Why Embracing Stakeholder Boundaries is Key to Project Success

When it comes to managing projects, we’ve all had great and not so great relationships with our stakeholders. And while we’ve all heard the term “stakeholder engagement” to death, how often do we consider boundaries as a strategy to achieve greater success? 

Boundaries are a great way for project teams to increase their chance of a successful relationship with their stakeholders.

Let’s explore why they work, how you can use them with stakeholders on your project, and how they can help you minimise risk and maximise success.

Why should we have boundaries with project stakeholders?

Boundaries are there to maintain the integrity of decisions we have previously made across our project.

They keep us from getting distracted from the project purpose and stop us from taking on new things within a project that present risks and issues we haven’t already considered.

Vikki Kapoor, a recent guest on my podcast Chat Time, summed it up perfectly when he described boundaries as “a safe enclosure… where we have evaluated the risks that could impact us”.

And when it comes to our stakeholders, boundaries help to keep the team and stakeholders united to the project’s goals and actions.

How to decide our boundaries

The best way to determine stakeholder boundaries is to make a list of the past problems we have faced that are related to stakeholders, and use this experience to consider what could possibly go wrong with our stakeholders on this project.

Once we have created this risk list, we can plan out strategies to avoid these situations from occurring, or at least minimise the likelihood as best we can.

These strategies become our boundaries.

What we want to avoid with stakeholders on a project

To help you get started on building your own project boundaries with stakeholders, here are a few ideas of things you want to try to avoid when it comes to dealing with your stakeholders.

You want to avoid situations where your project stakeholders are:

  • Not available when needed by the project team

Which could lead to missed deadlines and delayed project delivery

  • Continuously requesting changes to scope

Leading to budget and timeline blowout

  • Setting or requesting unrealistic expectations

Impacting the ability of the team to deliver project requirements

  • Aggressive

Making them difficult to deal with and negatively impacting the project team’s morale

  • Non-responsive or slow to respond to communications

Causing project delays

  • Only engaging the Project Manager and ignoring working directly with the team on task related activities
  • Resistant to adopt change

Which could make the successful project delivery impossible

How to use boundaries to prevent or minimise risks

To show you how you can use boundaries to prevent or minimise project risks, here’re three examples based on the risk list ideas above that you could implement with your team and stakeholders.

Example 1 – Stakeholders are not available when needed by the project team

  • Determine from your stakeholder dates, days and/or times they prefer to be contacted or are available to meet
  • Obtain a delegate with a similar level of knowledge and authority who is accountable for assisting the project team if main contact is not available
  • Agree the next course of action and risks to the project should the first or second points of contact not be available when needed/agreed
  • Where possible, pre-book meetings with stakeholders during their indicated available times and let them know in advance if this can’t be accommodated
  • Add an agreement to the project communications plan if applicable

Example 2 – Stakeholders only want to engage the project manager

  • For matters where the team need to engage stakeholders directly, introduce a process which prevents stakeholders to direct responses to Project Managers exclusively unless an attempted meeting with stakeholders has already occurred and resulted in a unsatisfactory outcome between the team member and stakeholder
  • Ensure stakeholders understand and accept this boundary at the start of project engagement to avoid issues later on

Example 3 – Non-responsive or slow to respond to communications causing project delays

  • Outline behaviour the project team deems to be unacceptable. This may include aggression, when and how team members can be contacted, etc. Ensure that stakeholders also have an opportunity to question terms they deem to be unacceptable
  • Ensure these boundaries are established, understood and agreed to at the start of engagement via documented confirmation
  • Set consequences for any breach of expectations
  • Gain the backing of a trusted senior leader to support the team if these situations occur

What boundaries could you implement with your stakeholders?

Boundaries are an important factor in any project. They help us manage scope creep, team engagement and create a benchmark for successful project completion.

And they can help with project stakeholders too. What boundaries could you implement with your stakeholders today, that will lead to successful project delivery?

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