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Influencing Project Stakeholders; What we can learn from cigarette adverts

Posted by Peter on Aug 12 2008 | Articles

Smoking is cool

One of the key elements of project stakeholder management is the use of influence (“the ability to affect the actions, beliefs and attitudes of other people”) to ensure that people give their support to our projects.

Advertisements are an obvious example of how people can be influenced, and some of the most effective advertisements seem to be for the tobacco industry. Take a look at the huge hoarding above from the streets of Yogyakarta in Indonesia, with a close-up below.

Smoking is cool

So the image is of a healthy young man sitting at the top of a mountain, bird-of-prey subdued on his hunky shoulder, with a lion guarding him. Ciggy companies tag line “Pria Punya Selera” - with a meaning similar to “A Man’s Taste” in big letters. The only substantial writing at the bottom of the banner says “smoking causes cancer, impotence and birth defects” (or, roughly translated - “smoke these and die”). The ad is, of course, a huge success, with the company now having over 30% market share. The Indonesian government recently revealed plans to start limiting cigarette production to 240 billion sticks by 2010 in a tentative move to curb smoking in the world’s fifth-largest tobacco market, lifting the cap to 260 billion in 2015. That’s still a lot of baccy going up in smoke!

People are becoming more and more aware of the health issues associated with smoking, although they don’t seem to be stubbing out the habit as quickly as you might expect. Around 34% of Indonesia’s 237 million people are smokers, where taxes collected on cigarette production and sales are said to contribute about 10% of state revenues. It seems people are acting on the picture, trying to attain the cool outdoor lifestyle depicted above, and completely ignoring the (rather important) words.

Ciggy ads as far as the eye can see...
Gudang Garam’s arch-rival - LA Lights - stringing banners all over the place

Lesson learned:

  • Pictures and images are extremely important, with people even ignoring words, so we should use more pictures when communicating with our project stakeholders.

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Stakeholder Management and Travel Card System Failures

Posted by Peter on Aug 04 2008 | Case Studies

London Queue

Interesting to read about the ‘chaos’ affecting public transport systems in both New York and London recently, caused by faulty contact-less travel payment cards and readers.

Apparently, thousands of subway and bus riders in New York City were unable to use their cards, as up to 2,000 vending machines failed last week, making it impossible for them to use their credit and debit cards to buy tickets. Similar difficulties also affected travelers in London in late July. This is further to the article here on RFID tags used as travel payment card.

One traveler had an interesting comment when interviewed:

… she said she does not carry much cash because I fully expect these kinds of machines to always be working’.

That’s a good example of how stakeholder expectations nowadays can be very high. And it’s also a reminder that we do need to take great care with the technical implementation of our projects.

  • Stakeholder management alone won’t help if the system keeps breaking down!

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Stakeholder Management and electronic plane tickets

Posted by Peter on Jul 19 2008 | Case Studies

Here’s a case study showing how a large number of stakeholders can be managed with a simple communications exercise, in a project with a clear benefit.e-ticket
Many of you will by now have used an electronic ticket (or ‘e-ticket’) for your plane flights. Those of you who prefer to hold your paper or card tickets are now officially out of luck, as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) completed it’s program to switch the airline industry to 100% electronic ticketing at the beginning of June 2008 (delayed from an original target of January 2008).

E-Ticketing allows a customer to book flights through an airline’s Web site or by phone. The customer gets an email or downloadable document with a confirmation number, flight number, date, departure location, and destination location. The customer only needs to bring a passport for identification at the airport check-in counter. The incentives for airlines to adopt e-ticketing were huge. A paper ticket costs around $10 to produce, whereas an e-ticket costs only $1. IATA’s members airlines issue over 400 million tickets each year - a lot of paper!

So printing and mailing costs of airline companies have been significantly reduced, and for travelers there is the benefit that lost or forgotten documents can be easily retrieved.

This is interesting from a project stakeholder management perspective, as the people who travel (all 400 million of them) do not seem to have been consulted about the switch to e-tickets. So all of us are in the ‘Low Influence’ part of the stakeholder classification grid and were informed but not consulted. How did they get away with this? Probably because the benefits are clear, especially as we move towards minimising resources and not cutting down all those trees just to print tickets which are thrown in the bin after use. There are, of course, some airports that won’t let you in the departure area unless you have a ‘ticket’ in your hand that proves you’re a traveler. We then have to print the e-ticket ourselves!

The future

IATA is now working on a similar system to reduce the amount of paperwork accompanying air freight, which is more good news. Some airlines are experimenting with systems to send your e-ticket to your phone as a two-dimensional bar code for scanning at the gate and as a boarding pass.

Physical tickets are also undergoing a revolution, with increasing use of contactless plastic cards. Access to the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics is being controlled with a sophisticated smart-card system that even stores a person’s passport data and a photograph, making it impossible to transfer or sell the ticket to someone else.

Lesson learned for project stakeholder management:

  • When the benefits are clear to everyone, a simple communication exercise is all that’s needed to manage a huge number of stakeholders in your project.

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Case Study of Project Stakeholder Complaints When Replacing old Street Lights - Dusseldorf, Germany

Posted by Peter on Jul 07 2008 | Case Studies

Here’s a case study showing the importance of finding all the different requirements of stakeholders before embarking on a project.


The municipal power utility in the German city of Dusseldorf recently started a project to replace 10,000 of the 17,000 gas street lights in use in the old city with the latest LED (”Light Emitting Diode”) technology. Good idea. The LED’s are very reliable and cheaper to operate than the current gas lights, although they are more expensive to install and have less light output than the equivalent fluorescent or sodium lamps. This is expected to change as the technology improves in the coming years. Another advantage is that the light beam may be directed very accurately, unlike sodium lamps which throw light all over the place - including through the bedroom windows of people living along the streets!

LED LightYellow LED Light

But not everyone is pleased with the idea of losing the gas lamps. Ulrich Kuipers from the South Westfalia University of Applied Sciences, which developed the Dusseldorf lamps, now admits to ‘making a mistake’ with the initial design, as many residents complained that the light from the new lamps was too cold, as compared to the soft glow of the original gas lights. Luckily, another useful characteristic of LED’s is their ability to produce different colours and hues, which can be used to imitate the old friendly glow.

Lesson Learned:

Get all stakeholders involved as soon as possible with your project design, as they might have concerns that never occurred to you.

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Some Irrational Behaviours of Project Stakeholders

Posted by Peter on Jun 28 2008 | Articles


After managing projects for many years, I’ve noticed that people - including myself - can behave in ways that appear to be ‘irrational’. It seems that our personal biases and expectations can influence our decisions, with self-justification getting in the way of clear thinking. Studies have suggested that many of these behaviours are also exhibited in certain circumstances by animals, so it’s likely we inherited them as part of our evolutionary past.

To help all Project Managers, here are some of the strange behaviours you might see during the course of any project endeavour. Knowing about these effects will help us to understand and manage the expectations of our project stakeholders:

People attach a higher value to things they own. This leads to trouble in project contract negotiations, when the negotiator will try to hold on to things that are already agreed, even thought there may be better options available.

People will search for or interpret information in a way that confirms their preconceptions. Don’t expect to be able to change someone’s mind easily, as they will ignore your carefully presented evidence if it falls outside their own biases.

Doing things because others do them. Ever been waiting to cross the road at a ‘red’ pedestrian crossing and then seen 5 other people stride into the road? Seeing other people taking action seems to give us permission to join them, so we irresistibly cross the road with them instead of waiting for the ‘green’ light.

Presenting the same data in different ways leads people to make different conclusions. We also assume other people see things the same way as ourselves.


Nobody said project stakeholder management was going to be easy! Having some knowledge of human behaviour can help us to use the most appropriate communication strategy, tools and techniques.

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