Most consultants have been through it before.
You’ve got a project humming along on time, on budget and your sponsor couldn’t be happier.
Your team reached a critical milestone that needs one last nod of approval before the project team can put their heads down and move on to implementation.
So, you work with the project sponsor to contact some stakeholders to ask them for input in hopes of pushing forward quickly. The email goes out, meetings are held, phone calls are made, and then……..nothing.
The project team starts to wonder if things are OK. The project manager begins to sweat the schedule. You meet with the sponsor repeatedly to ask if they’ve heard anything (they haven’t).
If you are lucky, the stakeholders return from their papal vote a few weeks later and the schedule, while still intact, needs some tweaking. Nothing a few extra man hours won’t fix.
If you aren’t as fortunate, you missed some critical dates for resources and other events that will require a new schedule and the project manager asking for more time and/or money. At the very least, it’s embarrassing. In the worst case, it can jeopardize the project.
As a consultant, you can’t control everything, but you can get ahead of these situations and minimize the damage with a few simple steps:
- Define the desired outcome prior to engaging stakeholders. Are you looking for feedback or approval? Companies with a “consensus culture” are notorious for blurring the two, often as a result of nobody wanting to be seen as the ultimate decision maker.
- Make sure you are asking the right questions. Be clear on exactly what you are looking for a response to.
- Take the time to learn about the stakeholders. What’s in it for them? Why do they care? Are they truly in a position to provide constructive feedback? Don’t be afraid to advise your sponsor on limiting the peanut gallery. Less is more.
- Clearly communicate impacts on the project schedule to the buyer (sponsor). Your sponsor can provide support by acting as your champion to escalate any lack of response. It’s your job to make sure they understand the risks and have the ammunition needed to make the hard calls.
- Offer outstanding support. Sometimes, people don’t like being pressured into making decisions no matter their academic pedigree or how high up the organizational ladder they are. Other times, decision makers still aren’t clear on the details of the project or what the “ask” is. Be pragmatic and unemotional. Help the client’s situation improve by assisting them in moving the initiative forward. After all, isn’t that what you are there for?