Stakeholder engagement is one of the most important aspects in implementing effective solutions and achieving project success. Yet, this most social aspect of project management is one of the least practiced disciplines. Almost every project management professional can describe the train wrecks they have witnessed but few can pinpoint exactly where the wheels left the tracks. In many projects, the wheels were off the tracks from the beginning due to a lack of stakeholder engagement. So how do you ensure that all of the components of the project are in the right place from the start? Involving stakeholders and ensuring their voice is heard is one way to keep the wheels on the track.

The good news is that effective stakeholder engagement is something everyone can learn. One of the newest and best methods to engage project stakeholders is a project methodology called Continual Improvement for Social Responsibility (CISR). It uses a six-phase project method: SOFAIR. SOFAIR is an acronym created by the Sherpa Sustainability Institute as a part of their rigorous CISR methodology. This approach is dedicated to improving social responsibility by applying Six Sigma principles to sustainability. SOFAIR stands for Stakeholders/Subjects, Objectives, Function/Focus, Analyze, Innovate/ Improve, and Report/Repeat. The ‘S’ portion of the methodology, which is also called the stakeholder engagement system, is an opportunity in itself.

"The Better the Champion Understands the Stakeholder’s Needs and Individual Perspectives, the More Likely their Project or Idea Will be Supported and Advanced"

The stakeholder engagement system consists of three major components: a materiality analysis, SEPIA (Stakeholder Engagement Power and Influence Analysis), and a communication plan. The materiality analysis is a high level strategic document which captures the stated needs of all the projects stakeholders and documents and prioritizes the high level attributes of each. The SEPIA process generates a more thorough understanding of each stakeholder, their relationships with the project, and their relationships to each other. The final outcome of the stakeholder engagement system is a communication plan. The communication plan outlines the best method to engage each stakeholder group and a realistic implementation timeline. When the stakeholder engagement system is used effectively, the benefits are tremendous. Forethought on the needs of stakeholders, prioritizing those needs in relation to the project goals, and developing a tailored communication plan to engage stakeholders in the success of the project can go far to smooth, and even accelerate project implementation.

Some of the major benefits of a well-executed stakeholder engagement system include current state and future state consensus as well as a methodology that absorbs diversity. It’s easy to underestimate the value of project alignment with the organization’s strategy. And it’s easy to underestimate the value of stakeholder alignment to the success of a project. The systemic, six sigma based SOFAIR process creates a step by step, repeatable way to identify, analyze, and discuss social relationships while respecting the individual and preserving their unique perspectives.

The primary goal for stakeholder engagement is to ensure that stakeholders understand how the project or idea serves their needs. They can then make an informed decision as to the value of the project or idea and how it might be applied. On the other hand, for the project or idea champion, the goal is to understand the needs and the potential issues or concerns of the stakeholders. The better the champion understands the stakeholder’s needs and individual perspectives, the more likely their project or idea will be supported and advanced. Early stakeholder engagement can also ensure that features of the solution are designed in early (and thus, more economically). An effective stakeholder communication can ensure that implementation disruptions and efforts don’t come as a surprise. Stakeholders become a part of the solution and part of project success.

By applying a timely and well developed methodology like the stakeholder engagement system at the beginning of a project, or the conception phase of an idea, every partner benefits. Stakeholders receive ideas that are relevant and gain practical solutions to their problems. Project champions create sustainable solutions to real stakeholder needs while avoiding the pitfalls of isolated research and surprised disruption during implementation. In the end creating collaborative, holistic, win-win solutions will propel your project skills and your company’s stakeholder engagement to the next level. Effective stakeholder engagement ensures that stakeholders are on the success train with the project; they become involved and committed to keeping the wheels on the track.

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