Bottom Line: Get over yourself. Your team will respect you more if you are able to manage your relationship with this person and run interference for them when necessary. If it is bad enough, sit down and talk with them and provide objective examples of how you feel a situation could have been handled better.
Absurd Alex: Sometimes a client will place unreasonable demands on you and your team. It could be changes to the project scope or advancing deadlines. As a PM you probably have more than one project on your plate, but they want you to drop everything and deal with their issues. They may want you to incorporate new features into the software that may add a significant amount of time and expense to your project after work packages have been completed. Most of their changes and suggested improvements come during the last week before project closing.
Bottom Line: Refer back your project scope document. As part of your personnel planning, insulate yourself by appointing a committee to make the final decision on project and scope changes. If they have a boss, sometimes a quick conversation where you remain calm and can provide concrete examples is helpful in redirecting this persons enthusiasm.
Absent Annie: I find this stakeholder at least three times as much as I do the previous two. You know the type — this person is not engaged in the process at all. The come to status meetings without having read the project update emails you sent out and then spend your meeting time asking questions that were detailed in the update email. When you need a decision made, they cannot be found and when you do find them, they put you off time and time again.
Bottom Line: You gotta remember that everyone has demands on their time. You more than likely are not being ignored; this person is placing a higher priority on other projects they are involved in. Don’t be offended. Continue moving forward. If you come to a point where the project cannot proceed without their approval or input and you are not getting their attention, it might be best to talk with them and see if there is someone else who may be able to give you the time and attention you need.
I think it is important to always remember that people try and do the best they can in their job. For the most part, people are working hard to help their organization achieve its goals and they are mirroring behavior they have seen at some point or another in their career. There are also situations where difficulties in someone’s personal life seep over into their professional performance.
As an IT project manager, you need to be careful about judging someone’s performance on an emotional level. If you can keep performance evaluations objective, it will help the way you look at stakeholders. And never, ever talk negatively about a stakeholder to a member of your team. The old adage that “team attitude is reflective of its leadership” is true. Keep your mouth shut and your team will benefit.