Congratulations to all the APM Project Management Awards finalists. As a judge for several categories, I have had the genuine pleasure of recently listening to a range of presentations from across the project management spectrum.

You can’t help but enjoy a time-lapse video. These practitioners have great stories of complex and sometimes groundbreaking projects still achieving success under pressure. One could not find a better range of projects and experience than that demonstrated by this talented pool of professionals.

Judging provides a great opportunity to tap into the mind-set of these professionals. Questions such as “what would you do differently?”, “what was the greatest driver for success?”, “what have you learned?” provided pearls of wisdom. I was struck by the consistency of the message from the presentations with “teamwork” and “stakeholders” in the words of the day.

They cited key criteria for success was being part of an engaged, committed, focused team. As Project Manager, you cannot be successful on your own. How did this translate into practical actions?

For the most part Project Managers talked about getting out from behind their desk and going to talk to people. Simple. We had a poor track record of working with department “x”, supplier “y”, or Bob down the corridor so I went and met them and established good honest regular open communication. Sounds obvious really doesn’t it, but the propensity to ping an email for the sake of efficiency is eroded by the loss of personal engagement.

This concept of team and approach spread beyond the “core” project team. Most presented information around their stakeholder engagement methods and again the importance of truly engaging stakeholders, not paying lip service to this standard PM activity. The typical starting point for stakeholder mapping is to consider who your stakeholders are; “anyone who has an interest in the project or the outputs of the project”.

This identification is best completed with core team members and the Sponsor. Each stakeholder is then considered for their level of interest and power. Some replace the word power with influence. Stakeholders are then plotted in a grid such as the one below:

Stakeholders Grid

This is all standard stuff and there is plenty of further guidance available with a quick internet search. My message here is the level of importance that all these successful practitioners placed in true stakeholder engagement. Plotting stakeholders on a grid are only the very first start point, just like listing risks in a log. It’s what you do with this information that makes or breaks it.

Again, practitioners cited the benefits to them and their projects of being pro-active, getting out from behind their desks and engaging people. Sometimes this can feel like the last thing you want to do, particularly if you believe you will have a difficult stakeholder. Keeping them at arm’s length cannot improve the situation.

Engaging in regular open honest and reasonable communication can only be a bridge to a more successful outcome. So, in summary, and from the words of very successful practitioners; get out from behind the desk, engage, communicate, build relationships.  Isn’t this the art of project management after all?