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Written by Oscar

The crucial role of stakeholder engagement in successful digital projects

Embarking on a new digital project is the start of an exciting journey for any marketer, but how do you engage with senior stakeholders and colleagues to ensure a positive outcome?

At Pepper Digital we’ve seen it all before, and have learned that, when managed well, senior leaders and your closest colleagues can become the best assets to your project and its outcome.

So how is it done? Here is what we have learnt when it comes to stakeholder management success.

Hold your stakeholders close

Senior stakeholders are usually highly influential and should be involved with the project from the beginning. They need to help define goals and objectives and set delivery milestones and work schedules to understand gaps in resource, skills, or budget. They must be informed of the project scope and any drift from this, be aware of decisions and supportive of the direction.

Regular communication ensures that stakeholders stay the course. This must be on-going throughout the project and not just at ‘kick-off’. Your stakeholder communications must factor into the outcomes of each project phase and be prioritised as vital to continual success. Your digital agency can define key milestones and strategic points to use as markers for this communication, but remember, other business priorities may occur simultaneously, so consider what you say as well as when.

On any project there will be elements of detail which are unnecessary for senior stakeholders to understand in depth. Think about each stakeholder as a customer for the project. What do their wants and needs dictate communicating? Speak in their language and it will be easier to keep their enthusiasm and understanding.

Be flexible, but don’t bend over backwards

Even the best laid plans go awry so it’s important to instruct an ‘agile’ mindset to project schedules and design. Assume the first plan will not be final and give time to reset activities and course correct, in line with stakeholder expectations.

However, these changes shouldn’t always be news to the project team. Make sure to discuss prioritisation with senior stakeholders at regular intervals to keep the project aligned to wider business activities and ensure a good understanding of the business calendar to factor periods of low resource and high demand. This will give stakeholders confidence in the project roadmap.

Sing from the same hymn sheet

By their very nature, large scale digital projects can take time, meaning that alongside shifting priorities, there may be shifting goals. As part of stakeholder communications, highlight the existing goals of the project as often as possible to remind stakeholders what was agreed and ask if this remains relevant. This keeps everyone working to the same outcome and means expectations on delivery are united.

Ensuring alignment on the goals and outcomes throughout the project allows for movement and flexibility (as we mentioned before), meaning the project can adjust, re-prioritise and course correct to fit the longer-term needs of the stakeholders and business.

Don’t make perfect the enemy of good

As well as taking time, large digital projects can also be complex, meaning the risk of delays and inertia can be high. Stakeholders value honesty, explanation, and an educated approach to solutions. Being upfront about what this means for the project will ensure buy-in remains.

Illustrate practical solutions, discuss a phased approach to launch to avoid project inertia and keep stakeholder enthusiasm, define knock-on effects of the delay to wider business activities (such as marketing or recruitment) and articulate a ‘plan B’ if one exists.

It’s important to ensure stakeholders have a voice in decisions related to delay, but make sure that this is well-informed by supplying relevant information. They’re more likely to agree with a well-researched solution and back the approach proposed when they have the same facts as you.

Senior stakeholders can sometimes be the reason for a delay themselves. This is usually because of a shift in priorities internally meaning the stakeholder believes delaying a project will better suit the business. Use your agency when this happens. They can think broadly on the situations as they arise, and advocate why and how the project will benefit the ‘perceived’ problem, avoiding the delay.

Genuinely listen to feedback

It’s easy to perceive stakeholders as ‘blockers’ to a digital project, but this is rarely actually the case. As we mentioned earlier, these people are influential and can supply invaluable context to the project, learnings from past iterations or ideas the project team hadn’t considered. Soliciting feedback on the project roadmap from senior stakeholders can result in a broader picture being formed and potential difficulties mitigated.

Try to ensure that individual opinions don’t cloud judgement on the feedback from others across the business. While they may not understand the minutia of the day to day, their insight and ideas could be built upon and included to aid in the successful outcome of the project.

Ask for help

Digital projects are only successful when different specialisms are harnessed. If stakeholder management is proving difficult, enlist the support of your web design agency or supplier to navigate any tricky conversations.

Agencies such as Pepper Digital enjoy a degree of separation between the project and the business and are usually unaffected by the outcome of a project personally. This means we can be pragmatic in stakeholder discussions and help get a message to land. We’re well practised in building on the initial ideas of your stakeholders, and with pushing back where necessary. We’ve done this a lot and have met every type of pushback you could imagine!

So now you have an insight into some of learnings to senior stakeholder management, consider how you can implement them on your next digital project. They won’t solve all problems, and your project may still face challenges, but by considering stakeholder management in a proactive way, you’re more likely to achieve a positive outcome.

And as we often say, take a breath, it will always work out in the end!