Death by committee: 4 steps to (politely) managing multiple stakeholders

A 3 minute read written by Philothea April 25, 2016

A number of speech bubbles coalesce to produce a noxious gas

Whether you're the one on the committee, or an outside consultant (like us!) — you know the challenge. It's very easy to blow a timeline or budget tiptoeing around the multitude of invested stakeholders who all seem to have contradicting (and enthusiastic) opinions. If not properly managed, death by committee can often mean death to innovation and creativity as well. But only if you allow it!

We specialize in large-scale responsive websites for the public and private sector. So you could say that we’re pretty experienced in managing these challenges. In fact, we daresay that we’re pretty good at it too — but don’t just take our word for it!

So how do we get to the meat of the problem that we’re trying to solve, while at the same time ensuring that everyone is heard and can contribute? We’ve taken our content management skills and applied them to this scenario. In both cases we’re taking large amounts of information, analyzing the content, and then distilling it down to the points that really matter. This is especially relevant when working with multiple stakeholders since the amount of information provided tends to grow exponentially, which ultimately overwhelms team members and distracts from the core goals of the project. You can combat this effect by considering the following:

Establish clear communication guidelines:

Having one main point of contact is crucial when funnelling information. It forces both parties to identify one individual who is responsible for gathering and relaying information, which serves to limit multiple (and possibly conflicting) communication avenues. In instances where this isn’t possible, it’s still a good idea to outline clear roles for the main points of contact.

Consideration should be given to determining who on the project will be will be contributing, who will be advising, and which individuals are the final decision makers. This helps clarify the decision-making process and defines who’s ultimately accountable for ensuring the requirements of the project are met.

Keep it simple:

Human nature usually dictates that we prefer to select from a small list of alternatives. Think about your own to-do list. If you let it grow too large, everything becomes overwhelming and a bit convoluted — and then nothing gets done!

That’s why we work using a modified Agile/Lean approach using 2-week sprints. By breaking our work down into clearly defined sprints, we can more effectively (and efficiently) reach our milestones. This approach allows us to set an agenda for each sprint: the work we’ll complete and review with stakeholders, the type of feedback we’ll need to collect, and how often team members will be expected to communicate. By setting these clear and simple expectations, it’s easier to get everyone on board.

Break it down:

To balance requirements and budgets, we’ve adopted a practice called the MoSCoW list. We work with our clients to define, list, and then prioritize requirements as Must, Should, Could, and Would throughout the project. The MoSCoW list is a living document that can be reprioritized throughout the project.

During discovery research, we’ll take the exhaustive wish list of potential requirements and work with stakeholders to assign a priority to each one — and also determine which are highest priority. This ensures all stakeholders get a chance to contribute while also managing everyone’s expectations about the final product, and allowing decision-makers on the project to establish focus and goals.

Wrap it up:

So you’ve completed your project, congratulations! But don’t forget your project debrief. With a continuous flow of oncoming projects, it’s tempting to skip this step and dive into the next item on your to-do list. However, there’s valuable information to be shared — what worked, what didn’t and how can we improve?

Managing multiple stakeholders can be especially tricky, and unique challenges are sure to pop up during each and every project. These nuances are important to understand and are a big reason why collecting feedback is a valuable activity. Not only does it allow us to continually grow and refine our processes, but it also opens communication to any client concerns. This gives us the opportunity to provide a better customer service experience in the future and address any major sticking points that developed during the course of the project. Although this step may seem tedious, it’s a vital component to ensuring the correct processes are in place to efficiently manage these complex relationships.

So whether you work with or within a committee, we’ve found that applying these simple principles has greatly contributed to the successful and timely execution of our projects.

What are some of the strategies you’ve used in the past (successful or not!)? We’d love to hear them!