Provocation: Managing What?

As a project manager, your job is to manage your project; right?

Well, sort of, I suppose.

There is one circumstance where that is nearly true, and we’ve all been there. You know… those projects where you are the project manager, the project team, and you have to make your own tea or coffee. A solo project.

Even then; you still have to manage yourself, your time, your energy, and your discipline.

But let’s say you’ve gone beyond solo projects. What should you be managing?

  • The scoping negotiations
  • The planning and programming
  • The budgeting and business case
  • The specification and change control
  • The pilot
  • Delivery
  • The risk register
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Testing and remediation
  • Handover and sign-off
  • Project review and closure

Do you see the picture yet? You cannot manage all that, no matter how good you are. It’s too much.

Your job, as a project manager, is to manage the people of the project.

Provocation: Good Project Meetings don’t Happen by Chance

Sometimes the life of a project manager seems to be a constant trudge from one meeting to the next. And it doesn’t help that you are responsible for leading some of them.

We’ve all seen the endless tip lists for good meetings:

  • Set an agenda in advance
  • Invite the right people only
  • Start on time
  • Use a parking lot to avoid getting side tracked
  • Summarise and conclude as you go
  • Write down actions on a board
  • Follow up

And blah, blah, blah.

Been there, done it!

All these assume that the meeting is happening and it follows a pretty standard pattern. But how often do you sit down, in a quiet place, with enough time, and design your meetings?

If I said you need to facilitate a two day workshop, you could well spend between two and ten days designing it. It’s important: 6 to 12 people are putting in a couple of days and the workshop needs to produce results.

But project meetings? They’re just an hour…

An hour a month, that is. Or maybe an hour a fortnight. Or perhaps an hour a week. And how long is your project? Six months? A year… or two?

On an 18 month project say (a reasonable average for the sort of business projects I used to run), with a team of six or seven people, meeting monthly, and lasting an hour each time, that’s over 100 staff hours. That’s about the same as the same number of people going on a two-day workshop.

Get it?

Why aren’t you putting a couple of days into designing and reviewing your project meetings?

If I were to Write a Book on Program Management…

Many years ago now, in the late 1990s, I was still working at Deloitte Consulting, in the Programme Leadership team, based in the London office. As a team, we felt like we were leading the the development of Programme Management ideas in the UK, creating frameworks, tools and methodologies. It was an exciting time and clients were interested in applying the new concepts.

I recall even then wanting to write and I approached one colleague, Rex, with the idea of collaborating on a book about programme management. We had similar idea, but different sets of experience and I thought we’d make a great collaboration. Rex was wiser than I (he once made a throwaway remark that transformed my whole attitude to one component of team leadership) and pointed out one salient fact…

If we authored a book while employed by Deloitte, we would not own it; Deloitte would. And so ended that project, strangled before birth, like so many good but impractical ideas.

Roll forward nearly 20 years…

I recently got sent a book to review, that took my fancy. Transforming Business with Program Management, by Satish P Subramanian is a good book. Indeed, if I were to write a book on program management today, I suspect it would look a little like this one in many ways. Let me re-assure Satish and his publishers, though: I neither intend to write one, nor would I look to pinch his stuff if I did!

Transforming Business with Program Management

So why do I liken this book to the one I might have written? Because it does what I like to do with many of my books: it takes a wide overview of a big subject and it packs in a lot of ideas in an easy to read and understand way. It doesn’t go deeply into its subject, but it does offer some deep insights. It has a strong and clear structure, it is well illustrated with helpful diagrams, and offers plenty of practical and pragmatic advice. In short, it is the ideal book to introduce the ideas of program management. I’d certainly recommend it to anyone new to the discipline, or finding their way and wanting a good framework to sharpen their understanding and fill in the gaps.

What I like best about Satish’s book is that it covers topics well, which I believe need more emphasis in books like this: sponsorship and governance. They each get their own chapter among 12 (ten really, as Ch 1 is an Executive Overview and Ch 12 is an Executive Summary). On the flip side, I find the section on stakeholder engagement a little thin, but then maybe that is because it is a primary subject for me.

There is some good stuff on program vision, strategy and architecture, but I would like to have seen something on portfolio selection. Benefits, change and risk management all get some air-time, as do program leadership and communications. I would, however, liked to have found something on capability development for the program organisation and team.

All in all though, this is an excellent book and I must also give credit to Satish’s publishers, CRC Press, who have supported him well with good quality paper and colour print diagrams that make this hardback a pleasure to handle (I don’t do eBooks). I’m now looking with some envy at heir other titles!

You can buy Transforming Business with Program Management from your favourite bookseller, or through these convenient links to Amazon in the UK and


Transforming Business with Program Management:  Integrating Strategy, People, Process, Technology, Structure, and Measurement.

Satish P Subramanian

CRC Press, 2015

Table of Contents

  1. Executive Overview
  2. Success Starts Upfront: Describe the Problem Accurately
  3. Articulate the Program Vision and Objectives
  4. Secure Cross Functional Executive Sponsorship
  5. Develop and Implement a Governance Model
  6. Define Success, Outcomes, and Key Value Indicators
  7. Invest in Planning and Creating an Integrated Approach
  8. Drive Strong Partnership and Stakeholder Engagement
  9. Provide Leadership Across All Levels
  10. Monitor Aggressively and Have Contingencies
  11. Create and Implement an Operations Transition Plan
  12. Executive Summary

What is your Influence Agenda?

Some things are cliches for a very good reason: they are true, and there is no other way to say them. So, when I say that change is a constant feature of organisational life, I am not trying to be clever, just to make a commonplace observation.

Another commonplace of organisational life is that unless you can engage your stakeholders and win their support, your change is doomed to fail. So what are you doing to build and manage a credible campaign of engaging and influencing your stakeholders?

Mission and Vision

Your organisation has a purpose, or mission, and also, I expect, a vision for its future. We translate this into a strategy for change, and from that, we develop a programme of changes that are fully aligned to these.

Stakeholder Engagement Goals

From this, you also need to derive a stakeholder engagement goals that state what you need to achieve, to maximise your chances of project or programme success, in terms of your change goals. Your influence agenda is a systematic campaign for achieving your stakeholder engagement goals.

A Systematic Campaign

Your campaign must have a number of essential elements:

  1. Identify who your stakeholders (literally, anyone who has any interest in what you are doing) are
  2. Analyse them to understand, characterise, and prioritise your stakeholders
  3. Plan your campaign and the messages you need to deliver
  4. Act on your plan and engage your stakeholders to influence their attitudes and actions
  5. Maintain your campaign under constant review

How to Influence

At the core of your Influence Agenda is the process of influencing. There are four forms of influence you can adopt:

  1. Hard power
    – the influence of status – rarely effective in a sustainable way
  2. Economic power
    – the influence of exchange – most effective for short-term persuasion
  3. Soft power
    – the influence of attraction – the way to build long-term influence
  4. Hidden power
    – the influence of the unconscious – how to influence choices in the moment

Of these, soft power will be by far the most important, and I will look more at this in a later LinkedIn post.

Learn from Geopolitics

Nations use all of these forms of power. Hard power is military and diplomatic coercion; economic power is trading and sanctions; soft power is aid and cultural exchange; and hidden power is the way policy makes certain choices more desirable.

As with politics, so with organisations. You will be most successful when you get the balance right. But one thing is absolutely for sure: if you believe in the change you are seeking to implement, then deploying a structured influence agenda is not an option. All that remains then, is how you plan and manage your campaign.


The Influence Agenda by Mike ClaytonThe Influence Agenda
is the new book by Mike Clayton

Learn more about the book, watch some videos, and download templates and other resources, at

Earlier posts that you might also like:

– What is Stakeholder Engagement? 
– Fragmentation of Power and the Need to Influence

Fragmentation of Power and the Need to Influence

An important feature of power in organisations is its fragmentation across many dimensions.

In a typical large corporation, Government department, public authority, or charity, power divides among many departments, and often across different geographical elements. Indeed, many corporations are now made up of individual trading businesses, each vying with one another for power: in some the competition between them is an unfortunate consequence of human nature; in others it is engineered into the situation by senior executives.

Tactical Response

This fragmentation results in a highly tactical approach to influencing stakeholders. Different parts of the organisation prioritise different stakeholders, and even send conflicting messages. Take, for example: the customers whom the sales team might prioritise, the staff, whom the personnel function will favour, the media, whom the public affairs team focus on, and the suppliers that the purchasing team work with. Whilst there is a genuine community of interest among them, tactical communications often create mixed messages. An organisation must take a strategic view to ensure that it emphasises common themes.

Unscrambling Complex Systems

Increasingly, we hear of organisations described as complex systems of interacting and interdependent agents. The role of the organisation is to find and exploit opportunities for the whole system to benefit. The system metaphor is seductive and doubtless highly valuable, but its very complexity makes it somewhat intractable to the average manager or change leader.

A profitable starting place for simplifying this complexity is to borrow from Six Sigma, a structured methodology to drive process improvement, developed in the 1980s by Motorola. An important concept in Six Sigma is that of Xs and Ys.

A Y is a measure of output performance.
It is an effect of the process. Motorola talked of Big Ys as the things that matter most to the business’s most critical customers.

An X is a cause – a factor, variable or process element which can affect the outcome.
The Big Xs are the factors that have the greatest impact on Big Ys.

The way we simplify the complexity of a highly inter-connected system of stakeholders is to look for the Big Ys and then for the Big Xs.

Applying Big Xs and Big Ys to a campaign of Influence

In our case, the Big Ys represent the important changes you want to create by exerting your influence: your outcomes.

The Big Xs are the stakeholders who can have maximum impact upon those outcomes.

Your first step in creating a successful campaign of influence is to prioritise your stakeholders. But do not be seduced into a simplistic analysis that equates position or power with impact on outcomes. The process of analysing stakeholders needs to be a lot more sophisticated, reviewing webs of influence, needs, interests and attitudes too.

Do yo know who the Big Xs are for your organisation, your project, or your change initiative? If you don’t: you should.


The Influence Agenda by Mike ClaytonThis is the approach I take in The Influence Agenda: A Systematic Approach to Aligning Stakeholders in Times of Change. It is published by Palgrave Macmillan.

What is Stakeholder Engagement?

When I first learned about project management formally, my colleagues impressed upon me the need to ‘manage your stakeholders’. That is, to manage their perceptions, to manage their opinions, and to manage their impact on your project. Stakeholders, I was told, are the key to project success… or failure.

If, by the way, you are not familiar with the term ‘stakeholder’, don’t worry – it just means anyone who has any interest in your project at all. I looked at the origin of this word in my previous posting.

Manage stakeholders badly and, no matter how well you manage other aspects of your project; it will fail. Because it is your stakeholders who get to judge.

Stakeholder Management

So stakeholder management has becoming a more and more important component of project management and project management training for many years. For the last fifteen years, it has been one of the parts of my project and change management training programmes and seminars that has resonated most strongly with participants and audiences.

But there is a change in the air. Increasingly, people are referring not to ‘stakeholder management’, but to ‘Stakeholder Engagement’.

Stakeholder Engagement

This is a change that I welcome and I will capitalize the term too, for reasons I will come back to in a moment. For me, engagement is simply a lot more respectful than the idea of trying to manage your stakeholders. So when I started work on my latest book, ‘The Influence Agenda’ which is about a systematic approach to engaging with stakeholders, I took the decision to use the term Stakeholder Engagement exclusively.  And from this month – in which the book is published in the UK and the US, I am changing all of my training and seminar materials accordingly.

I do, by the way, use the term ‘stakeholder engagement management’. By this, I mean management of the process of engaging with stakeholders… respectfully and positively.

So, why the capitals?

I have capitalized Stakeholder Engagement because I think it is time to recognize this as a formal discipline in its own right. Project Management (and its cousins Programme Management, Change Management, and Portfolio Management) is well established – indeed project and programme management together have their own professional bodies in many countries. Risk Management is not only a distinct area f professional skill, it is a distinct specialty of project management. Now I would like to see Stakeholder Engagement acquire the same status.

The Influence Agenda: A Systematic Approach to Aligning Stakeholders in Times of Change is published by Palgrave Macmillan next week, on 22 April 2014. It is available from all good booksellers, including Amazon UK and

You can learn more about the book and its contents, read extracts, scan the full contents list, and download resources at:

The Influence Agenda by Mike Clayton

The Origin of Stakeholders

A stakeholder is anyone who has any interest in what you are doing, with the word ‘anyone’ inviting us to draw our net as widely as possible.  And any interest means that they can be interested in what you are doing, how you are doing it, or in its outcome.

Some of you will prefer an alternative definition, which is equally wide, and equally true, a stakeholder is:

‘anyone who can ruin your day’

This word stakeholder has, in the author’s professional life, moved from being a jargon-word that has been little understood outside narrow areas of business to becoming a commonplace. So where does it come from?

The Influence Agenda

Preparing for my new book*, I researched this extensively, resulting in a thousand word essay at the start of the book.  I summarized my research with a simple diagram. Sadly, I couldn’t put a colour version in the book, so happily, I can share it with you here.

The Evolution of Stakeholder Engagement

From Left to Right

  1. Early 18th Century
    Stakeholding exclusively part of gambling culture
  2. Late 19th  Century
    Primacy of the shareholder
  3. 1940s
    Managers as trustees, balancing multiple communities
  4. Early 1960s
    ‘Stakeholder’ identified as a concept
  5. Late 1960s
    Ansoff incorporates stakeholding into corporate strategy
  6. Early 1980s
    Freeman writes ‘Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach
  7. Mid 1990s
    Tony Blair describes a Stakeholder Economy
  8. 2010s
    Stakeholder Engagement starts to emerge as a managerial and professional discipline

Orgin of Stakeholders PosterDownload The Origin of Stakeholders poster.


The drawing starts with the first appearance of the word, recorded by The Oxford English Dictionary as being in 1708, and meaning the holder of a wager.  A stake is ‘that which is placed at hazard’ although OED is uncertain where that usage of stake comes from.

The OED, incorrectly, I now believe, credits the first use of stakeholder in the business sense that interests us, to Igor Ansoff in 1965.  I attribute it, two years earlier, to the Stanford Research Institute, as a play on the words shareholder and stockholder. The word gained most of its power in the mid 1990’s when British Prime Minister Tony Blair described the UK as a ‘Stakeholder Economy.’

I have written before (in The Origins of Project Management) about the wonderful tool that is the Google Ngram Viewer.  Here are some annotated print-outs that did not find a home in the book, but which make interesting references and helped to inform my essay.

For those not familiar with Ngrams, they plot the frequency of your chosen word from a vast selection of published books that Google has scanned and rendered into searchable text. You can have hours of fun choosing words, sources and time windows, to research the rise and fall in popularity of your favourite words or ideas.

Ngrams - Stkeholder Mgt & EngtNgram - Stakeholder economy Ngrams - Stakeholder* The Influence Agenda: A Systematic Approach to Aligning Stakeholders in Times of Change is published by Palgrave Macmillan next week, on 22 April 2014. It is available from all good booksellers, including Amazon UK and

You can learn more about the book and its contents, read extracts, scan the full contents list, and download resources at:

The Influence Agenda by Mike Clayton