fizkes, Getty Images/iStockphoto

The success of projects depends heavily on the people involved and the strength of the relationships. There are other factors, including project methodologies, software and tools, and techniques, that make it easier for us to achieve our goals; however, project success can only be achieved through effective collaboration and cooperation between project participants and other stakeholders.

SEE Slack: A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Stakeholders can be any person or group that can influence a project or be affected by it. Once you gain a clear understanding of who your stakeholders are, the question each project manager and their team members need to ask is, do I know exactly what our stakeholders expect from us?

Seldom do stakeholders’ expectations come as a big surprise, though some of the most critical ones can get lost when teams are in a hurry to focus on project tasks and processes. These four stakeholder expectations should be at the top of the list.

  1. Your project team understands stakeholders’ needs.

Understanding your stakeholders’ needs isn’t optional–it is the foundation on which your project work is based. You need to understand not only what each stakeholder needs but also as much as you can what drives them. Ask your stakeholders what success looks like to them. What are some of their biggest concerns? How do they approach challenges?

When it comes to difficult stakeholders, it is especially important to understand their points of view. You can try to put yourself in their situations, but it is not a substitute for getting direct feedback. Talking with stakeholders about directly relevant topics is time and energy well invested because it helps stakeholders get to know you and your level of dedication to taking care of their best interests.

2. Your project team wants to maintain a strong relationship with stakeholders.

Another key factor in successfully meeting stakeholder expectations is continuing to build a trusting, long-lasting relationship with them. Projects are only successful if the project manager, team, and other stakeholders can work well together. It is highly unlikely that a project can be properly executed if these relationships are plagued with conflict. The more trust is developed, the more easily issues can be addressed and solved harmoniously.

3. Your project team maintains regular and effective communication with stakeholders.

It can be frustrating for stakeholders to email or leave voicemails with project team members only to not have them returned, especially when dealing with time-sensitive issues. Once you have established a relationship with stakeholders, take a few minutes to keep them in the loop on things. It’s better to drop stakeholders a brief note saying you still don’t have an answer, or you’re swamped, or any other message rather than radio silence. Radio silence can give off the message that their issue isn’t important to you, you didn’t get their message, or that you aren’t reliable. Also, identify the most appropriate communication medium and timing for each person; this is especially vital when dealing with dispersed teams. The importance of great communication can’t be emphasized enough.

4. Your project team is reliable.

In addition to solid and regular communication, reliability is far too often overlooked or undervalued. It’s not only a matter of updating stakeholders about the progress but also demonstrating that you are available to them. Being reliable can be about your ability to deliver, your punctuality, keeping your word, or other things. The earlier and more often you engage with stakeholders and deliver on time, and as expected, the better. Proving you and your team are reliable helps to forge a long-term positive working relationship.

To meet stakeholders’ expectations, you and your team must demonstrate that you understand their needs, are dedicated to building a solid relationship, know how to communicate effectively, and that stakeholders can rely on you.