Projects worth pursuing never exist in isolation. If there’s someone who wants the solution that you’re creating, it stands to reason that there are people who will care about it along the way.
In the context of government, this can be a complex web of connections. There are questions of funding, usability, key objectives and even political implications. Despite the complexity, it is possible to create traction and get buy-in. The key lies in effective stakeholder management. With that in mind, let’s go through our key tools for getting the right stakeholders on board and getting your project off the ground.
Influence vs Investment
Odds are that a lot of people have some connection to your project, but all are not equal in their association. It is important to understand who cares about the work you are doing as well as who has the power to bring your ideas to life. In its simplest form you can work this out using a stakeholder matrix:
The idea is to position all of your stakeholders on a physical matrix that compares investment; the level to which a group cares about your project’s success, and influence; the level to which they can change the direction of your project. This creates a clear picture of who you need on board to get things moving.
Anyone who falls in the top right corner has a vested interest in the outcome of your project along with the power to change direction or even grind things to a halt. They are likely to have strong opinions about the shape and direction of the project so it is crucial to get them on the same page as your team. Conversely, those in the bottom left are less likely to require a lot of your energy as they have little interest and investment in your project. This tool can give you an overview which can help you prioritise when juggling a multitude of different relationships.
Bring them along for the ride
Ever had a salesperson give you their pitch while your dinner is getting cold in the next room? Have you ever noticed that they always start with some simple questions yes or no questions? Are you having a good evening? Do you currently have a power/internet/carpet provider? Saving money on your bills would be good, right?
They’re obvious, annoying questions that don’t really need asking because invariably the answer is yes – and that’s the whole point! People are more likely to say yes to a question if you’ve already said yes in the past. We can learn a lot from this basic sales tactic.
“For the MaaS Wellington project, I think the most important part of working towards buy-in for our solution has been including our stakeholders at every step of the way. We have literally taken them through the exercises that we run with real customers – so that they have a great understanding of our process. This has led to us having an authentic relationship with our stakeholders, who are confident that we are genuinely following a process that drives innovation (rather than trying to “sell” them on something).
– Brendan, Mobility as a Service (MaaS) project in Lightning Lab GovTech 2019
The door-to-door sales person brings you along on a mini “journey” as they pitch their argument for why their product will change your life.
Similarly, stakeholders need to be brought along the journey towards your proposed solution. If you wait until the last minute to bring key people into the room you’re more likely to get objections, just like if you opened the door and someone asked you “do you want to buy a new dishwasher?” This way when the time for final sign off arrives, they feel invested in the solution, not just the problem, and they’re in the habit of saying yes.
Explain like I’m five
The stakeholders of your project with sign off authority probably aren’t experts on your project. They will have some level of understanding, but you can’t always assume they will ‘get it’ if you spout off a long list of technical specs on your solution. Most people don’t like feeling dumb. It tends to make us insecure and defensive. As the expert on your project, the burden of communication rests squarely on your shoulders and you need to speak the language that your stakeholders need to hear. The future of your project depends on it.
In practice, this means keeping things as simple as possible. Steer clear of jargon and use examples or analogies to make your point. One way of doing this is to create a ‘party tagline’ for your idea. “Headspace is the Spotify of mental health” would be a good example of this. The idea is to present complex information in a way that helps someone grasp the idea by comparing it to a point of mutual understanding. They get the gist, you get agreement: everybody wins.
“We have seen increasing levels of engagement from an increasing number of stakeholders of our project. It seems that each week we are having more people show interest in what we are doing. This comes down to always having an ask, a goal or a problem that your existing stakeholders can help you with.
– Brendan, MaaS project
Getting these relationships right can have a massive impact on your project. It can be quite a headache for some, especially if your skills sit with tech rather than relationship management. Just remember that this is a skill just like any other and with the right strategy you can get your project to fly. Give these tools a go in your workplace and see the results for yourself. Give us a shout on twitter with your experience – we love hearing from you!
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