This past month, I reviewed Tres Roeder’s book – Managing Project Stakeholders: Building a Foundation to Achive Project Goals. In short, it was a good read and I was able to review the book free of charge through PMI Dallas’ Book Review group. Below is the review.
Managing a successful project requires a balanced approach of technical skills, business knowledge, and people skills. Tres Roeder believes that the lack of a balanced approach is a major reason for project failure. Unfortunately, the PMBOK is so focused on technical project management that it misses how to effectively work with people. In Managing Project Stakeholders, Tres does a nice job supplementing the PMBOK and showing readers some best practices for managing people involved with the project.
To successfully manage projects in today’s world, one often has to influence stakeholders without dotted-line authority and push along the project, using negotiation and a wide variety of “soft skills”. According to a 2012 Roeder Consulting survey, 82% of project managers had no direct reports. This increased dependence on collaboration makes people skills, or what Tres refers to as “sixth sense”, more important than ever.
Overview of Book’s Structure
The book starts by showing how to categorize the stakeholders and prioritize them using the stakeholder register. Tres breaks out stakeholders into five groups – project team members, executives, external stakeholders, stakeholders impacted by change, and phantom stakeholders. Within each group, he provides tips on working with that particular stakeholder group, as well as things to watch out for.
Halfway into the book, he moves into a broad discussion on stakeholder communication, where he emphasizes the importance of communicating through as many channels as possible. This leads into a separate chapter on managing virtual teams where he has nice discussion on dealing with technical difficulties and time zone differences. Then, he wraps up by talking about how to deal with difficult stakeholders. The author reiterates that the most difficult aspect of handling a project involves people issues. Instead of fixating on each objection as a hurdle, he advocates looking at each potential problem as an opportunity to take a leadership role and drive change.
He ends the book with sections on leadership, getting buy-in, and negotiation. Tres gives a number of tools and techniques including an explanation of the Situational Leadership Model. With situational leadership, part of the art of leadership is knowing when to lead and when to follow. He also talks about adapting one’s leadership style to match the time of the project and the experience level of the team members.
Highlights: What’s New in this Book
In his section on Leadership, Tres Roeder recaps parts from his earlier book, A Sixth Sense for Project Management. In it, he advocates that six disciplines form a framework for leadership skills. He applies these in three steps – Aware, Adapt, and Act. The first step is Awareness – starting with awareness of a leader’s own style, awareness of others in the group, and an awareness of the situation. The second step is Adaptability – using that awareness to adapt the leadership style to fit the group and situation. The final step is to take action using the four remaining disciplines of Whole Body Decisions, Clear Communication, Diplomacy, and Persistence.
Also, Tres adds a classification for phantom stakeholders. These are stakeholders that are unidentified and unknown to the project team. Part of managing a successful project is being vigilant for these phantom stakeholders by continuously looking for discrepancies between expected and actual project execution and asking, “What is missing?” If someone knows about a surprise before you, they might be a stakeholder. And when a change occurs to the project and the initial source is not known, it might point to a phantom stakeholder. Once these phantom stakeholders have been identified, they can be addressed in the stakeholder register.
Highlights: What I liked!
The author regards buy-in as an ongoing process. He addresses this through the Circle of Support where stakeholders are included, observed, and then responded to. When resistance is encountered, Tres advocates asking why 5 times to define the root causes of the resistance. This is especially important in diffusing emotional reasons for resistance. To provide for meaningful conversations, the author emphasizes the importance of building in time for people to process change.
Since projects can produce controversial changes, the project manager’s role as a diplomat is critical to work out concessions between various stakeholders. The book’s final section on Negotiation suggested several ways to change a power play into a negotiation. It also warned the project manager against forcing a project down the throats of the various stakeholders, preaching that negotiation is a two-way street.
Shortfalls: What was Missing!
The book does a very nice job of delivering exactly what it promised – a set of tools and techniques to manage project stakeholders from project initiation to completion. The last section was especially interesting to me and I would have personally preferred more on Gaining Buy-In and Negotiating. However, I understand that you could easily have a separate book devoted to either topic.
Who might benefit from the Book
This book would benefit anyone who works with people on their projects. With the PMBOK’s inclusion of stakeholder management in the 5th edition, there might also be PMPs who want to use this book to gain a better understanding of this knowledge area.
Managing Project Stakeholders is a quick, easy read with lots of good tips and tools. In a recent May webinar, Shawn Kent Hayashi talked about having conversations that get results and inspire collaboration. For him, the project is a direct result of all that dialogue.
As project manager, we start the conversation with ourselves, share those conversations with others, and inspire passion by what our team can achieve together. Tres Roeder has written a guide on how to identify those people who need to be included and make them an active participant in those conversations. He has a concise writing style that nicely picks up where the PMBOK leaves off.