Saturday, February 11, 2023

Master Stakeholder Management with 5 Simple Steps

 Project management is one of the most sought-after, yet least understood skill sets in an organization. People know that when there’s a competent project manager around, things magically go more smoothly. More work gets done, superior results are achieved, and everybody feels less stressed.

But how, exactly, is that accomplished? People seeking to become project managers may find the career transition frustrating because of all the “soft skills” involved. These “soft skills” are among the most valuable in our field, and yet they can be the most difficult to quantify. That’s because these are skills that are best learned, not from a textbook, but from the school of life.

Most project managers know what it takes to build a solid project plan, create and maintain a budget, assign and track tasks, and identify and escalate roadblocks. These are skills you can learn from a textbook, at least in theory.

However, successful project managers know that it also takes a great deal of stakeholder management to drive the project to the finish line and obtain a high stakeholder satisfaction that can be measured with a Stakeholder Satisfaction Score.

So what exactly is “stakeholder management?”

There are numerous myths around stakeholder management that I heard throughout my career as a Project Manager. The most prominent ones that I heard even from project management trainers include:

Myth: Anyone Can Be Your Stakeholder

While this is technically true, it misses the point of stakeholder management. Technically, almost anyone you run into in the office or in the institution could have some stake in your project.

However, the key to successful stakeholder management is to identify the most influential stakeholders — those with the most to gain or lose from project success.

Start out by building a tight stakeholder matrix. This is the very first step to properly kicking off any project. When project managers add All The Stakeholders without classifying them, they risk losing sight of who the main stakeholders are, and how each stakeholder can actually impact the outcomes of the project.

Sometimes, these stakeholders may not even realize what their stake in the project is. A great project manager can subtly drive the point home by discussing the potential for gain — or loss — that they see in the project.

Reminding the stakeholder of what can happen if things go right — or if they don’t — can be a powerful motivator to get even the highest-ranking stakeholder on your side, making sure milestones are achieved in a smooth and strategic manner.

Myth: Communication and Rigorous Project Updates are Key

This is another myth that can technically be true — but which isn’t the best version of this idea.

Communication with the stakeholders is certainly key insofar as they need to be updated about the work status. Are there any risks? Is the project on schedule? Is there something they can do to remove roadblocks or expedite the process?

But your stakeholders don’t necessarily want you to be communicating at them. If you’ve ever worked in an office, you’re likely familiar with “email fatigue.” This is the effect that sets in when you get so many messages from one person or project that you simply stop reading them because almost none of them are relevant to you.

What your stakeholders want instead is to be engaged.

Instead of All The Communication, what you want to seek out is the most important and concise communication.

What is the bare minimum of communication and updates that will satisfy the team members and stakeholders? That’s what you want to go for. Perhaps that’s a mere weekly update to help orient everyone on Monday morning, or a monthly executive read-out to keep your high level stakeholders informed about the key updates, risks, and milestones.

If there is a delay or problem, that’s when you want to reach out to the delayed team members or stakeholders with additional communication. But spamming their inbox with daily updates will assure that your updates are simply ignored.

Here are five simple steps to fight these common myths and take your stakeholder management to the next level:

Step 1: Identify & DEFINE the Role of Each Stakeholder

Build a comprehensive stakeholder matrix and define the role, decision-making power, and level of engagement for each one of your stakeholders. This helps to ensure that the most important stakeholders are consistently engaged, without burning out either you or the stakeholders.

You will burn out quickly if you decide to give the same level of engagement to all stakeholders. You won’t get a Return on Investment for all the time and energy you’re spending, and you may waste the stakeholders’ time and energy as well if you are engaging them beyond their stake in the project or their ability to contribute.

Step 2: Know Your Audience & Adjust Your Communications

“One size fits” all communications are unfortunately a common mistake among Project Managers. Every team, industry, and project is different. The stakeholders’ personalities, schedules, and roles in the project may be different.

It is therefore important to create communication audiences “buckets” and adjust your messaging for each category. How often do you think the department manager wants to hear from you? What about the research team? The graphic designers?

Here are some easy ways to prioritize communications:

  • Reserve whole-team emails for high level updates and acknowledgements, when there’s really something to celebrate. This will ensure that team members feel great about their accomplishments and prospects when they get these emails from you.
  • Use engaging communication. This is a type of communication that doesn’t merely communicate “at” your team, but which also invites their response in a meaningful way.
  • When you decide you must update and communicate with them, invite them to interact with the team in a way that gets their wheels turning about the project and shows that you value their contribution.
  • Task-level project updates, escalations, etc.. Don’t include stakeholders on communications about a task that has nothing to do with them.
  • Unless she has specifically asked to be copied, the department director probably doesn’t need to know what the graphic design team is up to. Neither do the graphic designers need to know what big-picture release strategy the department director is working on.

By following these principles to streamline your communications, you are increasing the chance that your communications resonate with your audience.

Step 3: Build Relationships

There’s not a lot that’s more annoying than a colleague who only comes to you when they need something.

While we all want to make the most efficient use of our time and energy, and few of us want to chat by the water cooler for an hour, it’s important that you get to know your team members and stakeholders as whole people instead of just bombarding them with demands for updates.

It’s easy for project managers to get swamped with their time-consuming daily tasks of documentation, project delivery, report building and task monitoring. If we’re not careful, we can get so swamped that we overlook the important-but-not-urgent task of building personal relationship building with their stakeholders.

Great managers know the value of going above and beyond to deliver stellar results — even if it means putting some urgent-but-not-important tasks on hold for a little while.

Taking a few minutes for an informal one-on-one with key stakeholders will help you improve your reputation and save time on stakeholder buy-in in the future.

Stakeholders are more engaged in the project and committed to its success when they can build a trust relationship with the project manager.

This will also give you a chance to get to know each stakeholders’ concerns, special skills, and communication style. On top of that, it will give stakeholders a chance to give you feedback in an informal setting before any concerns, delays, or miscommunications become critical.

Connecting with your stakeholders one-on-one in an informal setting may take only a few minutes per day, and it’s one of the best investments you can make in the success of current and future projects.

Step 4: Engage, Don’t Manage

When you build your team, it is very important for everyone in the team to understand the what but also the why of their work. What is the ultimate goal of the project? Who does it benefit, and how? Who is the target audience and final customer?

Engaging your team in getting invested in your end goal and owning the process and deliverable is crucial for increased accountability and team satisfaction. People are happier and more productive when they feel that their work is meaningful to others — so ensure that your team understands the big picture view of how the project will benefit the consumer, the culture, the company, and other stakeholders.

Research conducted by Gallup in 2017, showed that team engagement led to increased productivity and positive business outcomes, and decreased absenteeism and quality defects.

Project managers can use different creative ways to remind their teams of the mission and the stakes and ensure the continuous engagement of their project teams.

Step 5: Set Expectations Early & Keep Them Consistent

Stakeholders love it when they know what they expect during every step of the project lifecycle. This is accomplished by verbally setting out expectations, but also by practicing them rigorously. There is a real sense of security and reciprocity that builds among stakeholders when you are reliable, responsive, and consistently meet their expectations.

Make sure to engage your stakeholders in defining their expectations. Listen, watch, and adjust your engagement plan according to their feedback, and stick to that optimized plan. Needless to say, this includes doing what you’ve promised to do reliably and on-schedule.

Make sure your stakeholders know where they can get real-time updates from if they should want them. I like to provide a dashboard for all my stakeholders where they can see high-level updates about the projects they are part of. This saves time and limits the confusion around the project.

It also cuts down on unnecessary communications, and empowers all stakeholders to come prepared to your meetings!

Project Management for a Better Tomorrow

Project management is a skill that takes practice as well as study. But when it comes together, it can truly transform a team’s and firm’s potential.

The power of a good project manager is in maximizing the productivity and investment of each stakeholder and team member in the project throughout its lifecycle, and ensuring roadblocks are removed along the way.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Pursuit of Happiness: A Self-Destructive Quest?

The quest for happiness has long been a central theme in human existence, but is the very act of searching for happiness self-destructive?  The question "Am I happy?" can be of the most detrimental questions one can ask oneself. Sometimes we cannot help but be too philosophical for our own good.

The problem lies in the assumption that happiness can be measured and labeled like a thermometer, when in reality, it is a fluid and ever-changing state. Our lives are full of ups and downs, and neither state should determine whether we are happy or not. The idea that happiness is something that life owes us is a fallacy. Instead, it is something that we owe ourselves through a healthy lifestyle and a positive attitude.

The focus should not be on the question of happiness, but rather on our responses to the various situations that life presents us with. It is crucial to be mindful of our reactions during both the good and the bad times, and to maintain a positive attitude towards all situations. This requires a conscious effort and a determination to keep our end goal in mind with every action we take.

Furthermore, the tendency to live in the past is another common trap that can lead us away from true happiness. The nostalgic view of "the good old days" is often overly romanticized and can distract us from the beauty and potential of the present moment. More than that, the notion of “good old days” can be poisonous. It is important to focus on the present and to look forward to the future with hope and positivity. Everything black and white feels warm and poetic but was it really the good old days? 

In conclusion, the answer to the question "Am I happy?" is elusive, and the pursuit of happiness can be self-destructive. The key to a fulfilling life is not to constantly search for happiness, but to live life fully and to get busy doing what what we love, with a positive attitude and a focus on the present. By doing so, the question of happiness should take care of itself.

Monday, April 24, 2017

But FIRST let me take a selfie!

It’s not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?” 
~Henry David Thoreau

Busy is not always equivalent to productive. In the fast paced environment that we work and live in, we are constantly faced with countless daily tasks and an ever growing checklist. We tend to prioritize those based on urgency, at least I know I do. When faced with a task, even as small as answering a friend's text message, we consciously or unconsciously make the decision to prioritize that task. In this case, we will choose to drop all and answer that text message or table it to a few minutes, hours, or days later. The point is we are constantly prioritizing our every day life's chores or activities. The question I ask myself today is on what basis are we prioritizing those tasks? 

I realized that often times we let the urgent take precedence over the important. What is important to each one of us differs depending on life goals, culture, age, ambition, or environment. We rarely stop and ask ourselves, what are the most important "things" in my life today? What should I be highly prioritizing every minute, every hour and every day? What are my short and long term goals? Without answering these questions, we let the days meaninglessly pass by without getting any closer to the goals we cherish. We let the days pass by without spending time with our family, getting that certification that could help advance our careers or going to the gym and working towards a healthy lifestyle. We live a life guided by that pressing sense of urgency and let's face it: We end up living in a self created anxiety-filled bubble that controls our life and prevents us from self-progress and ultimately the sense of inner peace. Constantly prioritizing the urgent without getting any closer to the satisfaction of getting or experiencing what we truly cherish and what is truly important to us is stress inducing and can have a negative impact on our lives and the lives of those around us. 

Don't let the days pass by without figuring out what is the absolute most important priorities in your life today and plan around that. Urgent is not always important. That urgent bill that you have to pay today, the work or school deadlines, whatever that emergency task you have to check mark might result in a high opportunity cost later on if it does not fit within your life goals. That is to say that if your life goals is to be debt free or financially healthy, then paying your bill IS important. But now you are making a conscious prioritization decision and a fulfilling one. 

Do yourself a favor and determine your life priorities in writing, voice memo, in your mind...Whatever method you choose, be concise and clear, stay focused around those priorities and next time make a conscious prioritization decisions when you encounter one. Once you do so, reward yourself because you are most likely one step closer to accomplishing one of your most important life goals. 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Healthy Gravitations

We don't choose family but we choose friends, a commonly believed theory that justified our friendship and companionship selectivity in life. We all develop inner circles throughout the years. Those circles gradually and organically shrink over time as our personalities, likes, and wants develop. In fact, with time and specifically after our mid twenties, we attract a certain type of friends who would quasi-perfectly fit into our own unique life shaped mold. We no longer solely choose friends but also gravitate towards friendships that reflect who we are as individuals and what we represent.

Sometimes, I look around and realize the many ghosted friends and acquaintances. The people who are no longer as a big part of my life as they used to be. I immediately feel a sense of culpability. Is there anything I could have done to stay in touch?...perhaps I should have made time for that lunch or coffee invitation or make additional efforts to enjoy their companionship. But the reality is that as much as I turned away from certain friendships, they also naturally turned away from me. My energy is no longer focused on making as many cool friends as I can, but rather on defining a circle of close friends who are walking my path. They might be ahead or behind me but they saw or eventually will see the world as I see it today. More than that, the time It took me to assess people diminished considerably. We all have people skills, which are constantly evolving mainly thanks to our deceptions. We can better see those traits that can make a person worth the time and effort to be a lifelong friend.

Most importantly, a healthy friendship gravitation happens towards friends who have your best interest in mind, and give back. Giving back, to me, is the most important trait of a true friend. Giving back with a listening ear, a helping hand, or simply by being kind and treating your friends with respect. It solidifies any relationship, not just friendships.

Now, listening and exposing yourself to people with different views, wants, different levels of ambitions is nurturing in many ways and healthy as well. But that is certainly not a friendship we would naturally be attracted to. Life has enough challenges and opportunities to seize, spending time fitting in or pivoting from your maturely developed way of life will be a waste of energy and might create unnecessary additional stress.

To all the healthy, fulfilling, honest, and meaningful friendships out there!

A New Paradigm for Global Education in Morocco

Written exclusively for: Morocco World News  by Sara Amiri 

Education in Morocco is often described with a sense of disappointment and anger. It is believed to be the most important factor in the development of the country. After all, it is making sure that generations of bright, efficient, and civilized individuals continue to drive the country forward economically, politically and socially.
This importance of education is being used as a political tool to attract and engage voters, alluding people to truly believe that a better education system is the sole responsibility of the government.
The reality is that despite the relatively mediocre education system that many of us are enraged about, many students have managed to have a beneficial educational experience in the tiniest of villages, unidentifiable to the average Moroccan. This successful experience is, without a doubt, attributed to the ambitious and intelligent nature of the student, but also attributed to their educators, specifically, the educators who inspire and believe in the student’s abilities to succeed and see beyond the limited and not-so-engaging education system.
A great educator inspires students and motivates them. A great institution leader creates that perfect learning environment and engages in the short and long term education of the students. In Morocco, there are many examples within this new generation of hard-working, open-minded, and committed university and school leaders who are ensuring that students see and utilize a variety of learning and personal development opportunities.
Professor Yassine Zarhloule, Director at EST Oujda is a great example representing this group of optimistic leaders within Morocco’s educational institutions. In a short period of time, he was able to apply international standards in his institution. Inspiring students as a professor, he now continues inspiring both students and professors as a school director. His positive attitude and optimism can be seen during the very first few seconds of interacting with him.
When students come to him seeking help he welcomes them with a listening ear and a warm smile. He goes above and beyond his daily dictated responsibilities as a school director, by continually looking for ways to improve his school’s teaching methods and by bringing new opportunities to students and professors at EST Oujda (ESTO). His open door policy and closeness to his students allows him to directly and positively impact them on a daily basis.
“I never went to his office and he turned me down. He always motivates us and provides us a space to work on our creative projects,” says ESTO student Mohammed Ayyadi when asked about Yassine Zarhloule “Moreover, he gives us feedback on our projects and provides mentorship so we can improve our work.” Watine Latnine, also an ESTO student adds: “His passion and dedication to his job has given us a great role model to follow”.
Yassine’s closeness to his students can be seen in his frequent interactions with students seeking advice, help, or simply a listening ear. These student testimonials show how much Yassine’s work is appreciated within ESTO and that more examples like him are needed in Morocco’s educational institutions where students are in a desperate need of mentors and role models.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Holy Idea!

I am an avid dreamer by nature and ideas are constantly evolving in my mind. Some of them are genius, others are rather embarrassing or idiotic. I am the kind of person who lets her thoughts foster into perfectly achievable ideas and can spend hours entertaining a business opportunity or a grandiose social project, all while comfortably visualizing the resulting success and fame.

I came up with the perfect solution for engaging unexperienced entrepreneurs with the soon to retire small business owners, creating a sustainable model that will give young entrepreneurs the experience needed and give the small business owners the peace of mind of knowing that their business will be in good and "trained" hands. I designed an app helping drivers avoid moose and deer collisions by creating a geo-enabled notifications platform. I conceptualized a senior citizens home for people with alzheimer.

These would have been great success or even failure stories if the ideas were actually executed. The truth is, all these concepts were ideas that never left the ideation stage. These AMAZING ideas...Alright! GOOD ideas, are swinging at a stage where most ideas end up. Many people would wake up every morning with 10 ideas. These ideas can be as simple as a tool to help improve one's organization or starting a diary. Any idea can change something/someone if not the world, but only and only if it is paired with a successful execution and a tiny bit of luck or what some might call "External Factors". The point is until an idea is launched, it is worth absolutely zero, nada, nothing! To put it in terms that everyone would understand...The real value of an idea is $0. The concept of a Million Dollar Idea is completely inaccurate and delusive. Many aspiring entrepreneurs get too overprotective of their ideas and fail to see the value of a successful execution, and that can be translated in their communication to the investors or future partners. The failure to acknowledge the absolute necessity of a great team or individual ready to take the idea out of the ideation stage and launch, and the external factors that will drive the idea to success is what kills every great idea.  There is a reason most VCs would refuse to sign an NDA, simply because they know the value of an idea. They know that coming up with the idea is a trivial part of the process of creating change and impact. Taking action towards an effective execution is the most important factor leading to results. 

You know, one of the things that really hurt Apple was after I left John Sculley got a very serious disease. It’s the disease of thinking that a really great idea is 90 percent of the work. And if you just tell all these other people “here’s this great idea,” then of course they can go off and make it happen. And the problem with that is that there’s just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product.
-Steve Jobs

If you are the creative type and have a million ideas that never saw the light of day, share them because their value won't multiply over time and certainly not while deeply buried in your head. If you have the energy to execute but lack creativity, there are a million online resources giving ideas for free or use the many idea generation methods. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Visualize, Write, and Conquer!

It is December already and we are all beginning to harvest what we have worked for this year, some with disappointment and others with joy and a sensation of accomplishment. I am a big believer in writing down resolutions and goals. I keep a journal, in a hopefully safe place, where I keep track of my life’s ongoing road trip with its curves, detours, and inevitable bumps.

Writing down goals tells the world that you have a plan. And, yes! It listens. We are all going on that road trip whether we want to or not. We might cross paths several times, but for the most part we are on our own. Having a plan (goals) helps the world conspire in your favor. Since, I started writing down my goals, I accomplished all of them…Okay, except for two*.   That is to say that, when you picture a goal while writing it down, you want it more and get a greater motivation to work harder for it. It is similar to the old way of memorizing things by writing it down many times.

The world can be manipulated in ways that it can be aligned with your goals, if and only if you really want it. Spoken words are visualized with more difficulty than written words.