Project management: stakeholder management

Projects are as much about people as they are about tasks…

The most frustrating thing about having building work done at home, wasn’t the dust and mess (as I’d expected) it was the ‘radio silence’ from the project manager.

I’m sure the project manager had a plan, but he wasn’t sharing it with anyone.  There were skip lorries turning up when we’re parked on our drive, builders who couldn’t get access because no-one told us they were coming and a plasterer who tried to plaster a temporary where a window was going because no-one told him it was going to be glass.

The project manager had forgotten that projects are not just about tasks; they’re about people – stakeholders (individuals or groups of individuals who are affected by or could affect the work of a project).  And stakeholders are one of the most significant risks in a projects.  A great number of project management failures can be attributed to flaws in stakeholder management – whether it’s a lack of support from important stakeholders, to lack of / no involvement of stakeholders, or perhaps worse still, too much involvement!

Projects are rarely successful if the key stakeholders are unhappy and since people can so easily derail a project, stakeholder management is a vital skill for project managers.

If you’re involved in project management or project delivery consider these top tips to help you to identify, assess and engage (communicate) with stakeholders.  

 

1. Stakeholder identification.

Start out by making a list (sometimes called a stakeholder map) of EVERYONE  (individuals and organisations) who has an interest in what you’re doing, and EVERYONE who has power/influence over what you’re doing.   Consider that from 3 perspectives: people in the project team (the people performing the work), people within the wider organisation (perhaps affected by the project) and people external to the organisation including customers and statutory or regulatory bodies.

If you’ve completed similar projects before, your lessons learnt log is a good place to start for a list of possible stakeholders.

If you can sit down with a couple of other people and work together to generate the list, and then contact some of the most influential names or groups on your list – ask them who else you should consider – to make sure you don’t forget anyone.  Once you have a list of stakeholders, you shouldn’t consider that a good job done.  Stakeholder identification is an ongoing process right until your project ends and especially if there are any significant changes in the nature of the project.

 

2. Assessing project stakeholders – categorisation.

So you have a list, now what.  Well not all stakeholders are created equal.  And not all stakeholders care about the same things.   Step number two is to assess your stakeholders in a influence / impact matrix, using a simple scale of low, medium or high on each axis.    Imagine a standard graph format with Influence (low to high) on the vertical access, and Impact (low to high) on the horizontal axis.  Consider each stakeholder in turn and plot them on the graph based on how much influence they have and how much impact they may have on the success of the project.

You can substitute influence and impact for how much interest they may have, and how much involvement they are likely to want.  Depending on the importance of the project you may end up drawing the matrix several different ways.  If my builder had completed this process he would surely have had ‘customer’ in high interest, high influence (since we’re paying the bills).  Anyone in the top right-hand corner of grid will need careful management – they often represent the greatest danger and need to be managed closely.

 

3. Engaging stakeholders.

Clearly not all your stakeholders are going to want to be involved at the same level, in the same aspects of the project or in the same way.

Stakeholders in the bottom left-hand corner of your matrix are likely to cause you few problems and just need basic information and a ‘light touch’ monitoring.

Stakeholders in the top left-hand corner are powerful, but usually fairly predictable – just keep them satisfied.

Stakeholders in the bottom right-hand corner can be unpredictable but are more manageable.

Stakeholders in the top right-hand corner are your key stakeholders, they need to be fully engaged.

How do you engage your stakeholders?  Well here we can only give you ideas based on experience because there is no single, right answer to that question.  If you can, bring together your key and important stakeholders in a project kick-off meeting, and ask them what is most important to them about this project (this will tell you what you need to communicate about) and what would make the project a resounding success for you?

In terms of on-going communication, every stakeholder is different.  For example, our builder would only ever email me information.  I don’t look at my emails very often – I would have preferred they called me.  Think of multiple modes of communication including email, text, phone call, meetings, online tools like Trello and Asana.

 

We hope this approach helps you with your projects. If you’re interested to learn more about project management take a look at our Practical Project Management workshop.

Don’t have time to attend a workshop?  We have an entry level introduction to project management online course.  Try the first module free here.