By Jake Holloway,‎ David Bryde 

All project stakeholders have different needs, objectives, responsibilities and priorities. For many project managers it is disturbing to realise that, for any number of personal or professional reasons, some of their stakeholders may not be as co-operative and helpful as they expect. It could be a negative and powerful sponsor (the ‘Anti-sponsor’), a demotivated team, low-maturity or unrealistic external clients, maliciously compliant gatekeepers and finance teams, or uninterested internal customers. The reality of project management is that stakeholders can be difficult! Jake Holloway, Professor David Bryde and Roger Joby bring their years of project management experience and combine it with research and insight from social psychology to delve into how and why project stakeholders can be difficult. The book describes some of the common stakeholder types – such as Sponsors, the Team, Gatekeepers, Clients and Contractors – and associated unhelpful or difficult behaviour profiles that you will often come across on projects. It then provides practical ideas, techniques and methods that will help the project manager to effectively manage the impact of these stakeholders on the project. As projects get larger and more complicated, the role and influence of stakeholders grows too. A Practical Guide to Dealing with Difficult Stakeholders will provide your project teams with the basis for a more sophisticated and resilient approach to stakeholder management.

Available via Amazon here.

Review by Andrew Pyke, ICCPM

Holloway, Bryde and Joby have taken on a truth that every Project Manager knows: A reality of project management is that stakeholders can be difficult. The book describes some of the common stakeholder types and associated unhelpful or difficult behaviour profiles that a project manager may come across. It is refreshing that Holloway, Bryde and Joby have avoided a reiteration of theoretical processes and instead attempted to offer real-world experience to the reader. Holloway, Bryde and Joby adopt the Human Relations School, pioneered by Chester Barnard in the 1930s, that sees the organisation as comprised of natural groups, as opposed to the groups and teams formed by management. They also do not look at stakeholders as always being rational and compliant. Readers will say “Hooray!” as they recognise their real world. The book is not a comfortable read for project managers grappling with stakeholder problems. Problems, and the reader will feel her already burdened “to do” list being added to.

However, the reader is rewarded with some useful gems, such as:

  • tips on how to use information to change attitudes;
  • identifying the visible and hidden sponsors and anti-sponsors, and tips on how to approach them;
  • possible solutions to a demotivated project team; and
  • lots of relatable examples in how to deal with a stakeholder, and/or of failure in dealing with the stakeholder.

Holloway, Bryde and Joby dedicated a chapter to a situation where the project management is outsourced to a contractor, creating a principal/agent relationship.

They are to be congratulated for not writing the book just from a customer or supplier perspective, and for including these real-world scenarios. Holloway, Bryde and Joby acknowledge that many project managers do not enjoy stakeholder management. They do however advise that, if the reader takes one lesson from the book, it is that: “By understanding the different groups of Stakeholders, what they want as people, what makes them difficult and what pressures they face, you have a chance of getting what you and the project need.” An experienced project manager will find the book concise and read it in a few hours, so the book is rewarding for the busy reader. Readers are bound to pick up one or two pithy ideas to help them, and Holloway, Bryde and Joby are to be congratulated on an excellent contribution to the literature, on a subject that besets all project managers.

About the Reviewer

Andrew Pyke is owner-director, founder & principal of Keyholder Pty Ltd, a company specialising in supporting Boards and Executives responsible for making complex programs succeed. Andrew has a track record of Executive and Board-level leadership in business, engineering and complex projects. Andrew is a highlyrated leader, with strong strategic, client relations, people and analytical skills. He is an Associate Partner of the International Centre for Complex Project Manager (ICCPM), a Certified Practicing Project Director (CPPD) and a qualified Company Director. Andrew’s experience includes extensive public and private sector projects, advanced technologies and mission-critical products, with significant commercial challenges.  Andrew has recently acted as the Program Director for a major interagency national infrastructure program and a negotiator on complex multi-party contracts and and has lectured in Lean Six Sigma business strategy for an executive audience, as part of an Australian University team.

Available via Amazon here.