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Using Expert Stakeholders Wisely

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One group of stakeholders whose input is critical to most projects are experts -- subject matter experts, risk experts, quality experts. Project managers must know how to make effective use of these experts' knowledge.

The advantage of using an expert is of course his or her depth of knowledge. But not all experts are created equal and too many people simply accept an expert's views as a profound truth. Project managers may misunderstand the expert's area of expertise, for example. Or they fail to grasp the danger of 'group think,' which is a version of common sense held by a particular group of experts.

Instead, project managers need to be more engaged and understand the basis of the expert's opinion. What makes sense to the expert may not make sense to you or may not be the optimum solution to your problem.

One technique you can use to make sure the expertise is useful and applied effectively is asking the expert to explain his or her ideas in simple language. Then dig into the assumptions, evidence and methodology used to reach his or her opinion.

It also helps if you can make space for managed dissent. Allowing divergent views opens up alternatives that may allow new insights into the problem. By combining different ideas with more traditional tactics, you're likely to generate a wider range of options. And that often leads to a better solution than simply accepting a single expert opinion.

Experts confident in their knowledge are unlikely to be challenged by this approach. Instead, they will use the opportunity to learn new things and enhance their expertise.
 
How do you make use of an expert stakeholder's knowledge? 

 

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2 Comments

I get 'expert' stakeholders all the time on my projects. Often, they are subject matter stakeholders that represent some outside interest. The hard part is getting these people to engage. Delegates that are sent do not report to me or even my division. So, unless they are already motivated to share their 'context' or expertise this can be a real problem.

I have solved it more than once. It means a little more work, but it really pays off. See my blog Getting project stakeholder delegates to do work (http://bit.ly/l1f3RX).

Rick Bollinger (rick@menloparkassociates.com)

Leveraging stakeholders in an ownership role helps. If there are specific expertise within the stakeholders themselves, frequent discussions with the select group (more often than just planned communications) not only builds the PMs ability to gain context of the expertise, but will afford the opportunity for issues to arise earlier, allowing for a better managed project.

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