Jack Duggal, MBA, PMP
Its not what you know, but who you know is a saying that comes to mind every time you come across somebody who gets ahead because they knew the right people. Can you think of people who can get things done or have been promoted because they have connections, and not necessarily on the basis of their qualifications?
A similar question was researched by Arent Greve from the Norwegian School of Business and Economics and his colleagues. They investigated how human capital (knowledge) and social capital (relationships) contribute to individual productivity in project environments. Both are important, the researchers found; however the social capital or who you know has a noticeably greater impact on productivity in projects.
Knowledge of the who is even more important in todays complex project environments. Project managers have to deal with teams of vendors, partners, contractors, consultants and other internal and external stakeholders, without clear organization charts or well-defined roles. How do you find out who are the key stakeholders who wield power and influence? How do you know who controls resources and information essential for your project? Who should get closer to whom?
To decipher the intricate maze of relationships and their impact in complex projects, my colleagues and I adapted a technique we call stakeholder network analysis (SHNA) in our practice. It is a variation of social network analysis that analyzes the connections of nodes and ties in a social network.
Figure 1 illustrates a simple example of a project stakeholder network. We can assume that Brian is the project manager and Debbie, Christine, Rich, Ahmed, Kumar and Chen are core team members. Tom has some supervisory capacity over this team; Pat is the sponsor and Beth the client.
Can you spot who are the most connected and powerful stakeholders in this network? Can you identify any structural gaps that need to be bridged?
Upon preliminary review it may appear that Brian is the most connected and powerful person in the network. However, further analysis reveals that Tom is the key node in this network because he is the gatekeeper between the project team and the sponsor and client side of the network. Next, Debbie and Christine are vital nodes between the right and the left side of the network.
Even though Brian appears to be well-connected and busy with his team, he needs to bridge the gap between himself and Pat and Beth, instead of relying on Debbie and Christine or Tom. If he does not have a good relationship with either of them, or if either of them decide to withhold information, Brian can be negatively impacted on this project.
Detailed network analysis involves a combination of measures like
Degrees the number of direct connections;
Betweeness how much a node controls what flows in the network;
Closeness how quickly a node can access all other nodes via a minimum of hops; and
Other stakeholder factors like power, influence, authority and control of resources.
You can start simply by illustrating the network of stakeholders in your project environment and identifying the key nodes and any gaps between stakeholders that might need to be bridged.
You can further leverage stakeholder network analysis in powerful ways depending upon what you know about who you know; enhance your knowledge based on who they know, and how they know them; or expand your connections based on who you know, and who they know and influence.
Social media like Linked-in, Facebook and Twitter are good for developing your own personal network to leverage limited project resources through who you know.
Ultimately it is not the what or the who, but what you do, with the what and the who, that is going to matter.
Mr. Duggal is the managing principal of Projectize Group LLC, specializing in next generation training, consulting and tools.