The technical complexities of advanced microgrids are a frequent topic of conversation. Even if you are new to the microgrid industry, you’ve likely sat through a conference session or read a news article detailing the myriad ways your microgrid could go wrong. From poor design to underperforming equipment, the list of technical “lessons learned” can be lengthy. But, what about the non-technical concerns associated with a microgrid? How do you coordinate a varied group of stakeholders, each with their own motivations? Without the right approach and execution to engage your project stakeholders, even a perfectly designed microgrid can become a failed experiment.
A practical first step into stakeholder engagement is taking the time early on to map and categorize your stakeholders. Thoughtful examination of the influence and interest of each stakeholder or group of stakeholders will help guide the categorization process. A simple way to evaluate your project stakeholders is to create a four-quadrant map in which you can locate stakeholders according to their potential engagement and impact on the project. Project stakeholders are categorized into four groups: Monitor, Inform, Satisfy Needs, and Engage. This mapping exercise helps to understand who to communicate with, how to relay information, frequency of interactions and who can help push your project forward.
Once you have categorized your potential group of stakeholders, a great way to promote stability and thoughtful coordination in your project is to identify a project champion. We already know that microgrids have many barriers to deployment and long-term adoption. Thus, a project champion will advocate on your behalf to push the project forward.
What should you look for in a project champion? How will you know when you’ve found a person that can support this role within the project? Generally, a champion is an individual who has high interest in the success of the project. His or her excitement and investment into the microgrid effort must motivate the others, in turn building a broader group of stakeholders who are interested in the outcome.
A champion should be well-connected and well-respected within the group of participants and stakeholders. He or she should have a strong understanding of the project and embrace the positive impact the deployed microgrid will have. The champion’s understanding does not have to be driven by technical acumen, it is sufficient for him or her to understand the design basics while being knowledgeable about the overall capabilities and benefits. Ideally, champions show persistence and diligence so they can withstand the inevitable setbacks and drive forward progress in the face of challenges. When considering a potential project champion, it is preferable that he or she will be available to actively support the project for its duration. While this isn’t critical, it is certainly helpful to maintain open communications with your champion throughout the microgrid effort.
Now that you know the characteristics that make an ideal champion for your project, what scenarios can he or she provide support to the project? Fundamentally, your project champion can help communicate your vision and requirements to the broader group of stakeholders. In particular, he or she is able to influence external stakeholders that you may not have access to. For instance, a champion may have access to facility tenants, local decision makers, and organizational leadership that you wouldn’t normally be able to communicate with. This can help navigate potential risk scenarios and gather support during challenging times. At the end of the day, one of the most important things champions can provide is thoughtful counsel from a unique perspective. A champion should be able to evaluate scenarios with you and help determine a collaborative path forward that considers the needs and wants of the project stakeholders. To offer an example, during a recent microgrid project at a military installation we identified a project champion during the proposal phase. This individual was well known throughout the installation with solid relationships with on-site personnel. His knowledge of the installation, both past and present, helped provide access to important information and data that was used to develop the initial project plan. During the project, our champion was able to communicate our vision of the microgrid to the building tenants, networking and IT staff and installation leadership. In essence, his “rubber stamp” of our project eliminate potential pitfalls and kept the project moving during challenge times.
Now that you know both the characteristics of a project champion and the support they can provide, consider an ongoing or upcoming project. It’s unlikely that the project would have reached completion without his tireless leadership and support. Before diving in, it is well worth asking yourself: Do you have a persuasive stakeholder who is willing to invest their time in supporting your next project?