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A project is deemed successful when it accomplishes its objectives and meets (or exceeds) the expectations set upon it by stakeholders. Who are stakeholders? Stakeholders are the people who care about the project or have a vested interest in it. They are the people who may be actively involved in the project work or have something to lose or gain as a result of the project.

In theory, the process of managing stakeholders is a straightforward and simple one. You have an idea of what to do, come up with a plan and share it with the people who need to know (and approve it). With the right support, the team sets out to execute the plan while keeping everyone updated, and eventually the project is complete and everyone is happy.

In reality, though, things don’t always go according to plan. Sometimes it’s not clear if everyone is on board with a particular decision or the project. And if several people or interest groups are involved, they may have different perspectives about it.

By managing stakeholders well, an effective project manager can keep an eye on scope creep, ensure requirements are aligned, understand the limits for risk, and deal with issues that may derail the project. Experienced design director John Hiscocks is among many project professionals who understand that good stakeholder management is key to a successful project.

The Impact of Stakeholders

Good project managers understand that if they are to accomplish their project goals they have to create an enabling environment. One of the most significant factors that affects project success is user involvement. Making users feel part of the process involves an emphasis on building quality relationships, clearly outlining expectations, and establishing effective communication channels. Other contributions that rely on stakeholders include executive support for the project, effective use of an organisation’s resources (legal, procurement, infrastructure) to ensure progress, and emotional intelligence of the project manager.

Most projects and programmes will have a variety of stakeholders, all with different interests. These individuals and groups can significantly impact the eventual success of the project. Managing stakeholders involves a number of steps that have to be carefully undertaken to minimise the possibility of failure. These include:

  • Stakeholder identification
  • Assessing influence and interests
  • Developing effective communication management plans
  • Engaging stakeholders
  • The Process of Identification

    One of the outputs of the project initiation phase is a project charter document that typically has a section devoted to listing the functional areas involved in the project. Early in the project, these functional areas are a good guide to uncovering the potential stakeholders. If you are unsure, the questions to ask are who will actively contribute to the project and who is going to be affected by it. Working closely with the project sponsor can help in the identification process.

    At the end of the day, a list of stakeholders can potentially be a few individuals, or a very large list of people or groups. Analysing them involves identifying the key information relevant to each stakeholder (their interest, role, needs, expectations or level of authority in the project). From this information, it’s easy to assess the potential impact each stakeholder has, and also their potential reactions to various situations. The analysis can aid in coming up with a 2×2 grid, for example, that categorises a stakeholder’s level of interest (how much they are affected by the project outcome) and level of power (their influence over the outcome of the project).

    Effectively identifying and understanding stakeholders helps to discern their triggers and expectations, thus helping the project manager come up with mitigation measures that aid in successful delivery.