During the years I have spent both as part of a project team and as a Project Manager, the single biggest lesson I have learnt is summed up with this play on a well known saying.

I have seen too many examples of Project Managers not keeping their Senior Stakeholders informed of the real progress being made and this ultimately leads to dissatisfaction by all parties. I think it’s meant with the best of intentions; making sure those Senior Stakeholders are informed things are going well is all well and good until things aren’t. Then you have to present them with a surprise. Senior Stakeholders don’t like unhappy surprises!

Whatever the project in whatever field of business, projects are delivered by people. People are what make projects happen. And, by “people” I don’t just mean the immediate project team, although they are ultimately responsible for the “go-live”.

Yes you do need to be close to your team. You need to know they are progressing with their tasks and you need to know of risks, issues (as they arise), dependencies and progression, but you also need to be extremely mindful of those people surrounding the project – your Senior Stakeholders.

When things aren’t going well – and I’ve yet to be part of any project that hasn’t hit some kind of issue – it’s those Senior Stakeholders who are often the most valuable asset you have at your command to remove any barriers to progression.

If you’ve issued an end of week report depicting how well the project is progressing and you now find yourself knocking on your Senior Stakeholder’s door on a Tuesday morning to tell them of an issue, which will impact the outcome of the project it is a nasty surprise and one which could have been avoided. You will be asked when you first came to know of the issue. The answer will have ramifications on the trust placed in you going forward.

So, my recommendation is you seek to build a strong, professional and trustworthy bond with your Senior Stakeholders as early into the project lifecycle as you can. Keep a professional distance, but keep professionally close. Keep them informed, but not in the minute detail. Be honest and open in your Status Reporting. Be honest, open and frank in your mitigation approaches. Be honest in your level of control of a situation and the direction of travel. If you’re not comfortable or you don’t feel you have the experience or authority to drive mitigation the single best thing you can do is share this with your Senior Stakeholders.

Remember, you are working for them. It’s their project and it’s in their interests to ensure you are successful. They can only help and support, move blockers and aide in mitigation if you are frank with them to the point where they are trusting you to be able to deliver the right outcome. So, my single piece of advice to anyone starting out on the project management career is to remember the mantra, “Keep your team close. Keep your Stakeholders closer”.

Mark Williams, MBCS