Or are there people who roll their eyes at the mention of the project, or just don’t care at all? Your project has a much better chance of success if everyone impacted by it is involved and interested from the get-go. Here are some tips for mobilizing your stakeholders and turning them into important allies.
Engage Early, Engage Often
Imagine this: A friend or family member comes to you and says, “We should take a trip together this summer.” You say, “Oh, that sounds nice…”, but instead of brainstorming about where you might go, how long you might stay, and what you might do, your friend says, “Great! I’ve already booked us two flights to Mexico. We’re staying for the first week of July at a hotel about a mile from the amusement park, and my sister and her husband are coming, too.” Are you more excited or less excited about the trip now? Maybe you love Mexico and you know and get along with these additional people, and maybe you happen to be free that whole week and the budget is perfectly fine. But more likely, you would have preferred to have been involved in the planning at least a little bit.
Even if you have a clear picture in your mind of what the new website should be and what problems it needs to solve, chances are that most others at your organization have ideas about it, too. That doesn’t mean that you need to run the project like a pure democracy and end up with a product that fairly represents every opinion. (In fact, that’s a great way to end up with a TERRIBLE product!) But it does mean that before getting too far ahead in the planning process, you should reach out to all stakeholders to get their perspective. This can be done informally through conversation for smaller organizations, or for larger groups, use SurveyMonkey to set up a free online survey whose responses can then be downloaded as an excel spreadsheet.
Always Be Transparent (even when the news isn’t good)
Is the project running late? Is there not enough budget to achieve all of your most ambitious goals immediately? Don’t be afraid to tell people. Every project has its challenges and derailments. It’s how you react to and recover from them that people will remember. If communicated thoughtfully, disappointing news can help pull stakeholders together and result in valuable suggestions and feedback from your community.
Sharing bad news is a lot easier when you have a mechanism in place for sharing news in general, so set up a communication plan for the project that has transparency built right into it. For example, you could post a weekly or monthly status report written for general audiences that’s posted on your organization’s intranet, or even just stored as a document on a shared server somewhere that everyone can access. Make sure every iteration includes sections for what’s been “Accomplished,” “Goals for Next (Week/Month),” and “Challenges.” Your Challenges section should ALWAYS have something in it, even if it’s just anticipating how things might go wrong and what mitigating steps or preparation is being done.
In addition to that passive step to keep the project transparent, you can also actively send an email or post a memo that explicitly asks for feedback/ideas about specific items. And then the hard part: Follow Through! Did you end up implementing someone’s suggestion, or were you inspired by an idea somehow? Let them know! Even if it was something that was already planned before they mentioned it, letting them know that you heard them has an enormous impact on people’s willingness to support and participate in your project.
Tailor Your Approach
You’ve probably already broken your stakeholder list down by “type,” identifying project owners, subject matter experts, different types of customers, and so on. But there’s another set of categories that can be helpful to keep in mind informally, and tailor your communication as follows:
- Cheerleaders: If you’re lucky, there will be some people at your organization who are THRILLED that there’s going to be a change. Recruit them! If they don’t happen to have role that formally involves them in the project, ask if they would be willing to to serve on an informal committee to help communicate about the project to your wider audience. The more people that are talking about the project with genuine enthusiasm, the better. Optimism is contagious.
- Naysayers: Unfortunately, pessimism is contagious, too. Naysayers are best met head-on. Have an honest and direct conversation about their concerns. Usually one of two things happens: One possibility is that they reveal legitimate red flags about a project, or shed light on an area that will need attention if the project is to be successful. If so, that’s great! Turn a Naysayer into a Cheerleader by recruiting them to that area of the project, as formally or informally as circumstances allow. The other likely possibility is that they fear the change that this project represents, which is normal and understandable. The solution to this is education— what does their job look like when this project is done? How will processes change, and what do they need to know to be prepared? When you can’t imagine how the world will work after an expected change, it’s human nature to anticipate the worst. Help them to envision the new reality, and fear will begin to dissipate.
- Ostriches: These are the folks who will be impacted by the project, but don’t want to know anything about it. Sometimes they’re actually naysayers who are too polite to reveal themselves as such. Pose as many questions as you can to this group to get them thinking and talking. For example, “Did you know you’ll be able to schedule a blog post to publish in the future with the new site?” or, “What’s the most challenging part of your job right now, and is there a way we can leverage technology to make it easier for you?” Ostriches often need a little help getting the wheels turning, and then will start to fall into one of the two groups above.
Recruit Quality Control Worker Bees
You can never do too much User Acceptance Testing! Once you’ve moved from a place of requirements gathering and design into validation and testing, keep the momentum going with your stakeholders by inviting them to participate in User Acceptance Testing. There are two ways that anybody who knows how to use a browser can help, and you can modify the type of involvement you ask for based on each person’s strengths and availability:
- Follow Test Scripts: This usually requires a bit of a time investment, and requires following step-by-step instructions for how to achieve some kind of user goal or complete a transaction. (You have been creating test scripts throughout the design process, haven’t you?) Try to assign test scripts that are relevant or interesting to the person testing, and be mindful of how much time they have to dedicate. If you can schedule a meeting and have people in a conference room with laptops, you’ll get focused attention and better results overall than if you ask people to squeeze testing in at their desk in between their actual jobs.
- Explore the Site: For those who can’t dedicate the time to executing formal test scripts and documenting any issues that arise, it’s always a good idea to allow some testers to move through the site without a clearly defined structure or path of action. The kind of feedback you’ll get from this type of testing is a bit different: you’ll find that some areas you thought were well-written are actually a bit confusing when seen by a user for the first time, or you may hear lots of ideas on how a page or function can be improved. Take all non-critical feedback and form a list called “Phase II Considerations,” and use it to start conversations about the next phase of your project.
Overall, don’t underestimate the level of time and attention it takes to keep people informed and invested in the project. It isn’t always easy to get people on board with something that isn’t in front of them every day like it is for you, but it’s definitely worth it.
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