Know Your Stakeholders

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Stakeholders Management

Stakeholder management is one of the most critical project management functions.  Stakeholders are our customers, organizational leaders, members of our project teams, and people we may not even know. 

The project manager’s ability to effectively identify, understand, and engage stakeholders is a key determinant of success.    According to the Project Management Institute’s (PMI), 2018 Pulse of the Profession Report, only a quarter of projects have adequate executive support, and these projects are 40% more likely to succeed. 

Stakeholder management is an on-going process.  At the beginning of the project, the initial stakeholder register is built.  However, the process of identifying, assessing, and actively engaging stakeholders continues throughout the project. 

This article builds on Stakeholder Management: A Key to Project Success and provides clear steps to identify and understand stakeholders.  A future article will share best practices for engaging them. 

Defining Stakeholders

The PMI broadly defines stakeholders as “individuals, groups, or organizations that may affect or be affected by a decision activity or outcome of a project, program, or portfolio.”  In other words, practically anyone either directly or indirectly connected to the project may be a stakeholder. 

When developing the project’s stakeholder register, think broadly.  Include customers, organizational leaders, people, and groups directly and indirectly impacted by the project. 

On a construction project include neighbors, municipal authorities, and local businesses.  On a large public works project, that jurisdiction’s residents are potential stakeholders along with those in adjacent or even distant areas. 

It may be easier to identify the stakeholders on internal projects because the users, impacted business processes, and up- and downstream applications are generally known.  It can be much harder to identify the stakeholders for projects that impact external stakeholders. 

Identifying Stakeholders

Many complementary tools can be used to identify project stakeholders.  Each of these practices will help fill in different pieces of the picture.

Reviewing project documents is a good place to start.  The charter should catalog the initial set of key stakeholders, such as the sponsor, primary customers, and senior management.  The requirements and scope documents may list customers or impacted parties.  Procurement documents and other agreements will identify suppliers and partners.

Mature organizations may have a list of common stakeholders that can seed the process and help ensure consistency.  Teams can then review and tailor the list for their specific projects. 

Brainstorming sessions are an effective way to quickly generate lists of potential stakeholders.  These sessions can be held with different constituencies (e.g., project team, leaders, customers, etc.) which will provide different perspectives and ensure an inclusive list.

For projects with large stakeholder populations, it may be impractical to list individuals.  Categorizing stakeholders and developing user personas to represent them may be a better approach. 

We do not want to exclude or ignore potential stakeholders.  So, the list should be comprehensive and long. 

Assessing Stakeholders

We seek to understand our stakeholders to more effectively engage them.  The frequency of our contact, the topics we discuss, and the effort we expend will be dependent on stakeholder specific needs. 

There are several tools we can use to measure and assess stakeholders.  Since needs, interests, and perceptions are fluid, we will periodically and review and update our assessments.

The. Power-Interest Map

The Power-Interest Map is a standard tool for categorizing the desired level of stakeholder engagement.  Stakeholders are assessed based on the power or influence they exert on a project and their level of interest.  This mapping will inform the level and frequency of engagement.

Actively Engage

Stakeholders that have high-power and interest are the most important.  Generally, the project sponsor, senior management, and key customers are in this quadrant.  

At the outset, we should understand their interests, concerns, goals, and definition of success.  During project execution, we should regularly meet with these stakeholders to monitor their perceptions and level of engagement.

Project managers should develop a deep relationship with the individuals in this group.  Understanding communication styles, preferences, and personal information will help build these relationships.

Keep Complacent

Stakeholders with high-power and low-influence have formal power; but may not be interested in project’s outcomes.  These stakeholders are often in compliance or operational organizations that have specific requirements or needs.  For example, Legal, Procurement, and Information Security may fall into this category.  Their primary interest is ensuring appropriate standards are followed. 

We should proactively engage these stakeholders in their areas of interest.  Respecting their expertise and complying with their requirements. 

Keep Informed

Stakeholders with high-interest but low-power are often those directly affected by the project.  If you are building an application, it may be the people that will be using it.  If you are widening a highway, it may be daily commuters. 

These stakeholders are very interested in the project.  However, individually, they have little power.  Their power can increase if they are organized into a group or coalition, or if they influence those with formal authority.

Minimal Impact

Those with both low-power and -interest are still stakeholders.  However, this is the group that requires the least amount of our effort and attention. 

Stakeholder Engagement Assessment Matrix

The Stakeholder Engagement Assessment Matrix (SEAM) helps us understand the stakeholders’ current and desired levels of engagement.  The 4-common engagement levels are:

  • Unaware.  The stakeholder is unaware of the project, its benefits, or potential impacts. 
  • Resistant.  The stakeholder disagrees with the project’s objectives or has an unfavorable perception of the project.
  • Neutral.  The stakeholder does not hold a strong opinion.  This level of engagement may be sufficient for some stakeholders.
  • Supportive.  The stakeholder has a favorable perception of the project. 
  • Leading.  The stakeholder is an advocate for the project.

While the SEAM tool and Power/Interest Mapping are separate tools, it is helpful to integrate the two views.  It may also be useful to distinguish between minimal levels and optimal levels of engagement.

In this example:

  • Our project sponsor is supportive, but moving them to a champion may increase the likelihood of project success. 
  • A manager impacted by the project may initially take a neutral stand, but we would like them to be at least supportive and possibly be a champion
  • It may be beneficial to move stakeholders in the low/low group from being unaware to neutral to avoid unpleasant surprises.
  • Staff people that will be using the new application may be resistant to the change. Minimally, they should be neutral and preferable be supportive.

Stakeholder Influence Mapping

The stakeholder influence map is a tool for understanding the inter-connectedness of the stakeholders.  As project managers, we want to build alliances and coalitions.  The influence mapping helps us leverage these relationships.

Building the stakeholder influence map will take time.  A project manager can develop the map by observing and meeting with stakeholders.  Clues to understanding influence may include:

  • Charting formal lines of authority;
  • Observing informal social groupings; and
  • Detecting patterns of support in meetings and decision making.

Influence maps may be dynamic.  Coalitions of support may shift based on internal and external events. 

Stakeholder Register

The stakeholder register is the primary tool for managing stakeholder engagement.  The register is commonly created as a database or spreadsheet.  The stakeholder register may have “public” and “private” sections.  The public section will include data that is available for anyone to see.  The private section is information that should not be distributed and is used only by the project manager.

Information on the public section of the register may include:

  • Stakeholder name
  • Categorization or stakeholder group
  • Position or role on the project
  • Position or role in the organization
  • Contact information
  • Committees, meetings or communications that the stakeholder is on or should receive

Information on the private section of the register may include:

  • Power/Interest Mapping
  • SEAM assessment—current vs. desired
  • Influence mapping
  • Communications styles and preferences
  • Personal information to help build a trusting relationship

Identifying and understanding the project stakeholders is the first step to engaging them.  Successful project managers will use these tools to build their initial stakeholder register as well as periodically updating it. 

© 2019, Alan Zucker; Project Management Essentials, LLC

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