Software or app-building projects are rarely simple affairs.
It’s not just the decisions about interface, features and overall functionality, but within larger companies, it’s often about taking into account the needs and wants of multiple stakeholders from different departments.
For the project manager, this can be a source of headaches. How do you effectively balance the needs of these different stakeholders? What if it’s not possible for everyone to get their wishes met?
We’re looking at how to effectively manage those cross-department projects and get a quality outcome:
Firstly, let’s look at a few key challenges that are often made when it comes to managing those cross-department software projects. One of the major mistakes is to try to incorporate everyone’s ideas or opinions with no real guidelines placed around outcomes and timeframe.
You just can’t be all things to all people and oftentimes, you’ll find that there are so many voices clamoring to be heard and different opinions on the “essential” parts of the project that things get dragged out. You need to be able to strike the right balance between being inclusive of different stakeholders and keeping a project held to timelines and budget. For the project manager, this means making a plan to manage stakeholders and avoid getting pulled in multiple directions.
Identifying project stakeholders
Sometimes within the environment of a larger company, identifying exactly who your stakeholders are is a huge challenge. You might have stakeholders across many different departments and some may even be external to the company (for example, if you work with other contractors, partners or government).
Stakeholders may be any party that is investing time or resources into the project and it’s up to the project manager to evaluate their role in influencing the project. This evaluation should help you to manage information and communication, identifying who key stakeholders are and who can take a back seat and is happy to just be kept informed. (It is a common mistake to either prioritize the wrong stakeholders or try to give all equal priority – you’ll spend the entire project managing stakeholders full time!)
Software Advice shows an example of using a grid plotting “influence” and “interest” to help project managers decide who their stakeholders are and the level of involvement they require:
One of the key aspects of successfully managing a cross-departmental project is, of course, one of the biggest challenges to implement – effective communication across stakeholders. You’ve probably been in meetings before where someone clearly “didn’t get the memo”, perhaps because the method of communication wasn’t one they were used to.
So, what does work? Unfortunately, there’s no one right answer that will fit every company – you need to learn about the preferred methods of your stakeholders. Let’s look at a few common communication methods and their relative pros and cons:
Quick to get messages out.
Most people use it.
Can be accessed from anywhere.
Email trails and “replies to all” can become huge and difficult to manage.
Key information gets lost in email trails.
Inboxes get very crowded – it’s easy for people to miss messages.
Project management tool
Keeps all information centralized.
Easy to attach supporting information to messages.
Often has features like “version control” so any changes can be seen.
Can easily review all comments that have been made on a project.
Stakeholders need to have access to the tool – you might not want them having access to the entire thing.
Not all can be accessed from anywhere (depends on the tool you choose).
Sometimes the tool itself is a big learning curve for users.
Face to face meetings
Often good for generating energy and ideas.
Get to know stakeholders on a more personal level.
Reach a consensus in a sitting rather than across several messages.
Conferencing tools can make them accessible to more people.
Often difficult to coordinate meeting times that suit everyone.
Can lead to a few “loud” people holding the floor while others are left out.
Sometimes not an efficient use of time, for example, if anyone has to travel to the meeting or if there isn’t a clear structure.
Hard copy communications
Provide a tangible report or “thing” for people to pick up.
Can’t update them once sent out – information may be dated quickly.
You will probably find that you need a mixture of communication methods for different times within the project, but whichever you choose, it’s important that expectations are set about how and when communication occurs from the beginning of the project.
At Koombea, we operate in an agile environment, meaning we work in weekly sprints with reports on progress going to key stakeholders (usually a project manager from the client company) weekly. Some companies may prefer less communication than this, but the point is that we’ve set the expectation of how often communication happens and we’re ensuring that stakeholder voices can be heard during the course of the project, rather than just at the beginning and end.
It’s then up to the project manager whether they pass on every report to stakeholders or if they update them less regularly. In any case, it’s best practice for project managers to ensure that stakeholders are communicated with regularly, giving them the chance to be heard and hopefully avoiding a lot of re-work later on.
Tips for managing many stakeholders effectively
It’s never an easy task managing across departments and taking into account many stakeholders, but there are a few practices you can follow to ensure your project doesn’t descend into total chaos:
Setting (and managing) expectations
It’s important to set project expectations with stakeholders from the very beginning, ensuring that everyone has a common understanding of project scope, timeline, and available resources. (Equally, you may need to spell out exactly what is not in scope, to ensure that no one tries to add those things!)
A strategy that is often used by experienced project managers is to build a “discovery phase” into the timeline at the start so that the team has time to clearly break down scope and timeline. This is a good opportunity, especially on complex projects to save more time in the long run as you can get clarity early on and avoid scope creep.
Often people will want to know timeline upfront, but you need to be able to manage this request so that you don’t set yourself up to over-promise and under-deliver. This is where that discovery time helps because you can build a more accurate picture. You want to be able to create a realistic schedule, but with some padding in it to cover any “just in case” scenarios.
Clear project documentation can be a lifesaver when it comes to smooth execution of the project and ensuring that expectations are transparent. It’s a big part of your communication with stakeholders.
This means you should have detailed project scope, goals and a plan for communication. A tip here is to list higher level tasks on the key documentation, but don’t go overboard listing every little thing. You can always have checklists of smaller tasks broken down which team members can work through themselves.
Include all key milestones in your documentation and show how they create a progression to the final goal. Importantly, define what “success” looks like so that there is a common understanding among all involved.
Besides having a good communication plan in place, it’s important to maintain transparency with all stakeholders to help facilitate a smooth project. This includes communicating when any issues arise.
A big part of stakeholder management is giving them confidence in the project and the way it is being managed – if you are able to communicate honestly when something goes wrong, give precise information and have already thought through solutions and impacts, stakeholders will feel more at ease with the project.
Keep stakeholder goals in mind
While ideally, you will all have a common view of “success” for the final product, different stakeholders will have a different take on what is important for them and their department. It’s important to understand this so that you can tailor communication and ensure that it provides answers to each person.
For example, the Marketing Director will have a different priority than the Chief Technology Officer, while anyone with financial concerns will be worried about goals like increasing revenue or market share. Your conversations or reports should keep these varying priorities in mind so that everyone can see how their part in it is coming together.
Managing multiple stakeholders? Get our checklist here
Managing software development projects where there are multiple stakeholders or departments involved is never going to be “easy”, but they can be made smoother by being aware of the common challenges and taking steps to mitigate them.
Stakeholder identification, communication, and setting of expectations are key activities that are worth devoting sufficient time to. Make it a priority to ensure everyone is on the same page from the beginning and that you clearly understand the core interests of each person. It is possible to balance varying needs for a successful outcome!
Here at Koombea we work with enterprises to create exceptional apps. Talk to us about how we can help you today.