When you find yourself leading a new project team, you might be working with people who haven’t done projects before. These stakeholders need to know how the project is going to operate and what they can expect from you.

Here are the things that you should discuss with them as soon as you can, so you’ve got a clear starting point on how you will be working together. Consider these the rules of engagement, if you will!

What Meetings They Need To Show Up To

Projects involve a lot of meetings – you know that as I expect you are in them most weeks. But you don’t need your stakeholders to come to every meeting. Different stakeholders will need to show up to different meetings. For example:

- The project sponsor should be in the Project Board or Steering Group meetings, but not in every project team meeting.

- The finance department representative only needs to come along if you are talking about the project budget.

- The PMO officer only needs to attend meetings where governance issues are being discussed, or on an ad hoc basis.

- Team members need to show up to every weekly team meeting unless they have a very good reason not to!

You’ll have to work out the exact schedule based on who you are talking to, but you get the idea. In essence, you don’t want someone to turn around and say ‘Oh, I didn’t know you wanted me to go to that.’

Equally, it will help you to work out how you get access to the stakeholders so that they do show up to meetings. Find out whether you can book time with them directly through calendar invites or do you need to talk to their assistant or PA first?

Start as you mean to go on and clarify what you expect of them.

How You Will Keep Them Informed

Stakeholders love to know what is going on, and rightly so – this project is their fantastic idea and they want to see it moving forward.

Tell them how you will be informing them about progress. In fact, it’s a good idea to negotiate this for your top stakeholders. While you might do a blanket email report for the majority of people, your project sponsor might want a slightly different format once a quarter, for example, to take to the board or for some other purpose. Given that it is in your interest for the reports to be useful and used, talk to them about what they’d like to see and agree on the format for updates.

You can even give them access to see the plans themselves with a tool like ScheduleReader. Issue them with a username and password (and some instructions if you think they’ll need them) and let them know that they can come to you with questions at any time.

What You Need To Manage Issues

Your stakeholders need to appreciate that you aren’t doing all the work on the project yourself and that you’ll be coming to them for advice and opinions from time to time (as well as for doing actual tasks where required). You’ll need their input on how to manage issues, especially when you need a decision made that falls outside your personal sphere of control.

Manage issues with stakeholders

Talk to them about the boundaries of your decision-making power, and any boundaries around their own, so that when the time comes for you to deal with an issue you are both prepared.

You can do the same for risks too, making sure that they know what involvement they are likely to have in the risk management process.

What Tasks They Are Responsible For

This is a major part of any project: someone has to do the work. Stakeholders aren’t simply people who get reports and look at Gantt charts, nodding along. Most of the time they have to do real tasks, even the project sponsor.

That could be anything from taking your recommendations and business case justification to top-level managers to auditing lines of code. When someone takes the role of ‘stakeholder’ on your project you should work out what their involvement is going to cover and clarify it with them. A roles and responsibilities document is perfect for doing this because it sets out who does what.

Other Things

There’s likely to be things that you need from them that I haven’t included on this list because every project and organization is unique. The most important thing to remember is that project sponsors and other stakeholders aren’t mind readers. They will only do what they know they have to do, so if you are expecting some kind of involvement from them and you aren’t getting it, talk to them.

Whether your project stakeholders have worked on hundreds of projects or whether this is their first time, it’s hugely beneficial to set out expectations, roles and responsibilities in the early stages of the project. What else would you include? Let us know in the comments.