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I am now writing the chapter in my book ElephantPM that describes how to start-up a project.

When I look back over the projects that I have worked on, I think that there is one success factor that has caused me more problems than any other and that is “Stakeholder engagement”.

PRINCE2 has this to say about Stakeholder Management:

Stakeholder management

Stakeholders are those individuals or groups who will be affected by the project. They could include senior managers whose business areas are directly or indirectly involved, the end users (including customers outside the organisation), suppliers and partners. Effective project organisation facilitates management of the stakeholders” interests, including the resolution of conflicting objectives and representation of end-users who may not be directly involved in the project. Stakeholders” interests can be managed through user panels providing input to the requirement specification. For larger projects, there is usually a project board, with a senior individual nominated to represent the stakeholders” interests.

from www.ogc.gov.uk

Unlike PRINCE2 or PMBOK which provide general guidance, ElephantPM specifies exactly what must be done.

ElephantPM requires that during SU (Start-up) the project manager creates the  document “SU Stakeholders’ Agreement”. This will detail the commitment each stakeholder is willing to make to the entire project and to the next stage (R1) in particular at that point in time. It is to be expected that stakeholders will make a qualified commitment to the entire project and a firm commitment to the next stage. At the end of each stage the project manager will prepare an updated version of the Stakeholders’ Agreement.

This mechanism will help align the expectations of the stakeholders. Here is a simplified example of how it might work.

The Head of Sales wants the creation of the “Superwidget” within 6 months, he will willing to pay “about” £ 300,000 for it. This is an example of a qualified commitment of resources to the entire project. The Head of IT thinks it is a good idea to make the superwidget if there are sufficient developers available (qualified commitment) . The agree that £ 25,000 will be spent on the first risk reduction stage R1 and that two developers will be assigned to it (firm commitment).

The project is now moving forward. Both parties are comfortable with their commitments and know that they can renegotiate them as more information becomes available at the end of the next stage.

In this simple example the SU Stakeholder Agreement will contain resource information that appears in the SU Project Plan and SU Next Stage Plan but it works at a higher level than these documents. Its purpose is ensure that stakeholders have agreed “points of principal” and “rules of engagement”. For example, it can be used to ensure that a joint venture gets off on a firm footing.

The Stakeholder’s agreement will be updated at the end of each stage. Thus there will be a SU Stakeholder’s Agreement, R1 Stakeholder’s Agreement, and so on.