Sure… as long as I don’t have to do anything

I was cleaning my garage this weekend and wondering to myself how I got stuck doing this alone.  I know that my husband is in agreement with this project, so how am I doing all of the work?  When I looked back at the start of the project, I realized that I had missed an important step in project management: getting stakeholder buy in.

I don’t usually make this mistake at work because I know that I need resources to accomplish my projects, so I ensure that I have stakeholder buy in and that I have the resources I need to accomplish the project successfully. In my personal life, I tend to want to complete the projects more and seem to have an ‘approval at any cost’ mentality. However, this leaves me frustrated when I am doing all of the work on something that I think is beneficial to everyone.  I need to get buy in on the importance of these projects.

I read three articles on stakeholder buy in and I have three tips for ensuring that you gain and maintain stakeholder buy in throughout your project.

1. Involve the right people early

At the start of a project, it is important to identify all key stakeholders and who has influence.  Your stakeholders might include your boss, because you need them to approve the use of your time to this project.  A stakeholder may be an external partner who you need timely feedback from or a department leader who can fund your project financially.  I identified my husband as a stakeholder with influence and I checked for approval before starting to move all of our stuff out of our basement and into our garage to prepare for a garage sale.  I was successful in involving him, but I didn’t actually get buy in for resourcing the project.  When I asked about the idea, my husband’s response was “Sure, as long as I don’t have to do anything” and because I wanted the project to get done, I agreed to those terms.  This brings me to my second tip…

2. Set expectations

It’s important for everyone to be on the same page throughout a project.  Set realistic expectations about what you plan to accomplish and what you need to accomplish it.  I did not set expectations for what I needed from my husband; I didn’t even set realistic expectations for myself.  When my husband said that he didn’t want to lift a box, that didn’t sound too bad… until there were two giant workbenches that I needed him to help me move out of the basement.  After moving 50 or so boxes of our stuff, I have realized that I can’t do it all by myself I’ve been frustrated that he doesn’t want to be involved.  I have made a classic mistake of not managing stakeholder expectations.

3. Communicate, communicate, communicate

The article on Managing Stakeholder Attitudes discusses the importance of understanding “how supportive or opposed the stakeholder is towards the project.”  This will help determine how to communicate with stakeholders to aid in the project’s success.  You need to ensure that, whoever your key stakeholders are, they find enough value in the project that they’re willing to give you resources.  You can do this by framing the conversation around their needs, “WIIFM – what’s in it for me”, or around a colleague or department’s needs.  My husband had agreed to the project with no promise of his help, in fact, not needing his help was a condition of the approval.  That should have been a major red flag.  In order to gain his support, I need to focus more on what’s in it for him.  He has been asking me when we can pull our cars back into our garage where they normally reside (WIIFM #1). The workbenches in the basement also need to be cleared in order for his heavy bag and weight bench to be accessible, so I know he thinks that is important (WIIFM #2).  Decluttering our basement and making money at a garage sale is another selling point that I think he can get behind.

Once you have their support, you need to keep them informed to ensure they know that you are actively working on the project and to build excitement about it.  When providing status updates, compromises or setbacks need to be discussed just as much as successes in order to establish and maintain trust.  I did not do a good job in communicating status updates or progress, although the giant stacks in our garage are a pretty big status update.  We have our garage sale on August 7 where the entire town as a permanent free garage sale day and in order to be ready by then, there’s a lot more work that needs to be done.

This week, my husband and I need to have a discussion where we review the project goals, next steps, and available resources, much like a long overdue project kick off meeting.  Hopefully, we will both agree on the project scope and importance and I will get some help!

Have you ever found yourself in this position, either at home or in your professional life, where you think you have stakeholder buy in but you realize, as your resources slowly slip away, that you don’t actually have the buy in that you need?

Have you ever had someone approve a project, but not really support it?

12 thoughts on “Sure… as long as I don’t have to do anything

  1. Great post Elaine, I especially like the more practical and personal example you used in cleaning out the garage. You have three great bullet points as well in terms of gaining stakeholder buy-in. At my company, I feel like a lot of our projects have committee members and an approval process (we are a matrix organization) that includes departments and areas that really do not support the projects they are members of mainly because of your point of “what’s in it for me” (WIIFM). Some of this actually stems from our use of a PMO and the idea that it is better to get everyone’s buy in/input/approval on projects, we tend to cast too wide of a net and include departments that really do not have a stake in the project, and yet are on the approval committee for the project. I believe we need to focus more on the communication aspect of the progress to the right areas rather than trying to include everyone throughout the entire project, as it leads to very few areas that are actually invested in the outcome and simply slows down the process and progress. Great post, thank you.

  2. Well written post with good takeaways. I have found myself in this position within the past six months. In my capacity, I noticed an increase is quality complaints from our sales force. I engaged several stakeholders who were of course bewildered by the recent complaints. We needed hard data to substantiate the claims and work on a solution. Collecting the data would require involving multiple departments. When push came to shove, only one out of three key stakeholders committed resources to explore the issue. The project slowly fell apart and we are no further along than we were six months ago. I’m just a spoke on a large wheel. Without the proper buy-in from the VP level, the wheel never moves. Each of the three tips discussed may help budge the project.

  3. Nice job applying project management concepts to your personal life, Elaine. At times, our work relationships can often mirror our personal ones.
    A few years ago, my roommates and I required a new couch. We all recognized that we needed a new one and we all expressed interest in acquiring one, however, only one individual actually put time and effort into obtaining a new couch, me. After some thorough research I decided to forgo my roommates’ opinions, and purchase a new couch. A few days past and our new couch arrives. My roommates are cheerful and mildly appreciative but I can’t help but thinking how I failed to obtain stakeholder buy-in. I should have informed them why a couch is a necessity, but I assumed every adult viewed a couch as a necessity for any home. I was definitely wrong. Had I applied your tips, I may have had a more positive furniture buying experience.

  4. Enjoyed reading this. In my position, one of the biggest challenges is buy-in from the absolute beginning of a project. We are tasked with creating something new or challenging the status quo to head down a path that other companies in the market are not taking. The business managers are eager to jump on the train when the likelihood of success is high and come up with curious cases of selective amnesia when it looks like a project will not succeed. A new project management process is exposing certain functions of the business, but that does not cover everything that is done. The key is similar to what you stated in that you need to communicate and set expectations early in order to define the success factors to entice proper buy-in.

  5. I liked your personal example of this concept. Our company encourages completing a stakeholder analysis at the beginning of any project. Here you would identify all stakeholders, their level of understanding of the project, the level of support needed, their ability to influence, and their issues and concerns. From this information, you could then develop a communication plan to ensure buy in and engagement throughout the project.

  6. Interesting post! I think it is always important to get the stakeholder buy in for both personal and work projects. I believe that it is really vital to involve the right people early in the project to get the much needed resources to make the project successful. I have had in my experience seen many instances where we did not have the key stakeholders involved in the project early and it was really hard for us get the buy in from them in the later stage of the project. I also agree with your last two tips of setting expectations and communications for gaining and maintain stakeholders buy in. Setting expectations and communication can really help in making sure that the team members properly understand what is required to achieve the project goal. Thank you for sharing this post.

  7. Project management is everywhere we look, if we look hard enough. As previous posts mentioned, you did a great job by applying the project management concepts to your personal life. I have seen similar situations by leader not having the stakeholder buy in. In one specific case in my past job, it was challenging when a leader changed course unexpectedly on a project. Everyone became skeptical as to whether it will be possible for the project to succeed. In this situation, the leader was smart enough to set clear expectations and communicate the changes with the entire team. Eventually, everyone (except the naysayers) came to like the idea and decided to accept the changes. There was also one plus point that one person who our team member considered a mentor or looked up to bought in to the process. Therefore, always be on the look out to buy in not just from the stakeholder, but also from the unofficial leader.

    I hope you get your ‘stakeholder’s’ buy in and finish your project soon.

  8. Because our personal life doesn’t normally have individuals with titles like “Project Leader” or “Stakeholder” we forget that these are the same individuals at home that we deal with at work. The great point is that communication is the key when dealing with projects at work or at home. The more open and transpearant we are when we communicate (and not just to say I told you, weren’t you listening/reading the emails?) the smoother things are. Good luck with your meeting. I find that at home or work, once you show that you are willing to work alone it is that much harder to get buy-in.

  9. Thanks for all of your replies. I’m happy to report that the two giant workbenches have been dismantled and moved and my basement is now cleared out. Dee, I think you identified a frequent problem that occurs in many different projects “once you show that you are willing to work alone it is that much harder to get buy-in.” That is exactly what happened in this example and I needed to to focus more on WIIFM when asking for help. It was pretty clear to my husband that the progress on this project had halted, so when I explained why and set clear expectations about how he could help, he set aside time and put in some heavy lifting.

  10. Great article! Thanks for sharing!
    I agree that it is important to have stake holder engagement than just stake holder buy-in. The real engagement continues long after you have implicit agreement for the project. The constant engagement is what would truly lead to success than just compromised achievements. Getting people on board early is great but it is important to treat them as important throughout the whole process. If stakeholders feel that they are ignored they will lose their interest and soon will stop contributing and turn into roadblocks for the project.
    An engagement model emphasizes that the project manager (PM) seeks advice and adapt to that advice of the stake holders. PMs should provide regular feedback and updates to stakeholders to report progress as a way of reinforcing positive behavior and building morale. They should meet regularly with stakeholders to discuss the on-going work and the coming phases to find ways it can be accommodated within the individual stakeholder’s own priorities. PMs seek feedback to adapt and fine-tune approaches to build on best practice and learn from mistakes, so the project proceeds more smoothly. They should elicit heads-up in terms of issues or concerns that have or could create negative experiences or perceptions and then address these before they undermine the rest of the project. They should celebrate milestones and breakthroughs, highlighting the success of others as a way of building a tighter team. And they include stakeholders in reviews and evaluation, during the project and when it’s complete, to create transparency and through that trust and respect.
    This way, stakeholders become an active part of the project and are invested in its success. The project is no longer an action imposed by management but an activity that has real meaning and benefit to all parties.

  11. Nice post, Elaine. I really like how you relate your personal life to project management. I totally agree with your comments about buy in. Having supporters make completing projects. It’s not easy to get supporters though. You are right when you said you have to show your stakeholders the value of a project. I think that is actually one of the key tasks in all projects that project managers need to keep in mind.

  12. Nice article. I had similar experience with my wife and me working on remodeling our kitchen but on the contrary, we both had fun working on the project. It started when I received three proposals from different vendors and their prices was overwhelming that we couldn’t afford. We decided that we could do part of the work ourselves, for instance my wife designed the kitchen area with a software that she used to work with, and we went together to choose the right materials, cabinets, and equipments from two different stores. We worked on all these tasks on the weekend when we had time; we didn’t have a deadline to finalize the project. I contacted an engineer friend to help with installing the cabinets and equipments; I helped him and learned from him as well. In addition, I paid him a fair amount of money, but all the rest of the project we have done it ourselves. We took pictures of the project from the beginning to the end and we both enjoyed working on the same project.
    The same thing for work related projects, it has to be done with assistance from other coworkers and other department that integrated together with a budget and time frame to finalize the project, and this would never be smoothly done without the right project manager that understands the ins and outs of the project.

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