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I Called, I Emailed, and I Sent a Fax!
Ah—the roadblocks in stakeholder communication! Sure, you expect some delay from low priority stakeholders but what if key stakeholders are also ignoring your attempts to communicate? During the project planning phase everyone seemed enthusiastic and signed off on the communication plan you devised but as the project progresses you’ve noticed calls aren’t being returned, emails go unanswered and you’ve tried other avenues such as sending texts or even leaving back-end messages on Twitter and LinkedIn—nothing seems to work.
When you need input to proceed, how persistent should you be or is it best to be patient, bite your nails and hope they’ll communicate soon?
To gain a better understanding on what to do when this happens to you, let’s look at some typical scenarios and solutions.
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The Project Can’t Proceed
Even with email the preferred method in today’s savvy techno world, phone calls are still a necessary must, especially if you need to have a joint discussion and need input.
Let’s say you need to get approval from the client to add another phase or element to the project and you need budget approval. After five phone calls to the client (and two to the client’s assistant to ensure the client is getting messages) you don’t know what to do. Is the client disinterested, avoiding you or do they fear the reason for your call? Whatever the reason may be, you need to get the client to understand it is they who are holding up the project and you can’t spend your valuable time or waste your team’s time by being patient here. It’s time for persistence methods!
A triple play is our best advice. Send an email, a fax and a snail mail letter to the client. It doesn’t have to be long but it must get the message across in a firm tone that displays the project is at a standstill unless you hear from the client.
When writing your correspondence there are a few things you can do to ensure a response. For the snail mail letter, send it certified mail, return receipt requested. This way the client can’t claim he never received it as certified mail requires a signature upon delivery. You can also do this with your email program; when sending the email, make it a high priority email—the client will see you’ve red flagged the email. For the fax, make sure the word “Urgent" appears on the cover sheet such as: “Urgent – Urgent – Urgent" across the top of the cover sheet.
The content of your communication must be direct and to the point. Tell the client the project awaits his input in order to proceed. Remind them of the deadline coming up and be blunt. Tell them you need a response by such and such a time or you’ll be forced to move non-working team members to another project. Remind them of the communication plan everyone agreed to at project initiation and send them a link to the plan or attach it again for their review.
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The Supply Deadline Has Changed
What if you need to update a vendor on a new timeline for supply delivery and send out an email using the response required option and in three days you do receive a reply email with the words “Working on it, will get back to you as soon as possible." These words don’t convey exactly what “working on it means," nor do they offer if the supplies will indeed make the timeline. This scenario may call for a mixture of patience and persistence.
You should consider the new timeline may be conflicting with the vendor’s other projects and while all vendors should be prepared for such changes, many don’t. Instead of shooting back a “that’s not good enough" email, make a phone call to the vendor but keep in mind they may be extremely busy. Instead of asking for your vendor contact, ask to speak with an assistant who is familiar with your project needs and ask them if they know about the new timeline. Ask if they foresee any problems. More than not an assistant will be able to deliver on these questions and put you at ease the deadline will be met.
Next, follow up with an email to the vendor showing the new project timeline you created using Microsoft Excel and make sure the new deadline is highlighted. Ask the vendor to update the Excel timeline with the new delivery date and return it to you. You can also send the email to the vendor’s assistant.
These actions by you are two-fold. The assistant will most likely be able to put your mind at rest on the supply delivery date and by asking the project timeline be updated, every stakeholder who has access to the communication plan will be able to see the vendor’s input on the expected delivery date and be able to better prepare for the changes.
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You Are the Project Leader!
Sometimes those providing funding for the project seem interested and enthusiastic at the beginning but later on, not so much. You, as the experienced leader, send them regular updates using the MS Project Timeline view. You expect a response even if it’s just an acknowledgment the stakeholder receiving the timeline is on board and agrees with any changes or exceeded expectations on the project. You hear nothing.
In this instance you need to be patient but keep sending your updates. Chances are the stakeholder is reviewing them but finds no need to respond. In fact, if things are going well, this key stakeholder may take the words “project leader" literally. They funded the project and were pleased at initiation and trust you are doing your job. Think of this as a compliment when you hear nothing; and while you must keep all updated, if a response isn’t required, don’t expect one.
Key stakeholders have busy schedules, too, and they may have more than one project they’ve invested in. If you expect these types to drop everything they’re doing to offer you a pat-on-the-back email—don’t. Just keep doing what you’re doing.
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The Missing Team Member
You’ve planned a 30-day Agile sprint and every team member is on board and has acknowledged the game plan—except for one. These types of communication failures are often present when managing multiple projects or if you’re involved in global project management where not every team member is onsite.
Here, you must remember you really are the leader and when team members don’t respond to your directives or take your authority seriously, you need to remind them who’s in charge of the project. This may mean a private meeting or telephone talk to ensure the team member gets the message.
A project can be harmed by ineffective team members, and when a team member won’t respond to your directives you need to act immediately.
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Patience vs. Persistence
Hopefully, the above scenarios will aid you when you have difficulties in getting stakeholders to return your calls, emails, faxes and texts. While we can’t offer up every scenario you may come across, the above methods are easily adapted to almost any communication road block.
If you’ve come across some challenging times communicating with your stakeholders, how did you handle it and what method do you think is best for those who are nonresponsive when it comes to communicating? Drop a comment below and share your experiences with your peers!