Stakeholders (Identify, Understand & Manage)

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Identifying stakeholders is usually one of the trickiest jobs in project management as stakeholders will vary throughout the project. Aside from the several key stakeholders who will normally stick with you to the end, there will be numerous others at different levels of importance who will migrate in and out. If your project is controversial you will find that, like bees drawn to honey, any number of stakeholders will appear from nowhere.

So, what is a stakeholder?

Stakeholders are lovely creatures that can make or break a project if you fail to engage with them. Or (a more formal definition) anyone or any organisation that can affect or be affected by a project in any way.

What is stakeholder engagement?

PMI states the following: stakeholder engagement includes the processes required to identify the people, groups, or organisations that could impact or be impacted by the project, to analyse stakeholder expectations and their impact on the project, and to develop appropriate management strategies for effectively engaging stakeholders in project decisions and execution. PRINCE2 / MSP: is the process of identifying and communicating effectively with those people or groups who have an interest in the project’s outcome. And my two pence: It’s not the kind of commitment where you’ll end up walking down the aisle but it could be as important.

How to identify stakeholders? What techniques?

Blind dates? Funny but not practical. The project charter is a good starting point as it will likely list project sponsor(s), customers, team members, groups or departments participating in the project, and other people or organisations affected by the project. You can also start by asking these questions:

  • who is affected positively or negatively by the project?
  • who gains and who loses from it?
  • who wants it to succeed and who wants it to fail?
  • who has the power to make the project succeed or fail?
  • who makes the money decisions?
  • who are the positive and negative opinion leaders?
  • who exercises influence over other stakeholders?
  • who could solve particular problems?
  • who controls or provides or procures resources or facilities?
  • who has the special skills needed by the project?

Arrange meetings with those already identified and you’ll likely identify other stakeholders with an interest in the project. Seek expert judgement if you or the project team does not have sufficient experience to carry out a process or activity.

How to prioritise stakeholders?

Find what they’re like (profile them) and what makes them tick. Dig into their motivations, financial interests, views about whether the project is a benefit or a threat, influences and so forth. Then classify them using tools such as: power/interest grid (below), power/influence grid, and influence/impact grid.


What strategy?

Communication is critical. Work out what your key messages are, who should send them, who should receive them, when and how they should get them, and in what form. Make sure you tailor communication to fit the situation and the stakeholder.

Keep all the above in a register (happy to provide template – email me).

In summary, invest time in identifying and prioritising stakeholders (as well as their relationship with the project and other stakeholders) and assessing their interests and concerns as well as degree of power and influence. Create a communication plan and a register, then manage, review and update both as needed. Lastly, ensure there’s effective communication with stakeholders throughout the project (not just at the beginning).

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