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Six Tips for Working with Stakeholders on a Big Multi Partner Project

Projects with external partner organisations are a feature of some sectors. In the charity world for example, it’s not uncommon for organisation to get together and bid for new project funding.

Projects with external partners can be challenging because each organisation has its own agenda, priorities and business processes. Senior staff in each organisation know the background to the project and understand the business case but the operational staff who you’ll need to work with the deliver the project can be more preoccupied with their day to day work. It can be difficult to get people to engage with the project, particularly when deadlines are slipping and an extra push is required to get things over the line.

There are some things you can do to make it easier to manage multi partner projects. These are lessons learned on several different software implementation projects where, in each project, a new management information system was rolled out across more than one organisation.

  1. It starts with the requirements capture/business analysis you need to before you even procure system. The challenge is to find a solution that compliments the existing business processes in the different partner organisations. It’ll be much easier to implement the new system if people can see that it builds on systems and processes they already have.

  2. Get somebody from each partner organisation onto the Project Board. Stress how important it is that people commit time and attend. It’s easier for people from partner organisations to start to miss meetings because they have more important work back in the office.

  3. Don’t start the main delivery part of the project too early. This might seem like an odd to thing to say but it’s harder for people to stay engaged if the implementation is drawn out over a long period. Make sure all your ducks lined up and you really are ready to go before you start asking staff in partner organisations to commit time.

  4. Get users from each partner organisation involved in user acceptance testing - ideally more than one from each organisation because it surprising how often people are too busy to attend meetings. Set up a users group with people from different organisations. Use them to disseminate news about the project.

  5. Make sure that you’ve got a communication plan - how are you going to keep everyone engaged in the project? Make this an explicit part of the project plan. Consider alternative ways of keeping everyone up to date - an email newsletter or a project blog perhaps.

  6. It’s even more important that the project manager keeps senior staff on board with the project. Sometimes the quickest way to resolve issues will be communication between senior staff in the different organisations - the people responsible for the project. A quick phone call between directors in two organisations can remove obstacles and get things moving again.

Successful IT project outcomes only happen when you’ve got a sound business case, clear requirements and you’ve found the right technical solution. That’s a given on any project but on a multi partner project you need to think extra hard about how you’re going to pull the different teams together - the secret is build lines of communication between people.

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