You’re on a long project and the finish line is way over the horizon. How do we keep stakeholders interested, when you have a long way to go?
An interesting thing happened this week.
I’ve been leading an office fit out project in North Sydney since June 2017. When it’s complete later this year, it will provide a showcase facility and a regional hub that will allow the client to work across the Asia Pacific.
It’s been a long and winding road, with lots of false starts, twists, turns, ups and downs. Pretty much just as you would expect from a multi-million dollar construction project. Truth be told, this is a pretty regular office fit-out, although I am immensely proud of it and want to share it with everyone!
So here’s the thing.
I was sharing my excitement with my sister after making a site inspection and seeing the “real work” finally under way. She said during the conversation – “I like how you say it’s the office that you are ‘building'”. Her inference was that I hadn’t ‘built’ anything, that only the builders on site were doing the ‘work’.
That made me think.
Looking from the outside in, she understood that “building” meant the actual banging of nails into wood, and couldn’t see any of the non-building work as contributing to the end result. Initially I was taken aback, but after reflecting for a few hours, I came to the conclusion that from the perspective of an outsider looking in, her perception was absolutely correct. She sees building sites with people banging nails, pouring concrete and “building” things and takes it for granted that this is all that happens. She doesn’t see the 16 months of preparation leading into the 4 months construction.
So, is this a common issue across Project Management?
How do our stakeholders see the detailed planning and preparation that goes on in the background, before the “real work” can be seen?
How do we get them excited and help them maintain focus and enthusiasm when the “visible”outcome is often months or years away?
This is where the way we plan becomes just as important as the need to plan. The WHY and the HOW. Understanding what our stakeholders’ priorities, pain points and areas of interest are is critical to working out how to break the plan down into a way that keeps them plugged in.
With that in mind, here are a couple of techniques that we’ve used successfully over the last 16 months, as we bring our stakeholder community along the long and winding road with us.
- Whilst running our tender process, we arranged for the Project Sponsor and other Project Board members to sit in on the supplier presentations so that they could get a feel for the design concepts and approaches
- Once we locked down the final supplier and agreed on the scope of work and price, we held a walk through presentation of the proposal for the Project Board members and Office staff
- As we started pulling together the colour scheme and fittings, we set up an interactive presentation for staff to touch and feel – colour swatches, carpet squares, bench tops, work stations and chairs
- Now that construction has started, we are running small group ‘tours”, providing staff with an opportunity to walk around the floor and see it taking shape.
All of these items cost us a grand total of nothing. Zero. Zip. They didn’t speed up our delivery. They didn’t add any extra detail or structure to our work.
What they did give us was a set of mini-checkpoints – opportunities for our audience to check in, see what was happening, feel involved, gain a sense of ownership AND…understand what was happening in the background all that time.
That sense of community ownership is what is our biggest win. While we plug away and dates move around, we have everyone on side and supporting us because they can see what’s happening and know that we’re going to give them a good outcome.
Maybe I need to do the same for my sister!
What do you think? How do you keep your stakeholders engaged and supportive during a long, complicated project? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.