Today’s Scott Adams Dilbert contribution struck a strong project management chord.
Unfortunately, in the real world your stakeholders will rarely be as open about their lack of enthusiasm or alignment as Alice, Wally & Asok. I’ve sat in numerous cross-functional project meetings where the participants were asked repeatedly by the project manager if they had any concerns with the scope, status or direction of the project and nothing gets raised, only to have some of these same stakeholders leave the meeting and actively try to sabotage the project.
So what can you do?
- Warm them up – assuming you’ve done some initial project stakeholder analysis, you should know who are the key influencers for your project that will participate in your meeting. Identify which participants are likely to have a negative reaction to your information and meet with them beforehand to prepare them for what will be shared during the meeting. This dry run gives you the opportunity to test the waters in a safe environment and to build some support for your position in advance of the general discussion.
- Recruit an observer – as the main presenter or contributor to the discussion, you may not be able to easily participate and simultaneously observe body language. A project coordinator or other trusted participant could be requested in advance of the meeting to observe reactions and to apprise you afterwards of stakeholders that appeared to be uncomfortable or whose body language was contradictory to what they were saying.
- Cycle back – meet individually with your main stakeholders afterwards to repeat some of the key actions and requests, and to gauge whether their position has changed or not. Depending on the time sensitivity of what was discussed, it might make sense to wait a little while before you meet to give them the opportunity to digest and possibly validate what they heard.
Open agreement coupled with hidden resistance is a common phenomenon on projects. It doesn’t matter what the cause of this Janus-like behavior is – it could be empire-building, avoiding confrontation, group-think or cold feet. The importance is the threat this poses to your project, so some planning and proactive response can help to reduce its severity.