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?