Phil Smith, Associate Director at Rund, highlights key considerations when devising a stakeholder engagement strategy to support the success of development schemes, as featured on Housing Digital.
“Stakeholder engagement is vital to the successful delivery and completion of any project, so much so, that at Rund we consider it with the same importance as cost, value and quality. Ineffective stakeholder engagement can be dangerous, and has the power to derail projects, delay approvals and push activity beyond budget. These adverse effects however, can be carefully avoided with the right level of planning, strategy and expertise, to ensure project managers are well equipped to navigate a project to timely completion and within budget. Whilst no two projects are the same, there are certain considerations that should feed into developing any tailored stakeholder engagement strategy, to ensure lasting success.
“Historically, the success of a construction project has been judged on cost quality and time, though this has now evolved to include complex variables. Navigating these variables can be easy, provided effort and energy is directed behind these three principles.
“There are many intricacies involved in construction projects, which often means there are a diverse range of stakeholders, all or some of which may have differing interests throughout the project lifecycle. Identifying who these stakeholders are, and what their motivations and demands would be, is vital for the successful engagement and management of a project. This also helps to inform on which stakeholders need to be involved in specific parts of the project and at what times. When considering an engagement strategy, this is one of the very first steps to take, so that the appropriate stakeholders are engaged from the inception of every project. Understandably, stakeholder’s demands are dynamic and as such, regular analysis of their interests needs to be investigated at key stages of the project – from preparation to design and conception, right through to construction.
Stakeholder involvement and expectation management
“One of the most important ways to maintain positive favour with stakeholders, is by keeping them involved. We have witnessed other projects fail, due to poor scope of work definition, which in turn can lead to negative community reaction to a project. Rising above these challenges, requires early involvement from stakeholders. This is vital in being able to clearly define and set out the project scope and goals. It also helps to avert negative community sentiment and eases the pressure on wasted resources.
“At Rund, we believe that managing stakeholders and understanding when to involve them in decision making, is a vital skill for effective project management, however the prudence to manage stakeholder expectations is often overlooked across the industry, resulting in disappointment at project completion. This is due to a failure to balance or address any concerns that a stakeholder has around the progress or results of a project and can have a crippling impact on the project itself and the reputation of all involved. In the same vein, differing or conflicting objectives amongst stakeholders can impede the progress of a project.
“Therefore, involving stakeholders at the front end of planning, and further integrating them into the project team so that they understand decisions, can help to avoid cost overruns, dissatisfaction and conflicts. As mentioned previously, it is important to remember that stakeholders’ interests are not constant, and can often vary from one part of the project lifecycle, to another. So maintaining involvement ensures that everyone is working to achieve a shared goal – even if unexpected changes arise along the way.
Building trust and maintaining positive relationships
“Positive relationships with stakeholders can often directly correlate with the smooth running of a project through consensus decision making. This can be achieved by building and developing trust, whilst displaying an honest commitment to the project at hand. Showing that you care, and truly meaning it, can make a world of difference to a stakeholder. Depending on who you are trying to forge a relationship with, will determine the strategies used, but making a clear and direct effort to understand the emotional motivations behind a project from a stakeholder’s perspective, can shift the dial in favour of support. However, relationship building cannot be won overnight, and once achieved – has to be maintained. Whether that be through feedback mechanisms used to track changes in stakeholder interests/disposition throughout the project or through regular events and updates, developing trust should not be rushed, and for the relationship to be sustained throughout the project, it has to be nurtured.
“The three principles discussed, fall neatly into the importance of displaying commitment and exercising high-level communication when considering stakeholder engagement strategies. Implementing this throughout the project lifecycle will help to deliver the long-term success of a project, but more importantly, ensures the project is well received, whilst meeting commercial targets.”