Ask any project manager why projects fail, and you’ll get a long list of reasons. One of the things at the top of most lists will be people: specifically, not having buy-in for the project. Without support, even the best ideas fail before they really get going.
It’s a common problem, but it doesn’t have to be your problem. In this article, we’ll share 3 easy ways to get stakeholder buy-in for your projects so you can start strong and finish successfully.
What is stakeholder buy-in?
Stakeholder buy-in is a way to describe how committed stakeholders are to a piece of work. If they are bought into an idea, they will support it. It is easier to get projects off the ground and completed if decision-makers are supportive of the idea.
However, when a stakeholder demonstrates support, it goes beyond simply saying that they agree with the project. They should also be able to articulate what the project is all about and be prepared to stand behind decisions to make sure work is implemented as planned.
In other words, buy-in is a way of assessing how likely you will have the support for a project. The fewer stakeholder concerns are raised, and the stronger their commitment is for your project, the more buy-in you will get. Invariably, confirmed stakeholder support paves the way for smoother project delivery because they will actively support the project and make decisions in a timely manner as they are invested in the outcome. Project managers and teams should work with stakeholders at all levels to understand the amount of engagement they can expect so they can plan for that.
How to get buy-in from stakeholders
Getting buy-in from your team is one of many parts of your overall stakeholder engagement. Effective project management, supported by the right technology, sets the tone for convincing others to commit to a project. But you are here for specific, actionable things you can do to build commitment, so let us share 3 simple ways you can start to secure support for your projects.
1. Answer “What’s in it for me?”
In practice, stakeholder buy-in can be a little bit academic. We know that senior leaders are time-poor, and sometimes they can be a teeny bit enthusiastic about what they commit to. They might be hugely supportive and bought into the project but unable to commit much in real terms as they don’t have time, budget or resources. Perhaps they are already busy with other projects.
Project teams can make it easier for stakeholders to engage with the project by choosing the right software. LiquidPlanner helps teams set and manage priorities so everyone in the organization can agree on, see priority order clearly and remain focused on the most important work.
If a project is a priority for the organization, it becomes more of a priority for an individual manager because they can see how their support underpins the broader efforts. They can see how their contribution makes a difference – and what happens when that contribution is not given in a timely manner.
LiquidPlanner helps executives track progress toward goals, so they can clearly see the difference project teams are making. With straightforward, actionable dashboards, stakeholders can easily understand the ‘what’s in it for me’ as well as what’s in it for the company overall.
“Projects should be aligned to corporate objectives, but PMs need to be able to answer the ‘What’s in it for me?’,” says Karlene Agard, a risk and value management professional who works with project managers.
2. Build confidence in the business case
In our experience, stakeholder buy-in is impacted by how confident they are that the project will actually complete on time, on budget, and deliver something of value. No one wants to get behind a project that has no chance of completing.
The more realistic your schedule, the more likely you can secure support. LiquidPlanner’s predictive scheduling engine gives you confidence that you can meet your deadlines. LiquidPlanner runs sophisticated Monte Carlo simulations on the whole portfolio, factoring in priorities, team capacity and ranged estimates to accurately forecast schedule dates with 90% confidence.
Smart schedule bars capture uncertainty and allow you to plan the work, even when priorities change or resources get moved on to other work. Schedule risk is flagged early so project managers can make adjustments before deadlines are missed.
When you tell your boss that the work will be done by a particular date, they know there’s more behind that deadline than a ‘best endeavors’ guess.
All these little, but significant, extras in your project management tool help boost stakeholder confidence. And when stakeholders believe in the schedule, they are more likely to engage and commit. Joe Britto, founder of management training consultancy Innate Leaders says it well, “Projects that go beyond a business case to show leadership and demonstrate strategic enterprise thinking make it easier for C-suite buy-in.”
3. Create a stakeholder communication plan
In the complex world of project management, some projects go smoothly and according to plan, are completed on time and under budget, while others are fraught with problems.
A stakeholder communication plan will help you keep engagement levels high throughout the project, regardless of what challenges you hit along the way.
LiquidPlanner’s intelligent insights means you always have a project dashboard that shows the latest status. Stakeholders can quickly see what is happening on the project without asking project managers for updates. Custom fields mean you can personalize what’s shown and surface the information they need to make the right decisions.
Dashboards and project reports are only one part of your communication plan, but it’s a big part. After all, most execs want to know when the work will be done by, who is doing it and how it’s going. If you can give them confidence that you can answer those accurately, at any moment, then they are more likely to continue to give their support to the project because they know it’s under control.
If you’re thinking about how to get buy-in from stakeholders, remember that earning support is more than a one-off activity.
Make stakeholders feel valued
As a project leader, you can’t simply get confirmation that someone is bought into the project and leave it at that. Stakeholder buy-in should be continually reaffirmed, and one way to do that is to make stakeholders feel valued.
The three engagement activities above will demonstrate that the project values the work of the stakeholder and that their contribution is an essential part of delivering the benefits.
Good communication is crucial to successful project management and has been described as the fuel that keeps the project running smoothly. Once senior-level buy-in has been secured, project managers can provide clear communication around project timelines and objectives using the best tools for the job, in order to keep those executive stakeholders informed and supportive.
About the Author
Elizabeth Harrin is author of Managing Multiple Projects and several other books. She is founder of Project Management Rebels, a membership community for project managers who want to deliver with more confidence and less