What is a stakeholder?

Stakeholders are described as anyone who has an influence on, are interested in or are affected by the change that is planned. This means that we are dealing with a wide range of people, all of whom have their own thoughts, feelings and ideas about the work we are doing. Some organisations will include the project team in their stakeholder management, while others don’t. It is entirely up to you and your organisation which approach you take. 

How do we identify stakeholders?

There are lots of ways to identify stakeholders, but the simplest way is to gather the project team together and try to come up with a list! Unfortunately, this list will not stay static and identification is something that needs to happen throughout the change. Where possible, try to use groups, rather than individual names. It will make things easier when analysing as it is less personal and therefore potentially less likely to cause offence if taken out of context.  

What is stakeholder analysis?

Stakeholder analysis, a systematic process, involves identifying and assessing individuals, groups, or organizations that may impact or be affected by a project, decision, or initiative. This analysis aims to comprehend the interests, needs, concerns, and levels of influence held by different stakeholders.

Interestingly, stakeholder theory didn’t emerge until the 1960s. The Association for Project Management (APM) Body of Knowledge version 7 says that it came about as a challenge to the idea that shareholders are the only group to whom managers need to be responsive. The focus is on relationships, looking at the trade-off between efficiently creating a solution and people’s support for the design and use of the outputs of that solution, along with the changes that entail.  

By looking at stakeholders through 3 lenses, we can work out the best way to engage with them and communicate accordingly. 

  • The relative power of the stakeholder to affect the change 
  • The degree of interest they have in the change 
  • Whether they are for or against the change 

Benefits of analysing stakeholders

Informed Decision-Making

A deep understanding of stakeholder needs and perspectives allows decision-makers to assess their information, leading to choices that align with diverse stakeholder interests and project goals.

Effective Communication

Tailoring messaging to the preferences and concerns of different stakeholder groups ensures that vital information is delivered in a manner that resonates, fostering engagement and promoting better comprehension of the project’s purpose and progress.

Conflict Resolution

Early identification of potential conflicts among stakeholders provides the opportunity to address disagreements promptly, preventing escalations that could disrupt project timelines and relationships. This proactive approach maintains a harmonious working environment.

Support and Buy-In

Engaging stakeholders throughout the project lifecycle not only secures their buy-in but also taps into their expertise and resources. This active involvement increases their sense of ownership, making them more likely to champion the project and contribute to its success.

Risk Management

Recognising stakeholder-related risks, such as resistance to change or unforeseen requirements, enables the development of tailored mitigation strategies. By accounting for these risks, the project can navigate challenges more effectively, ensuring smoother progress.

Building Trust

Transparent engagement fosters trust as stakeholders perceive their opinions and concerns are valued and addressed. This trust forms the foundation for productive long-term relationships, facilitating collaboration on the current project and potentially future endeavours.

Power/Influence

Often when we talk about power, we are talking about positional power within an organisation. In this instance, we are focusing on the power over the change which can potentially be very different. Because of this, we need to be mindful of how we articulate the level of power and ensure that context is given when discussing, particularly with stakeholders who have a lot of positional power.  

Interest

Understanding how interested our stakeholders are and whether we want to increase or decrease that interest can be key to deciding how we interact with them. It may be that we have someone with high power over the change who isn’t particularly interested – what can we do to pique their interest? Why aren’t they interested? Do they even know about it? 

For or Against

Someone being against our change or viewing it negatively does not mean that we shouldn’t engage with them. Understanding the reasons for their negativity may actually be a good thing and can potentially feed in to lessons for the change from their previous experience, increasing the likelihood of success for this instance. 

What tools can we use for stakeholder analysis?

As with everything in project management, there is a wide range of stakeholder analysis tools out there, but one of the most common is the stakeholder map as shown below. 

Stakeholder Analysis Tool - Stakeholder Mapping

Once you have your list of stakeholder groups, the next step is to assess their current power/influence over and interest in the change. Then decide whether this is where you want them to be and if not, map what you would like the map to look like. This enables you to design a stakeholder engagement strategy and plan how to “move” them. It is of course, easier to move someone on the interest axis than the influence axis. 

Even if they are in the right place, right now, it is important to decide how you are going to interact with these groups to keep them at the desired interest level. 

Remember to regularly reassess and ensure that you have the right stakeholders, in the right place. 

 In addition to the above map, you could add a second horizontal axis and split each quadrant into for and against. 

Again, this allows you to decide if stakeholders are in the right place and if you want to move them, again feeding into the stakeholder engagement strategy and plan.

Conclusion

People deliver projects. 

By seeking to understand how people perceive the change, we can use all of the soft skills we have learned as project managers to bring them along on the journey with us, in a way that is comfortable for them, remembering that we are dealing with human beings who find change scary and uncomfortable. By keeping this at the forefront of our minds, we are more likely to implement a successful change and build up some great relationships that could come in useful for our next initiative! 

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Monthly Newsletter

By: Helen Digger

Helen Digger

Published: 25 August 2023

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