4 ways to engage leadership in your project

Finding time to get vital feedback and communication from key project leadership or key stakeholders can be tricky, even though they have a vested interest in your project. Here are four ways to make sure you keep communication lines open with those stakeholders and keep them engaged in your project’s success.

Different organisations have different definitions of project stakeholders, and for some smaller companies, nearly everyone could have a vested interest in the outcome of your project. Certainly, however, every project is overseen by senior leadership. They might be the a project sponsor, in a more formal project management structure, or the Managing Director in a small start-up. If your project is client-funded or has state funds involved, your project leaders might even be external to the company.

The success of your project depends on your ability to engage leadership and communicate vital project updates with them. However, while they need to understand what is going on and how it will impact them, it’s not always simple to pin them down. Different stakeholders will want to hear different things at different times, and of course you’ll need to take different approaches to get the message across. Below we discuss four essential ways to engage project stakeholders:

1. Impress with real-time project data

Static reports are not the most exciting thing to read. Real-time data is way more engaging. Project dashboards are a good way of communicating with stakeholders because they are colourful, show data in real-time and they are easy to prepare.

A dashboard shows statistics and information about your project in a graphical way. It is a collection of charts and it’s easy to customise the data on display to focus on things that a particular stakeholder group would like to see. Simply drag and drop or select from the chart settings and you’ll end up with a custom, visual explanation of key details happening on the project.

Dashboards make your project literally come alive, and they present facts in a way that stakeholders can understand, even if they know very little about the software.

2. Insist on face-to-face meetings for important updates

One-to-one meetings are a rarity these days, since the advent of online collaboration. But depending on the nature of the meeting, especially with project leadership, in-person meetings might be essential. If your leadership is located in the same office as you, make sure you schedule several face-to-face meetings throughout the life of your project. For global teams, and for large-scale projects, you’ll want to coordinate at least two targeted meetings with leadership on-site, perhaps at project initiation or during a project mid-point. If the leadership buy-in is vital for your project’s success, make sure you insist on a few face-to-face meetings to reinforce the project goals and to remain the face of the project.

When there are issues that arise to threaten the health of the project, insist on face-to-face meetings to resolve the matter, if possible. You’ll want to be judicious in your asking for time on senior leadership’s calendar, but sending a simple email to work through a large fix isn’t appropriate either. Demonstrating your leadership in person can make or break a project.

3. Email the right way

Everyone appreciates being looped into key project updates. Developing a regular email update schedule (end of week or beginning of week) will allow leadership to remain aware of project process and keeps all parties on the same page with project goals and milestones.

Emails are also a valid form of legal project documentation, so make sure your emails are factual, spell-checked and that they contain appropriate legal disclaimers for confidential projects.

Your regularly-scheduled emails should only contain consistent project updates and not mission-critical alerts or problems. Packing a question for leadership into a regular project update email is a good way to get your question overlooked. Always send separate emails for project issues or problems with distinct subject headers.

Don’t expect everyone to read these project updates thoroughly, either. Consider these regularly-scheduled emails a core piece of your project documentation and communication strategy that enables all stakeholders to have a “paper trail” of project updates. You should also store copies of these project updates in your online project documents folder.

4. Train the trainers

Finally, training is another way to engage leadership and broader project stakeholders. When people don’t understand how a project works, or the vital purpose of a project, they naturally lose the ability to advocate for it. Additionally, you should not have the exclusive on the project scope and details. When you adopt a ‘train the trainer’ approach, you begin to empower leaders to have expertise in a new area, which can really ramp up their engagement with your project, and which can further enable them to advocate for both you and the project.

For broader stakeholders, you might also train up some “super-users” who then go back to their respective teams and share what they have learned with their colleagues. However, if your stakeholder group is relatively small, you could train them all together to build engagement for your solution.

If classroom training isn’t an option (either due to costs, location reasons or because it would mean training the general public), then you have a number of other options. You could run an e-learning course (with or without a test at the end to examine the user’s knowledge). Or, you could produce training materials and upload them to your online project management tool. This is a great way to engage stakeholders with your project conceptually and in real-time. When they log in to learn about your project, they’re also privy to project reports and dashboards. Getting them into your tool is half the battle of engagement.

However you decide to engage your stakeholders, it’s important that you actually do it. If you want your project to be a success, you’ll need to make sure that the people affected are involved along the way so that the end result isn’t a surprise. Getting buy-in is an essential part of making your project a success, so it will pay off to do stakeholder communication activities and get feedback on how these are going during the project.

Try these four methods in parallel and see which ones give you the best results for the different stakeholder groups on your project.

Thanks to projectmanager.com for inspiration for this post.