How to Have Stakeholders Work for You, Not Against You

StakeholderKarts300Many key factors contribute to project success, such as clear project definition, business objectives and requirements, integrated change control, an effective team and support structure, and strong communication. Though equally as important are stakeholder relationships. Let’s take a look at three steps you can take to manage stakeholders in order to ensure project success.

Step 1: Identify all potential stakeholders

Identifying stakeholders is especially important during the initial phases of the project, when they can have a great deal of influence.

Most projects have a very large number of stakeholders. You must secure and document relevant information about their interests, interdependencies, influences, potential involvement, and probable impact on the project, definition, execution and final results.

Usually, powerful key stakeholders are easy to identify. They are often the ones who have budget and decision-making authority or are in a senior management role. People in this group might include the project sponsor, the project manager and the primary customers or end users.

Gather information about them such as:

  • the role they might play on the project
  • the group they are in
  • what their interest level in the project will be
  • how their experience and background relates to the project
  • what they expect out of the project
  • how much influence will they be able to exert on the project

Step 2: Create a strategy for each stakeholder group

Stakeholders may affect or be affected by the project, through a project decision, activity or outcome, or they may simply perceive themselves to be affected by the project’s execution. The impact or perceived impact on or of a stakeholder can be either positive or negative in nature.

Classification can help you to develop a strategy to manage each of these stakeholders. Classify the stakeholders according to their influence and interest levels. This approach will allow you to focus on key relationships that are critical to project success. Create either a grid or other visual method to track how the stakeholder’s role and influence can affect decisions or project goals.

The engagement level, needs and expectations of individual stakeholders, along with their tolerance for risk, can influence (or even constitute) the constraints of a project. Managing stakeholders include communication and influencing their expectations, addressing their concerns, resolving issues, and encouraging appropriate levels of engagement.

Your communication strategies and project activities should take into account:

  • a stakeholder’s need for attention
  • activities appropriate for their level of involvement
  • a stakeholder’s ability to affect change
  • a stakeholder’s tolerance for risk

Step 3: Anticipate and manage any potential stakeholder challenges

By anticipating stakeholder reaction to the project, you can be proactive with preventative action to win the support of the stakeholders, or at least minimize their potential negative impacts. The benefits of this process include increasing the likelihood of project acceptance and keeping issues from becoming concerns.

The project manager can:

  • Actively manage the process. In order to achieve project goals, the project manager should negotiate and influence stakeholder needs to increase the likelihood of project acceptance.
  • Address potential concerns. The project manager should anticipate problems and address them before they become issues. The risk from such problems needs to be addressed as soon as the potential problems become apparent.
  • Resolve and clarify identified issues. Identified issues could be resolved by submitting a change request or by accepting that the issue is outside the scope of the project.
  • Appropriate engagement. The project manager should engage stakeholders throughout the project to obtain and maintain stakeholder commitment to the success of the project.

Projects are often complex, made up of a large number of moving pieces and bring numerous challenges to those involved with them. But, by keeping stakeholders at the forefront during project planning and execution, your ability to achieve success is greatly enhanced.

Global Knowledge can help you manage stakeholders and accomplish project success – see our comprehensive project management training portfolio.

For more on stakeholders check out this webinar recording, “How Project Managers Can Influence Their Stakeholders’ Perceptions.”

This blog is an excerpt taken from McClintock’s white paper, Three Steps to Ensure the Success of Your IT Projects.

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