Thought Leadership

Four Strategies for Effective Stakeholder Communication: Success Factors Part 2

Category: Thought Leadership
Carrie Okizaki • November 21, 2022


Proper and effective communication is essential for projects of all sizes and types. It is especially important for megaprojects – large, multi-billion-dollar infrastructure developments with unique challenges.

By their very nature, megaprojects have a wide-reaching impact on many different groups of people and tend to be very public in nature. This makes communication even more important, as poor communication risks a loss of support for the project and reputational harm to the project’s owner.

There are four communication strategies that will contribute to success throughout the project’s lifecycle:

  • Identify all the stakeholders
  • Create a consistent narrative
  • Establish the right metrics for external communication
  • Communicate risks proactively

Stakeholder Identification
Effective communication begins with a comprehensive understanding of your audience. To achieve this, start by creating a stakeholder list. This tool will help to prioritize your time and energy based on the strategic intent of your program.

Identify all the possible stakeholders, from the company’s board of directors to members of the communities where the project is taking place. Be comprehensive and broad and break the list down into categories.

Carefully assess the individual needs of each group, then develop a specific plan for communication and engagement around each stakeholder.

Create a Consistent Narrative
A narrative or story helps connect your thoughts and ideas with your audience.

Map out the narrative before you actually need to communicate it. It’s also important to recognize that the story may change over time. Some aspects may need to serve as placeholders until the megaproject is further along.

Questions that should be answered by a good story include:

  • What is it? (Describe the project in clear, concise language, drawing on other similar projects to serve as examples.)
  • What challenges exist today that the project will address? (This is the main business case for the project.)
  • Why is the project important?
  • What’s the opportunity in the project? (This should directly speak to the challenges.)
  • Why is the project worth the risk? (Megaprojects have a history of cost overruns and delays, but their overall importance should overcome these risks.)
  • How will the project get executed? (This includes the players and important facts about project expectations and milestones.)
  • How will the project benefit the various stakeholder groups? (This is the critical “what’s in it for me” message.)
  • What controls will be put into place to ensure that schedule and budget are met?

Establish the Right Metrics for External Communication
One of the most important things in the upfront planning phase is to determine how progress and success can be objectively measured, as well as which metrics will be shared outside the project team and when. The big three categories of information to be communicated are:

  1. Cost: Concern about cost is often at the center of megaprojects. Often, project teams publicly announce the projected cost estimate too early in the design and estimating process, when the level of accuracy is very low. Delaying publicly releasing cost projections until the project is sufficiently defined and then clearly communicating budget variance projection changes in cost estimates (across all stakeholders) as the design process matures is critical. Communication strategies should consider whether to express project estimates as a range rather than a single number.
  2. Schedule: Preparing a baseline schedule is the first step. As scope changes and unforeseen circumstances (like severe weather, labor strikes, etc.) affect the project, regular, proactive communication across all stakeholders is the key to managing expectations and perceptions. As with cost, it is important to delay making promises for meeting milestones or completion dates until the scope of the project is well defined, contracts with the contractors performing the work have been negotiated, and the project risks have been identified and studied.
  3. Earned Value Management: As the project progresses, the project team should report to the stakeholders how the project is performing against the plan and forecast cost and schedule performance.

Communicate Risks Proactively
Engage an expert early, communicate what you don’t know and don’t forget to establish key milestones for evaluating and communicating risk. It also helps to operate in a culture that values risk management as, without active risk management, risks cannot be effectively identified and communicated.

By treating communication as a fundamental component of planning a project and using effective communication strategies, project owners can mitigate the potential harm that a lack of understanding about the project could cause.

Originally published: September 2015. Fully updated: November 2022.