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How To Manage a Project With Lots of Stakeholders

Too many cooks in the kitchen…death by committee…there’s a reason that there are so many sayings about this particular phenomenon. When there are too many stakeholders involved in a project, it tends to grind to a halt all too quickly.

So, how does anyone manage to accomplish something as interesting and important as a rebrand, when everyone who’s anyone wants to have a say?

Managing feedback from lots of stakeholders can be noisy.

Roger That has faced this particular challenge more times than we can count, so we’ve got plenty of strategies up our sleeve to help clients navigate their internal politics and get sh*t done. Here are a few tactics anyone can use to avoid the gridlock of too many decision-makers.

Create a core project team

At the beginning of the project, choose a few people to serve as the core project team. These are like the elected representatives for the project, in charge of making sure their team’s interests are represented.

For businesses, we typically see someone representing marketing, management and sales on the core project team. For nonprofits, we often see project teams include representatives from leadership, fundraising or marketing, programs, and occasionally someone from the board.

Each member of the core project team will also need to have bandwidth to spare in order to give the project the attention it needs to succeed.

Now, keep in mind that these folks don’t necessarily need to be at the top of the org chart. But they do need to have the authority to make decisions on behalf of those who are.

So, if your CEO or executive director doesn’t have bandwidth to be on the core project team themselves, they will need to trust the person they delegate to represent their interests. The last thing anyone wants is for leadership to swoop in at the eleventh hour and blow up the whole thing. It not only erodes trust and enthusiasm for everyone involved, but also eats through time and budget.

Empower one person to break ties

When the core project team can’t reach a consensus, there needs to be one person who can make a decision and move things forward. Have everyone on the project team agree to this ahead of time – they’ll have an easier time trusting the person’s judgment if they had a say in who it is.

You can even give them a fun title like “Brand Czar” to remind everyone who is calling the shots on this particular project. (Because if New York City can have a Rat Czar, why not?)

If you’re working with an outside partner like Roger That, you’ll also need someone to serve as a single point of contact to facilitate communication between the two teams. It may be the same person, or it may not. Either way, they should be organized, a great communicator and part of the core project team.

"When asking stakeholders for feedback, be explicit about what you are looking for and how you will use input."

– Jennifer Ruwart, Founder, Roger That

Have a wider group sound off on one or two key decisions

Okay, so you’ve selected a core project team, primary decision-maker and facilitator. But…there are still a lot of important people who have opinions and need to feel heard.

We usually handle this by identifying the key deliverables we want the larger group of stakeholders to weigh in on.

Moodboards and logos are perfect opportunities for this — they come early in the process and have a major influence over the look and feel of everything that comes after. Most importantly, they are easy to take a clear position on (Which do you like more, A or B?) but fluid enough to allow for some nuance if needed (I like the colors from A, and the graphics from B).

This is one of the cases where the primary decision-maker will be especially important. They’ll collect the feedback from the wider team and distill their collective feedback into one voice.

Be selective and self-aware about the feedback process

Aside from those few key decisions that are ripe for voting, only the core project team should be reviewing each deliverable.

In fact, we suggest being even more selective about who needs to give feedback on what. Too many opinions tend to muddy the waters and slow things down.

"When asking stakeholders for feedback, be explicit about what you are looking for and how you will use input," said Roger That founder Jennifer Ruwart. "Otherwise, you leave it up to each person to guess what you want. You may also unintentionally hurt someone’s feelings if their input isn’t acted on. Either outcome could open Pandora’s box and derail the project."

Logo design is a great example, because logos are so subjective and can be emotionally charged. Do you want people to vote on their favorites or provide detailed feedback? Both approaches work, but they require different investments of time and energy so you’ll want to be clear about the ask.

Also, when you’re working with the project manager to plan the timeline for the project, be realistic about how much time you’ll need to gather feedback.

"Clients with a lot of decision-makers on the team usually need more time to review deliverables, gather feedback and reach agreement," said Jessica Rupe, Roger That project manager. "If we know that up front, we can plan some extra review time in the project schedule. The overall timeline may be longer, but it’s worth it to not have that constant deadline pressure."

Don’t let perfection be the enemy of progress

At Roger That, we strive to deliver strong creative work that our clients can make swift decisions about and move on. But as you might guess, it’s not always that easy.

Brands are inherently emotional, so working on your brand naturally evokes a lot of strong opinions from the people who care most about it.

Our number one piece of advice for that all-powerful Brand Czar: You can’t make everyone happy all the time. Keep reminding the team how far you have already come from where you started, and that the details can evolve over time.

Don’t let small points of dissent derail the project. Both individually and as a team, learn to trust your gut, make a decision and move on.

This comes up often with copy, which is my area of specialty. There are some clients who would keep revising and rephrasing until the words have lost all meaning, if we let them.

At the end of the day, they’ve got to trust the experts they hired to build their brand, and trust the primary decision-maker they chose to make sure the company is represented in its best light.

We’ve got this! It’s going to be amazing – just wait and see.