Stakeholders (according to the PMBOK®
Guide) are any individuals or groups who will be impacted by or have an impact on the project. Stakeholders include people in the role of customer, sponsor, and/or business representative; as well as the project manager, the development team, any vendors involved in the project; and other people in the organization affected by the project work or its results, including the product's end users.
It is absolutely essential to engage stakeholders for any Agile project's success. Effective communication and stakeholder engagement are critical to ensure that the team develops what is expected and asked by the customer. In Agile projects, a Scrum team or the ScrumMaster should use and develop the necessary soft skills to interact and effectively work with the stakeholders. Here, we discuss two major soft skills: active listening and conflict resolution. The Agile coach implements conflict resolution within the teams.
Active listening is hearing what someone is really trying to convey rather than just hearing the words they are speaking. On Agile projects, we need to listen for the message, not just the strings of words spoken. It is a skill that can be improved by practice. There are three levels of active listening.
- Level 1: Internal listening. Internal listening occurs when we listen to the works of the speaker through our own perspectives.
- Level 2: Focused listening. By focused listening, we let go of our own thoughts and put ourselves in the mind of the speaker. We look for emotional indicators in the speaker's words and pauses, in their voices and tones, and in their facial expressions, and look for more information about how the person feels about what they are describing.
- Level 3: Global listening. The approach taken at this level is in addition to Level 2, adding a higher level of awareness to pick up the subtle physical and environmental indicators. The listener also understands the body language of the speaker.
Conflict is an inevitable part of the work. Whenever people work together, there are differences of opinion and competing interests. However, some degree of conflict within the team is healthy to ensure that the ideas are sufficiently tested before they are adopted. Creating an environment in which people can use conflict constructively is a key part of successfully engaging stakeholders on a project.
Identifying the conflict stage can help us determine what actions we should take or what tools or techniques may work in given situation.
There are five levels of conflicts, as described below.
- Level 1: Problem to solve. The language of the team is generally open-hearted, constructive, open and fact-based. There is information-sharing and collaboration among the team.
- Level 2: Disagreement. The language starts to include self-protection. It is guarded and open to interpretation. Personal protection trumps collaboration.
- Level 3: Contest. Team members use distorted language. Winning trumps resolving. Language within the team includes personal attacks.
- Level 4: Crusade. The conflict becomes more ideological and polarized. Protecting one's own group becomes the focus.
- Level 5: World war. The language is fully combative. The opposing team members rarely speak to each other; i.e., little or no language is exchanged.
To conclude, poor soft skills can quickly demoralize a technically strong team. A team and its members who effectively use soft skills can optimize stakeholder engagement and achieve amazing results.
Adkins, Lyssa. Coaching Agile Teams
. Boston: Pearson Education, 2010.
Mike Griffiths, PMI-ACP Exam Prep
. Minnetonka, MN, USA: RMC Publications, 2012.