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Communication with IT project stakeholders is key to success

How well do you know your IT project stakeholders? A better relationship with your stakeholders can vastly improve project success rates and overall IT/business communications.

Projects are the lifeblood of IT -- playing a crucial role in IT Service Delivery and serving as the only way to...

administer change. Why, then, do IT projects fail so often? As IT pros, we have yet to learn how to effectively communicate with our project stakeholders.

According to research from The Standish Group International Inc., while about 32% of IT projects succeed -- finishing on time, on budget and actually delivering the required features or functions -- more than 24% fail. Moreover, 44% of the IT projects analyzed were considered challenged, or projects that suffered some form of failure along the way.

IT projects are usually temporary endeavors that organizations engage in to deliver new features, functions or services within their computing environment. But for a project to be successful, it must begin with a clear understanding for the needs or requirements to which it is designed to respond.

One of the best ways to do this is to work with IT project stakeholders -- the people who will be affected in some way, shape or form by the result of the project. There are several different types of stakeholders, each having their own level of influence and impact on the project outcome. To fully understand how to respond to each group's specific requirements, you should group stakeholders into different categories.

Take for example, the following groupings:

Key stakeholders are individuals or groups, usually within the organization, who will have a direct impact on the project. They have the power to control the project and will usually provide go/no-go decisions at each crucial stage. For example, CFOs are often key stakeholders in IT projects because they control the funds.

Important stakeholders have an impact on the project but do not necessarily have the ability to control its outcomes. For example, end-user representatives are important stakeholders because they speak for others and can manipulate project outcomes to some degree.

Accessory stakeholders are often customers of the project. While they have some contact, they will not have direct contact with the project team, and therefore will not have the ability to directly manipulate project outcomes. For example, end users of a new system are accessory stakeholders because they must communicate their needs through a more important stakeholder.

You must be able to effectively communicate with each of these groups to achieve project success. Of course, communication is a two-way street so start by learning your stakeholders' needs and expectations. Interview key stakeholders directly, meet with important project stakeholders as a group and poll a sample of the accessory stakeholders to better understand their requirements. Then, work on a clear outgoing communications strategy.

It's time we actively work to improve our success ratio and learn to listen to the needs of our project stakeholders.

Many IT projects that seem to perform well will often fall flat because the communications strategy is weak. Since there are different levels of influence from each of the different groups of IT project stakeholders, your communications strategy should be designed to provide different levels of information for each group.

A multifaceted communications program should include regular project team meetings and reports, regular key stakeholder meetings with direct communication lines to project management (if and when necessary), marketing programs targeted to accessory stakeholders and group meetings or discussions with important stakeholders.

The next time you start a project, begin by creating stakeholder groups, indentifying which stakeholder belongs to each group. Next, initiate the communications process with the main stakeholders before even launching the project. If you don't have a solid communications link with your stakeholders, then your project is poised for failure.

Change is the only constant in IT, and IT projects drive that change. It's time we actively work to improve our success ratio and learn to listen to the needs of our project stakeholders.

Danielle and Nelson Ruest are IT experts focused on virtualization, continuous service availability and infrastructure optimization. They have written multiple books, including Virtualization: A Beginner's Guide for McGraw-Hill Osborne, and MCTS Self-Paced Training Kit (Exam 70-652): Configuring Windows Server Virtualization with Hyper-V for Microsoft Press. Contact them at [email protected] or [email protected].

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