January 16, 2018


Project management advice, tips, tools and recommended resources for existing and aspiring project managers.

5 Essential Practices for Explaining Projects to Stakeholder

By Guest Author: Jo Ann Sweeney

Are you frustrated you’re no longer getting the support from stakeholders that you need for your project to succeed? And you have difficulty in explaining your projects properly?

Perhaps you have hit resistance to the changes. Maybe you are working on a multi-site, multi-country or long-term project and, midway through, you’re struggling to keep key people interested and involved.

The fact is, keeping sponsors, senior executives and end users involved for the duration of our projects takes effort – experience also helps!

Over many years as a communications consultant working on complex and multi-site projects, no matter the size of your team or budget, I have learnt key lessons in winning stakeholder support.

Here are 5 essential practices for explaining projects:

1.      Simple and practical

When it comes to planning the communication aspects of any project, the simpler the plan, the more effective it is. It can be as simple as a bulleted list of things to do and key messages we wish to get across.

However, more useful is a communication framework that clarifies:

  • The objectives for communications activities
  • A prioritised list of key audiences
  • Which communications channels to use
  • A calendar of activities
  • Monitoring mechanisms
  • Who is responsible for delivery.

One of the biggest benefits of a simple structure is that we spend less time planning and have more time for managing each of the activities.

2.      Understand their perspectives

Project communication is about more than project updates. People want to be personally involved; they want content that relates to them and that they can relate to. This means tailoring content to their needs rather than presenting it from the project team’s perspective.

Here are some guidelines to tailor the content:

  • Understand who they are –  the obvious plus what they think and feel
  • Uncover what they are interested in – usually what their performance pay is based on
  • Relate to their view of the world – are they thinkers, people-focused, or action-oriented
  • Identify shadow issues – unacknowledged attitudes and behaviours that impact their support
  • Balance their needs – sponsors, senior execs and end users have different needs.

3.      Clear aims

There are four over-arching reasons for telling people about your project:

  • Knowledge – you want them to know more than they currently do
  • Attitude – you want them to feel more positive than they do
  • Support – you want them to say positive things about your project in public
  • Involvement – you want them to get involved in some way.

These reasons form a spectrum with ‘knows nothing’ at one end and ‘fully involved’ at the other. If you want an individual or audience grouping to be fully involved then you will need to move them along the spectrum using communication activities that build on each other.

Using this spectrum we turn communications activities into a stepped process based on business objectives. It ensures activities are linked to business need and the project’s core aims.

4.      Flexible schedule of activities

When we use a flexible schedule to manage communication activities we are able to respond to unexpected issues and to changes we aren’t able to predict.

A schedule is just a framework to show clearly what is going to happen and when; it can be complex and difficult to update or flexible and easy to change.

Being flexible means we can change any of the components – deadlines, audiences, delivery channels, responsibilities, monitoring – as and when we want without causing extra work or problems in other work streams.

5.      Take audiences on a journey

Communicating projects is all about taking our audiences on a journey from where they are now to where we want them to be.

We plot where each of our audiences is now in terms of familiarity and favourability; and where we want them to be. Then we map a journey that will help them to get there.

By following these essentials on your projects, you will win stakeholder support that will help your project to succeed.


Jo Ann Sweeney is a communications consultant and mentor who helps project managers win the support of their sponsors, senior executives and end users.

She has launched the brand new Communicating Projects MasterClasses starting in September 2011 to help teams present their projects so audiences listen and understand. For full details, visit: http://www.sweeneycomms.com/communicating-projects


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