Getting stakeholders to agree on things

We get asked this question all the time: How do you get stakeholders to agree during a project

Its a good one. A really good one. It might be the the most important question to ask when youre trying to do something new.

So heres the thing: If the people who can influence the outcome or direction of a project dont agree at key points, its bound to fail. Or at the very least, it will get completely disrupted or derailed.

Trust me, I know what Im talking about here. Weve had enough experience with this happening that weve developed a few rules to make sure that this doesnt happen. Im going to make a big disclaimer here, too: You can ground yourself in process and approvals to CYA as much as you can, but at the end of the day if someone wants to pull rank, has the power to do it, and wants to, that will happen. The best thing to do is have your ducks in a row as much as possible.

We like to leave nothing to chance.

Heres how we do it:

1. Involve all of the stakeholders from the very beginning

When we start a project, be that web development, branding or communications plan, we get everyone with any kind of power involved in the process at the very beginning.

Im assuming here that people with the power have already agreed that this project needs to happen, that they cant do it internally and theyve decided to hire someone to help them.??

We start with one to three workshops in which most or all stakeholders participate. The??workshops might look something like this:

  • Session 1: Market strategy and positioning??
  • Session 2: Audience mapping, content and goals
  • Session 3: Tech needs

Note that the group participants might change from session to session. The ED probably doesnt need to be in the Tech Needs session, but the IT manager, database person, program people and marketing people sure do.??

The idea in these sessions is to air all of the grievances and hash out goals and expectations??in a structured, collaborative and non-judgmental format. It’s also to make some baseline decisions.??

2. Document Everything

Seriously, document it all. Write down:??

  • Who was in the session
  • The topics covered
  • All of the content
  • Next steps
  • Responsibilities
  • Everything.

We like to write recaps of all of our sessions and deliver those as PDFs. When we have a set of findings or recommendations, we include a signature page that says something like: Yes, we all agree that weve covered everything. Nothing is missing and were ready for the next step. The person who is ultimately in charge signs it. Always.??

See what were doing here? Were locking in decisions at key points. No going backward. No scope changes. No additions, no mind-changing.??

3. Form large and small working groups

There are small decisions and big ones. There are times when just one or two people need to review something and there are times when we need everyones review.

At the beginning of a project, we create a detailed timeline and figure out when it makes sense to convene the small working group and the big review group.??

Maybe the small group meets via Skype once a week to review incremental progress and upcoming deadlines. When larger chunks of work are completed or a bunch of content is written, it makes sense for the large group to review and chime in.??

The big idea here is to schedule it as soon as possible and make sure people are available and engaged in the process.??

4. Make sure the main contact person has the power to make decisions

If everything has to be rubber stamped by someone else, or if our client contact is just responsible for moving paper back and forth, the project will fall apart. Our small working group main contact has to have the vision and the authority to make day-to-day decisions. More importantly, this contact needs to have the authority to say no to other people.

We see our client contact as the advocate for the work. That person is the pivotal, critical key to getting the project done. When projects are great, that person asks great questions, is knowledgable about the goals and scope, and keeps everyone (including us) in check.??

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