Project Engagement – When Just Words Won’t Cut It

July 29, 2013

Engage: [verb] occupy, attract, or involve (someone’s interest or attention)

Stakeholder engagement can ‘make or break’ a project. If there were a project success manual (oh, how we wish!), “The Importance of Engagement” would be the first chapter. Engagement has become a buzzword, rightly touted as a key defining characteristic of successful projects. But, and there is almost always a ‘but,’ the term “engagement” means different things to different people.

Based on many projects across many functional areas and industries, I’ve seen that engagement does not simply mean inviting the right people to a kick-off presentation or even numerous meetings throughout the project. While it’s great if stakeholders attend, nod in the right places, and appear to support the effort, this does not necessarily mean they’re truly engaged. For example, have you ever watch a movie at home with the sound turned off? Sure, you get the general gist of the story. You recognize some of the common themes. You might even see a stunt or two that impresses you. But the message doesn’t stick with you. Now go sit in a dark theater, with surround sound booming and a big screen looming, and you feel the movie in a different way. You become emotionally invested – you’re engaged. When you leave the theater, you’re talking about the movie and likely to recommend it to your friends.

Engagement Requires Winning Hearts and Minds

Engagement is buy-in; it’s emotional ownership. It’s the heart and mind, visceral and intellectual. Engagement results from the belief that something is good for the company and good for ‘me.’ Invest the time and resources to help your stakeholders see and feel the benefit, and in turn, they will invest the time and resources to help you actualize the goal. How do you know when they are engaged? You’ll know it when your stakeholder starts explaining the benefits to you instead of the other way around. That’s a sure sign that you have another flag bearer on your side.

How do you achieve engagement? Consider the needs, pressures, and objectives of the key stakeholders. Then build an “Engagement” section into your overall project plan (which might be separate or combined with your Change Management strategy). This is a dedicated section that lists each stakeholder group, with specific tasks throughout the life of the project to create and maintain engagement (think 1:1 demos, recurring personalized communication, etc., to address what’s important to them and why/how a successful outcome will benefit them and their teams). Identify risks and mitigation techniques specific to maintaining stakeholder engagement. This will keep engagement paramount and may be the difference between a successful project and an unsuccessful project, no matter how you choose to define “success.”

For more insights on facilitating adoption of new initiatives within your organization, stay tuned for our upcoming blog on Change Management.

Contact us directly at

Kelly Patterson
Manager, Procurement Optimization
The Shelby Group