Project Stakeholder Management is the hardest part of project management.
Stakeholders are human beings.
Let’s face it:
They can be jerks, they can be demanding, some will wait until the last moment to add up problems.
Part of them will be supportive, most will be indifferent.
Just a few stakeholders will be destructive. Nevertheless, you need them all to finish a project successfully.
I understand the pain you may feel sometimes…
As a Project Manager, you wish to reach project objectives. You want to do everything to the best of your efforts.
However, not all stakeholders will support you in the desire for achievements.
What can you do?
You need to approach stakeholders strategically.
Like in Game of Thrones, you must have a plan to force someone to behave in a manner you need.
You see, ad hoc stakeholder management doesn’t work. You need consistent engagement not episodic.
This article is all about project stakeholder management.
“A stakeholder is an individual, group, or organization who may affect, be affected by, or perceive itself to be affected by a decision, activity, or outcome of a project” – PMBOK Guide
When I was a novice, I thought that all the stakeholders except the customer (sponsor) are auxiliary resources.
You can use them for your project needs, and they are willing or obliged to work with you.
A successful finish of a project is a common goal, isn’t it?
What’s the real story?
Though it was quite naive, it worked to some extent. However, understanding of two concepts has led to changes.
Firstly, each stakeholder has his/her own goals in regards to your project.
Quite often it is not just a successful project completion. Even within your organization or your team, each person has his own agenda.
Secondly, helping stakeholders to achieve their goals benefits the project most of the times.
Yes, there will be persons who will take advantage of you. Nevertheless, win-win strategy returns more on your investments.
So you need to know and understand your stakeholders.
Keep in mind that it is largely a communication with people. You may feel awkward for the first time. But it is the best way to get information about the others.
In this case, I do not recommend to plan too much beforehand.
Until you have a lot of tested approaches, it is easier to develop a strategy based on the people you have to manage.
Therefore, I suggest starting with identification process first.
Here is the first step:
1. Identify key stakeholders: Sponsor, Client, Customer
Key stakeholders are obvious.
They are anyone who has a decision-making authority or in a management role and are related to your project.
- Project Manager
- Your direct management
Most likely they are stated in the Project Charter.
You need to brainstorm a bit further.
Here is the trick:
Your attitude towards working with others as well as by your own priorities impact the identification of key stakeholders.
It may become subjective if you are not careful.
So, key stakeholders may include but not limited to:
- Your family
- Your boss
- Project team
- Relevant subject matter experts
- Relevant communities
- The press
2. Interview key stakeholders to identify other stakeholders
Yes, it is that simple!
Just go and talk to your key stakeholders. But be open and explain what you are doing.
Questions you may include:
- Who can help the project?
- Who can be interested in the project?
- Who must be involved?
- Who can be negatively impacted?
- What drawbacks does the project introduce to others?
It may be a good idea to have a checklist for such interviews.
Keep in mind that stakeholders may be an organization, a group of people or community. Make sure that you contact the right person within the organization.
3. Stakeholders in a Project: Take a Broader Look
Novice project managers usually limit stakeholders just to a customer and a project team.
In a real world, there are much more people that can influence or can be influenced by your project.
We need to know these people early on to direct their impact in a positive way.
On the other hand, we need to isolate any adverse effects and protect the project.
Below are the 11 reasons why we might need stakeholders. Based on the need, you can identify several types of people you need to manage.
Here they are:
3.1 Organisational structure
Some people have to be involved in the project just to comply with the policies of the organization and its corporate structure.
They might not give any direct benefits to your project.
However, ignoring or trying to isolate them is usually a bad idea. Even if they are absolutely not interested in your project.
Keep in mind that they have their own goals and responsibilities.
Helping them to achieve their objectives usually benefits the project. Though, mostly in an indirect way.
There are internal and external stakeholders that possess authority to approve your next move.
Without meeting their requirements and expectations, your project may stall.
They are usually a serious source of risks and delays.
By nature, stakeholders are the source of requirements.
One of the definitions of a project success says that you need to meet all the requirements of all the key stakeholders.
What novice project managers miss is that requirements do not limit to the functional ones that a customer provides.
There are quality, legal, compliance, organizational and many other requirements that you need to identify.
It is important to note that you, as a project manager, might not be the best specialist to do that.
Therefore, there might be a person on the project team or outside of it responsible for interacting with stakeholders to collect requirements.
That makes this person a critical stakeholder as well.
3.4 Rare Critical Expert Knowledge
The essence of your project may require a unique expert knowledge.
Here is the truth:
Usually, it is costly, and the availability of such resources is scarce.
It goes without saying that the engagement of such experts and their efficient usage is critical to the project success.
3.5 End Users
If your project produces a flawlessly implemented product, service or result but the end users do not want to use it. Is it a success? I believe, it is not.
Unless you are a Steve-Jobs-type of influencer, you do need to know what your users expect from your project.
Otherwise, you might be creating something that no one needs.
3.6 Critical Project Team Members
Most likely you have a person on the team without whom the project work will be impeded.
They are team leaders, your best specialists, or just a soul of the team.
They are the most valuable allies in the trenches. Keeping them motivated and engaged is half of your team building efforts.
3.7 Person(s) critical for quality
Such an expert may fall under other points of this list. But I would like to stress out the importance of such people.
Projects are unique, and their nature requires a specific knowledge of an industry they are performed in.
If there is a dedicated person responsible for the quality, you have to collect his requirements for your project.
That is not all.
Do you have quality audits in your organization? It is when someone outside of the project team comes to a project and “tests” your quality assurance and quality control approaches.
We do not live in a utopia.
Your project may impact and even harm people. You need to expect resistance from their side.
Keep in mind that there may be such stakeholders even within your organization or your team. It is a major source of risks.
You need to identify such people as early as possible. Trying to find a win-win solution is a good investment of time.
3.9 Stakeholders that are unaware of your project
It usually happens this way:
Your project is well underway. At some point, a person (with some authority level) finds out about your project and suddenly realizes that he has additional requirements or liabilities.
And he starts to panic and tries to catch up with the project progress. It is usually a mess.
It is in your best interests to ensure that every person that is influenced by your project is aware of it.
It might be a project manager who had a similar project.
It may be a mentor who can help you.
Quite often some people can make things easier for you.
You just need to find them.
It can be a third party, a vendor or another project in your organization. Almost always there are internal or external stakeholders we depend on.
Simply because we do not have the required resources or necessary level of expertise to do some part of a project.
Such dependencies are a separate topic to discuss.
For now, keep in mind that they multiply the project’s complexity and risks significantly.
We have broadened our understanding of stakeholders, I hope.
This small list just outlines the major types, but it should show the variety and number of possible stakeholders.
Which in its turn should encourage you to record quite a lot of people and organizations you need to manage.
So, what’s next?
What is Stakeholder Register in Project Management?
Stakeholder Register gives a framework to gain an engagement of all the key stakeholders.
It is a single place to put all the relevant information you will use during the analysis and creating a stakeholder management plan.
It should not be a burden to you. It should serve you and take as little time as possible.
Therefore, there are only a few things that I suggest putting to a Stakeholder Register.
How Stakeholder Register Related to Requirement Collection (Short Story)
One day a young and promising project manager, Corwin, approached me with a problem.
He had an evolving crisis on his project.
It was a rather small software development project. There were not many stakeholders at all. But the project was high-profile for our organization.
They were well in the execution phase proceeding smoothly to the first major milestone.
Suddenly, out of the blue John B. low interest, low power stakeholder from the technical department emailed a set of small requirements to the project.
All requirements were related to different aspects of the project.
Each one was valid, though, did not have any significant impact.
A few days later Larry C., another low interest, low power stakeholder emailed with yet another batch of small requirements that built on the ones we had received from John B.
His requirements were more processes and policies related.
So, Corwin had a bunch of small and rather unimportant requirements.
But John and Larry contended that they were of utter importance.
He had to resolve this problem.
Corwin tried to clarify and prioritize the requirements…
It ended up with an overacted escalation of the problem.
He had to meet all the requirements to a full extent as soon as possible.
It was all way too strange.
So I decided to help to find the root cause of the problem.
First things first. I asked for a Stakeholder Register. Unfortunately, none was present on the project.
We decided it was an appropriate time to review all the stakeholders and log them in a newly created Stakeholder Register.
So, what was the catch?
To make a long story short here is what we found out:
Separately Larry and John did not have enough authority.
So they decided to team up to get more influence.
Why did they do that?
They had just another tough talk with their superior manager, Todd M., several months before.
He told them, that there were too many technical problems on projects and that they were not performing well enough.
So, Corwin had two stakeholders teamed up and supported by the third one. A group that had much more authority and influence than each one separately.
However, that is not the end of this story.
While their new requirements for the project were valid and were aimed at improving the quality of technical solutions, their expectations were different.
They wanted to restore the trust of Todd and to increase the overall authority in the first place.
By highlighting and dramatizing each and every issue related to their requests Larry and John tried to prove they did their best but they did not get any support.
That is a real story. Though I have changed the names.
What are the lessons learned here?
- A Stakeholder Register is a must.
- Stakeholder analysis is a must.
- Overall awareness for a project manager is a strong benefit.
So, the next step is to create a Stakeholder Register template.
What does a Stakeholder Register Look Like
Full Name. Simple as it is. You need to collect full (official) names of all the stakeholders.
The only trick here is to put in a phonetic transcript of fancy names. And for sure you do want to remember all the names and spell them correctly.
Department. Next to the name put the name of the department the stakeholder works in. It is the first input to the analysis of relations between stakeholders.
Location. It is important only in case your stakeholders are located in different countries. You might also want to put a time zone shift next to the location.
Role on the project. It is utterly essential. Each stakeholder should have a clear role and responsibilities.
It is even more important to ensure that all the stakeholders are informed of the roles and responsibilities of each other.
Impact, Influence, Power. These attributes will be used in stakeholder analysis. I will explain that below.
(Optionally) Salience Model type. I will explain the Salience Model below as well. If you choose it as the main analysis technique, your Stakeholder Register should reflect it.
A preferred way of communication. It is more of communication management, but if you are going to win stakeholder’s’ disposition, you need to respect his or her preferences in communication.
It will save him or her time and will increase your chances to get positive feedback.
Expectations. Here you need to describe the real expectations that a stakeholder has. What does he want to achieve by interacting with your project? We will discuss this point in more details later.
Engagement Strategy. After you perform analysis you will need to develop an action plan to gain desired engagement level from the stakeholder.
Stakeholder Register Template
Project Stakeholder Management Tools and Techniques
I must confess.
I began performing proper stakeholder analysis out of laziness.
I had a time when I was typing emails all day long for several weeks. This correspondence did not solve any of the project’s problems, nor it helped to move the project to its goal.
Well, even key stakeholders were not involved.
So what did I do?
I used very simple tools to analyze the whole list of project stakeholders.
It appeared that my perception of influential persons had been entirely wrong.
I spent enormous time engaging the stakeholders who were not interested much in project progress. However, they were pretty involved in political intrigues.
So, now I will talk about four main stakeholder analysis tools.
But before we start I want you to understand the prerequisites.
It is utterly crucial that you equip yourself with pragmatism, unbiased mind and positive attitude.
This process is subjective:
It depends on your past experience of communication with other people. Their good and bad deeds.
Moreover, you might be a talented leader.
It means you know how to influence other people and impose your opinion. It is not what you want to achieve.
At the moment, empathy is more important. You need to understand the fundamental motivations of people and their real attitude.
So let’s get to the stakeholder analysis tools now.
1. Paper and Pen
Well, it doesn’t have to be exactly pen and paper. However, you have to write everything down in any way suitable for you.
There are several benefits of doing that:
- You will not be able to keep everything in your head.
- You will need all the information about stakeholders later during planning.
- You need to capture your starting point to ensure that you are progressing toward your desired goal.
- It will increase your chances to identify and analyze all the key stakeholders correctly.
- It will help you to approach the task strategically.
- You will be able to make educated decisions based on collected facts.
- You will be able to identify where your analysis was wrong.
I think I can continue this list with a dozen more points. But you’ve got the idea. It is crucial.
2. Meetings and Expert Judgement
To know about people you need to talk to people.
Do not make a common mistake by trying to identify and analyze all the stakeholders on your own.
Different people can give you different perspectives.
Moreover, you have a chance to get useful insights about the experience of working with a particular person, his or her habits, perks and quirks.
Do not overthink about it. You really just need to make an appointment and meet with the stakeholders.
Such meetings quickly go off track, so you need to keep to your point. People tend to talk about things they like.
It is a good practice to contact with subject matter experts first. They can provide a comprehensive list of stakeholders related to their knowledge area. Try to meet with:
- Senior management to get insights of the similar projects, lessons learned and knowledge sharing. You will then derive relevant names of possible stakeholders.
- Project managers who work on similar projects. They can share hands-on experience, known pitfalls, risks, names of specialist they worked with, etc.
- Consultants and technical experts. They can provide a broad range of information from gut feelings to specific approaches and strategies for project implementation.
- Afterward, you can meet with other stakeholders on your updated list.
3. Project Stakeholder Management Matrix
Eden’s and Ackermann’s classification model represented as grids will help you to visualize and group stakeholders. There are four main parameters used in this model:
Power or level of authority. An ability of a person to impose his or her will.
Interest or level of concern in a project and its outcome.
Influence degree of active involvement.
Impact or ability to make changes in a project planning or execution.
So you take a grid like shown below and put your stakeholders in the corresponding quarter.
Your judgment should be based on your investigations and interviews. It is really great if a relevant senior manager reviews your considerations.
The most popular grids are Power/Interest, Power/Influence and Influence/Impact. I would like to recommend to consider, at least, two of the grids.
As a side note on practical tips. Power and Interest should be measured in regards to your project only. I think they should be a function of Influence to some degree.
For example, the President of the company, CEO or CTO may have ultimate power and authority over most aspects of the project.
They can force you to make any changes they consider to be necessary. Also, they are very interested in a project success and very concerned about its outcome.
However, on a daily basis, they will never interact with you.
Most likely they are not involved in any project on your level. They just don’t have time for that.
Such stakeholders are usually satisfied with a very high-level reporting.
Therefore, focusing your attention on them will not be the best investment of time. If everything goes smoothly, you will not hear them a lot. So map them accordingly.
Here is how your grid will look like when you are done.
4. Salience Model
This model takes into consideration three parameters:
Power shows the level of impact a stakeholder can make on a project and its outcome.
Legitimacy shows how appropriate it is to involve a stakeholder.
Urgency shows how soon a stakeholder requires a response or action from a project manager.
Depending on where a stakeholder lands on the chart there are seven possible types:
Definitive stakeholders are the most important. You need to manage them closely. Most likely they are your sponsors or customers.
Dependent stakeholders don’t have a direct power. However, if they have a personal interest in your project they might seek powerful allies to achieve them.
So you need to monitor them closely as well. It is anyone who wants to accomplish his or her goals utilizing your project.
Dominant stakeholders are those who can impact your project in case something goes wrong, or their requirements are ignored for far too long. You need to keep them well informed.
Also, you need to deliberately assure that they do not lose track of your project. For example, CTO or any controlling entity may fall under this type.
Dangerous stakeholders can cause problems because most likely they are pursuing different goals than your project.
You need to keep an eye on them because problems usually come from the direction you expect the least.
Dormant stakeholders generally act on a different level than your project. Nevertheless, they are also dangerous because they can use the power to become Dominant or Dangerous. CEO is a good example.
Discretionary stakeholders are those who get into the project on demand or by a trigger.
They fulfill their obligations and return to a standby mode. For example, it can be a Quality Audit team.
Demanding stakeholders can cause a lot of noise and mess around your project. While you cannot afford to spend much time you need to ensure that you keep them at bay.
You might think of a person who feeds on politics in the organization for instance.
The model is dynamic.
Therefore, stakeholders will move around the chart during the project lifetime. You need to monitor such movements and act accordingly.
For the first time, it may look intimidating, unnecessary, overwhelming.
There are a lot of communications and quite often communication with difficult people.
Nevertheless, as a project manager, you are doing a project for someone, so you do need to know what they want and expect as an outcome.
So make appointments and talk to your stakeholders now.
Even if your project is well underway.
Stakeholders are valuable and useful. They are numerous.
But you, I hope, have only eight hours per day to manage your project.
So you need to list the most important stakeholders. Those that can bring the most value or cause the most problems.
It is just the Pareto Principle in action. 20% of stakeholders will produce 80% of the benefit to you.
Therefore, you need to prioritize Stakeholder Register to focus your efforts.
Here is a catch:
Characteristics of stakeholders are constantly changing. During different phases balance of power changes.
Therefore, you need to revisit the register regularly.
Next, you need to identify the desired level of engagement and plan how to reach it. That is a whole separate topic.