People are fundamental to every aspect of an archival project. They commission projects, provide resources, support (or challenge) projects, and produce results. People deliver projects as managers and team members, and others influence projects as sponsors and archival project stakeholders. How people behave and feel about the project influences its success.
Who is an Archival Project Stakeholder?
A stakeholder has an interest in a project’s outcome. Although the users and the sponsor are the most important people to please, a project is considered successful if it satisfies most, if not all, stakeholders.
Stakeholders influence a project throughout its life cycle and contribute to its success. During planning, they help in defining objectives, requirements, and constraints; identify strategies; and provide funding. During implementation, stakeholders do the work, resolve issues, decide whether changes are necessary, and control the budget.
Stakeholder management is important for successful archival projects. To identify stakeholders, pay attention to the individuals who will be affected by the project’s outcomes: the contributors of resources—including people, space, time, tools, and money—and the beneficiaries of the project’s output. Each is a stakeholder in the project.
Types of Stakeholders
In archival projects, users are stakeholders. They are the recipients of the project deliverables.
As stakeholders, functional managers are not necessarily affiliated with a project team, nor are they involved in the everyday management of the project. Functional managers are resource providers for the team and can affect the project’s success.
Another type of stakeholder is a subject matter expert. They are authorities having specialized knowledge on certain aspects of the project. Subject matter experts supply advice to projects on an as-needed basis. They ensure that the teams that they work with gain the information and insight needed to get the job done. Subject matter experts can span projects, allowing them to share knowledge across a multitude of efforts.
The Role of the Sponsor
As senior executives, project sponsors shepherd projects to success. The sponsor champions the benefits of the project, accepts responsibility for funding and budget statuses, concurs with the project requirements, and is knowledgeable about planned and actual results. They assist their teams in resolving organizational impediments to success. They work with project managers to ensure a smooth transition from project start to completion. Experienced project managers aim to provide executive involvement by forging relationships with their sponsors. There is little a project manager won’t share with her or his project sponsor. In turn, by addressing challenging project issues and concerns as they arise, sponsors hedge risk and improve outcomes.
Stakeholder Management in Large Projects
For complex projects like the building or renovation of an archives facility, several project teams may be formed to move the process forward. Representatives from the governing authority, the board of trustees, the administration and staff, friends groups, and community interest groups may be part of this collective.
Usually, a smaller working group is formed within the larger group of stakeholders to hasten the process, and their decisions are brought back to the larger group for review and approval. It’s vital that only one person—usually the project manager—speaks for the entire organization in dealing with consultants and contractors during the design and building process.
Stakeholder relationships are functional rather than hierarchical. Although the sponsor will be higher-ranking than the project manager, little else can be assumed about the seniority of other team members. Subject matter experts or technical specialists have skills based on years of experience and are often senior to the project manager.
For effective stakeholder management, the project manager must consider the stakeholders’ attitudes toward the project, their influence on the organization, and their authority levels. Understanding a stakeholder’s stance can help the project manager gather requirements and manage the stakeholder more effectively.
Stakeholders make or break projects. Some have concerns but no power. Others may be supportive but lack rank. The opposite is also true: important individuals may be the champions or naysayers for the archival project. Project managers need to know whom they can trust for support, but they also want to know who may cause them to lose traction. In my experience as an archivist and consultant, I’ve seen ill-planned projects forge ahead because of executive support. I’ve also seen them torpedoed by low-ranking employees with high political power.
Keep Up with Stakeholder Changes
In the course of a project, key archival project stakeholders who are supporters or antagonists may change, and understanding their attitudes and interests is essential in continuing a project. Effective stakeholder management requires the project manager to create a strategy that can keep up with these changes and also satisfies those with high power within the organization.
Margo Note is an author, archivist, and records manager who helps individuals and organizations harness their history. See more of Margot’s posts on skill development and tactics for successful archival projects.