What is stakeholder management?

Stakeholder management, like many of the ‘softer’ issues, is often overlooked in the wider scope of project management. It is no longer sufficient that project success is judged in terms of time, cost and quality. These factors are undoubtedly important, but in our ever-demanding times, they are simply not enough.

If a project is perceived as a failure, it is a failure. If the project’s key stakeholders have a negative opinion of its delivery and/or deliverable it will be seen as a failure – however rightly or wrongly this may be.

Key stakeholders could be the client, the end-user, the general public etc. If these groups aren’t identified and analysed (at the very least) then they become unpredictable.  It can then be difficult to understand whether they are happy with the project and its outcomes.

Stakeholder management involves taking notice of all the people who are impacted by the project. It also includes consideration of the people who could make an impact on the success of the execution of your project. There will be people who will want your project to go well (think London’s Olympic bid); and those who will want your project to fail (think I.D. cards).

All projects will have both positive and negative stakeholders. You could invert the examples and still make the same point.

Hopefully, you will have more people in support of your project. Any people that fall into the second category need to be persuaded that your project is a good thing.  This could be undertaken as a marketing project in itself or simply better communication of the project goals. Ultimately this depends on the size of the project.

You will, of course, believe in your project’s success – or you will be a negative stakeholder – and this can only put you at a disadvantage from the start! All of your enthusiasm for the project needs to be conveyed to your stakeholders so they can ‘buy-in’ to your project success.

Dare we suggest that Stakeholder Management could be linked to benefits in order to provide projects that meet with stakeholder’s needs? If this is accomplished the circle will be complete – automatic stakeholder buy-in from the very start of the project will be guaranteed, as they helped define the project and understand the benefit.

One of the simple techniques Project Managers can employ starts with Stakeholder Mapping. Pigeon hole your stakeholders into 4 categories and then decide on the best way to deal with each type.

Using a few simple tools, such as the Interest/Power matrix, can produce a reliable overview of stakeholder influence over your project.  Carried out over an organisation’s portfolio of projects, this data can be used to create a useful catalogue of stakeholders. This is handy as there will be inevitable overlap of stakeholders from project to project.

The matrix below is made up of 4 quadrants.

  • Place each stakeholder (could represent 1 or many individuals) within each quadrant based on their interest in your project and power over it.
  • Decide on a strategy to communicate with each of these 4 groups.
  • Perhaps design a simple monthly report to go to those with low interest but high power (or vice versa).
  • Those that fall into the high interest/high power quadrant should perhaps be worth a greater investment of time.
  • It might be appropriate to set up 1-2-1’s to keep these people onside.
  • Take this model a step further and determine their perceived view of the project, is it positive, negative or neutral.
  • Design a plan to move people to positive and remember that even if the project is going badly they can still have a positive view on you!

Interest /Power Matrix - Stakeholder Prioritisation

High/Low Interest and High/Low Power matrix for stakeholder mapping.