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Project stakeholder management is a necessity, not a nice to have

Project stakeholder management is a necessity, not a nice to have

Mega projects call for intensive internal and external engagement with executive management, governments, organised labour, contractors, media, communities and other interested and affected parties which all see themselves as having a stake of some sort in the project. Ultimately it is about managing the expectations of the project stakeholders in order to ensure project success. But before one can get to expectation management, the right stakeholders should be identified, their needs and intentions should be understood, and they should be mapped using a power-interest grid which also indicate their attitudes toward the project.   This will put you in a position to effectively plan and execute stakeholder management strategies.

Stakeholder engagement is an important discipline that is used to win support from others. It helps the sponsor and project manager ensure that their project succeeds where others fail. Stakeholder identification and expectation management are continuous processes throughout the project life cycle.

Stakeholder management entails the identification of project stakeholders, gaining an understanding of them, their expectations and views, prioritising them using a stakeholder map, developing a stakeholder management plan and finally engaging and communicating with them to ensure that stakeholder expectations are managed throughout the project life cycle.

Historically, many owner organisations have often adopted a passive and somewhat reactive approach to informing stakeholders of developments, relying upon traditional communication methods such as newsletters, press releases and annual meetings. Such organisations frequently relied on a one-way communication and engagement strategy. Increasingly, successful organisations choose to be more pro-active and actively involve stakeholders in the decision-making process particularly in connection with developing new ventures. They aim to encourage and ensure wider and more constructive engagement.

Stakeholders have the power to impede or promote and a project.  Stakeholder management is an important activity that is used to gain mutual understanding of the objectives and expectations of all parties. It aids in developing a concept that will gain support from all the interested and affected parties enhancing the likelihood of a successful outcome.

The benefits of pro-active stakeholder engagement include:

  • Gaining the opinions of the most influential stakeholders to aid in shaping projects at an early stage. Not only does this make it more likely that they will support the project, their input can also improve the quality of the project;
  • Gaining support from stakeholders can help secure the right resources;
  • By engaging stakeholders early and often, one can ensure that they fully understand the benefits of the project, and;
  • One can anticipate what people’s reaction to your project may be and plan actions that will win support or mitigate resistance.

Project stakeholder management is not an add on! It is a key activity on a project that requires time, money and resources.  By identifying and managing stakeholders throughout the project lifecycle, stakeholder related risks can be pro-actively managed. Stakeholder engagement and communication are ultimately about expectation management.  Knowing what your stakeholders want from the project, puts one in a position to effectively manage these expectations, and prevent potentially serious issues that could impact project success.

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Programme governance – a key factor to programme success

Programme governance – a key factor to programme success

Programme Management for Owner Teams authors Freek van Heerden, Jurie Steyn and Davida van der Walt explore the importance of programme governance .

Book image Lo Res


Corporate governance practices are built on the premise that the leaders of companies have an obligation to be fair, transparent, accountable and responsible in their conduct toward shareholders and civil society.

On programmes the following governance challenges are typical:

  • Management and governance are done by the same resources
  • Governance is poorly understood
  • Governance structures are not fit-for-purpose

In reality we have companies apply a one size fits all in terms of applying governance strictures on projects and programmes. The design of suitable programme governance structures is highly specific and is both organisation and situation dependant.  There is no single best practice applicable to all situations.

To ensure effective governance, consider the following principles:

Programme governance does, however, need to be fit for purpose and some of the considerations include:

  • Programme sponsor:  The sponsor takes responsibility for governance of the programme and is accountable to the company board.  The sponsor requires a clear terms of reference and delegated authority (mandate)
  • Company boards:  The board approves the execution of programme through the various stages and issues a mandate to the programme sponsor
  • Programme steering committees:  Steering committees play an advisory role to the sponsor and require cross-functional membership to reflect the stakeholders in the programme
  • Project steering committees:  These are required for sub-projects of sufficient scale, complexity and risk
  • Steering committee membership:  Membership must be confined to a small core group of ‘experts’ that can support the sponsor as well the leadership team of the programme or project.
  • Enterprise Project Management Office (PMO):  Ensure that the projects and programmes are executed according to the company project related procedures and governance principles;
  • Delegation of authority:  In contrast to individual projects, the programme cannot be effectively executed within the ‘normal’ approval limits.  It is advisable to delegate and set up appropriate commercial structures and approval levels to enable smooth turn-around of procurement documents.


For more practical lessons on programme management, please take a look at our book on the subject Programme Management for Owner Teams available on Amazon.

Lessons learnt on projects

Lessons learnt on projects

A critical part of a successful project is the ability to identify and apply applicable lessons learnt and successes throughout the project life cycle. Key to the success is capturing the lessons learnt and making it available from one project to the next.  Capturing lessons learnt on projects is always a challenge.   So what are the typical challenges being experienced with lessons learnt on projects?

  1. Lessons are captured very well, but not transferred;
  2. Lessons are captured, but successes (best practices) ignored;
  3. Lessons are captured into systems from which they prove difficult to extract;
  4. Lessons are poorly documented;
  5. The context relevant to the specific lessons are not captured;
  6. Lessons are not captured throughout but only at the end of the project;
  7. The symptoms are captured instead of the root causes.

Lessons Learnt Process

Project teams should start sharing knowledge at the beginning of each project, and lessons should be captured as they occur.   The dark blue numbers superimposed on the model indicates the lessons learnt interventions on a given project.  The dark blue arrows indicate that lessons from these stages will be captured in the database and considered for carry-over to the next stage, and the green arrows indicate the use of past lessons in the planning of stages to come.  At stops 1 and 4, the lessons learnt database should be consulted for lessons on previous projects that could be transferred to the project at hand.

So what are the success factors when implementing lessons learnt on projects?

1. Secure management commitment

The successful implementation of lessons learnt on a project is firstly dependant on management support.  Be sure to gain the support and commitment of a management champion or sponsor.

2. Plan lessons learnt

Include lessons learnt in your milestone planning for a project.  If it is not planned for, it is likely to be forgotten.

3. Capture lessons and successes

Projects typically focus on what went wrong.  Why not also capture successes? Projects should endeavour to avoid repeated lessons and repeat successes.

4. Understand the context

A major lesson we learnt whilst doing lessons learnt, is that the understanding the context of a project is very important in the successful transfer of lessons.  Contextual factors such as location, complexity, size, contracting strategy, driver and so forth, directly impacts the applicability of lessons for transfer from one project to another.

5. Define symptoms and root causes

When doing lessons learnt on projects, it is very easy to focus on the symptoms of lessons.  It is in fact crucial to delve into the root causes associated with lessons and successes.  If the facilitator focuses on symptoms of the lessons learnt, chances are that the remedial actions will be reactive.  Our approach at OTC is to understand root causes and hence being able to prevent the occurrence of these issues on future projects.

6. Assign dedicated resources to do lessons learnt

Having dedicated resources ensures that lessons learnt gets the focus it deserves.  It also provides an opportunity for making sure that such resources are trained in the skills of facilitating lessons learnt.  It contributes to the consistency and quality of lessons extracted.

7. Follow a standardised process

A standardised process makes it easier to capture lessons in a consistent way, which in turn facilitates the extraction of lessons.

8. Effective knowledge management system. Tags. Garbage in garbage out

Having an effective knowledge management system which allows for access to past lessons learnt, greatly facilitates the use of lessons on future projects. Make sure to have a system that allows for sufficient meta data tags that makes it easy for project professionals to extract relevant lessons.  It will ensure that they are not overloaded with lessons that are not relevant to their projects.

By applying these success factors you can ensure that the lessons and successes are effectively captured, but that relevant lessons are also easily accessible.

The time has come for all project professionals to stop repeating the same lesson on projects.  Let’s take it serious, capture lessons and successes actively, understand the root causes, and implement preventive actions.

For more practical lessons on lessons learned, visit the OTC toolkits on:   Members have access to a full online course on lessons learnt, with practical advice and experiences shared by the OTC team.

Watch this space. OTC will also be releasing a Lessons Learnt App in the near future…

Questions?  Suggestions on how we can improve this article?  Comments?  Please leave your thoughts below.

Team alignment on programmes – can it be done?

Team alignment on programmes – can it be done?

Programme Management for Owner Teams authors Freek van Heerden, Jurie Steyn and Davida van der Walt explore team alignment and its challenges on a programme.

Book image Lo Res


On a programme, alignment ensures that there is a common understanding of the owner’s business and project objectives, as well as the owner management team’s expectations.

On programmes the following alignment challenges are typical:

  • Key management stakeholders and decision makers do not align upfront on the frame / ultimate business objective of the programme. Poor upfront framing leads to multiple problems down the line
  • Project teams reporting into the programme do not always have a clear understanding of the bigger picture and the purpose of the programme.  They tend to relentlessly pursue their project objectives, not keeping sight of the programme objectives.

In reality we have found sponsors do not always take their role seriously in managing stakeholder relations that are of diplomatic or strategic nature.  The sponsor can play a huge role in pro-actively keeping key stakeholders abreast of the programme objectives and status, and avoiding stakeholder misalignment.

To ensure effective alignment, the programme management team needs to ensure that they have clarity on the items below and that all involved on the programme are aligned to these:

  • Scope: what they are supposed to do;
  • Business objectives: why they are supposed to do it;
  • Programme objectives/operating model: how they are going to do it;
  • Timeline: when they are to do it;
  • Roles and responsibilities: who will be responsible for what;
  • Budget and cash flow: what monies will be available to the programme, and;
  • Communication plan: how they will communicate about the programme.


For more practical lessons on programme management, please take a look at our book on the subject Programme Management for Owner Teams available on Amazon.

The maze of stakeholder alignment on a programme

The maze of stakeholder alignment on a programme

Programme Management for Owner Teams authors Freek van Heerden, Jurie Steyn and Davida van der Walt explore stakeholder alignment challenges on a programme.

Book image Lo Res


The ultimate objective of stakeholder management is to ensure successful execution of the programme by engaging the right people that could influence or impact the success or failure of the programme at the right time.

On programmes the following stakeholder challenges are typical:

  • Key stakeholders that could impact programme success are overseen and only identified one it becomes a crisis
  • Stakeholder identification and  stakeholder management engagement planning is done at the start of the programme and not updated through the programme life cycle

In reality we have found sponsors do not always take their role seriously in managing stakeholder relations that are of diplomatic or strategic nature.  The sponsor can play a huge role in pro-actively keeping key stakeholders abreast of the programme objectives and status, and avoiding stakeholder misalignment.

To ensure effective stakeholder identification and management:

  1. Stakeholder management on a programme should never be an ad-hoc activity or event. It should be a structured, yet dynamic process managed on a continuous basis throughout the lifecycle of the programme
  2. Stakeholder identification and engagement should consider company internal stakeholders, contractors and service providers as well as external interested and effected parties.
  3. The project team should consider who has an interest in the programme (positive or negative), and who could influence the success of the programme through exerting formal or informal power on the programme.


For more practical lessons on programme management, please take a look at our book on the subject Programme Management for Owner Teams available on Amazon.

Effective teams are high performing teams

Effective teams are high performing teams

Much research has been done around the subject “effectiveness of teams”, and it is well known that effective teams are high performing teams.   The question that project sponsors and project managers are faced with, is how to ensure effective project teams stay effective?

The easiest way to explain the model, shown below in Figure 1, is to start with the signs and symptoms of poor team effectiveness. It is crucial for project managers, project sponsors and team leaders to be sensitive to these signs and symptoms.

Generally one would find that the first signs of team ineffectiveness shows up by means of team conflict and misalignment.  These can be considered as early warnings.  If team conflict and misalignment is observed and not addressed, it is likely that absenteeism will increase and safety incidents, burnout and increased personnel turnover will begin to manifest themselves.  These can then result in schedule and quality slip and eventually in cost overruns.  Cost, schedule, quality performance and safety statistics are routinely monitored on all projects, making it easy to pick up on negative trends and performance against benchmarks.

Team conflict, when destructive in nature, should be taken seriously.  Here we are not talking about isolated incidents.  Underlying frustration in the team is normally observed when team members become irritable and impatient.

Misalignment can also seriously hamper a project’s progress.  If decisions are challenged and overridden, it means going back to the drawing board.  Rework is very costly and also leads to significant productivity losses as suddenly the rework needs to be done at the same time as the normal day to day activities.

Team Effectiveness

Figure 1:  Team Effectiveness – An Integrated Approach (van der Walt, 2016)

On projects, these symptoms are typically the result of the influence of one, or more, of four environmental factors, namely the personal wellness of team members, their job environments, the project environment or the larger work environment.   By analysing these four environmental factors, one can pinpoint the causes for poor team effectiveness.

The exciting aspect of this model is that it is an integrated approach to team effectiveness and one can ensure that these factors are proactively planned for and managed. This is done through:

  • effective leadership (project sponsorship);
  • sound project framing and alignment;
  • well planned and executed stakeholder management and communication;
  • effective team development;
  • effective management and control processes and mechanisms;
  • targeted HR interventions; and
  • effective wellness programmes.

OTC has developed a Team Effectiveness Tool (TET) which includes a survey that assesses the signs and symptoms, as well as the environmental factors influencing the team’s effectiveness. The TET also includes a report with clear recommendations on how to address the issues identified in the team in order to ensure team effectiveness, and ultimately improve project team performance.

For the months of March to April we have a special offer which provides you free access to the OTC Stage-Gate and Framing and Alignment Toolkits.  This special offer provides you free access to the practical guides, e-learning and templates.  We are excited to let you know that the Framing toolkit is cpd accredited by ECSA.

To take up this free offer, you can register here

For more practical lessons on team effectiveness, visit the OTC toolkits on:

Questions?  Suggestions on how we can improve this article?  Comments?  Please leave your thoughts below.