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Stakeholder Perceptions Become Your Project Reality

Oct. 13, 2014
Daniel Stober


For project managers, meeting stakeholder expectations means that you have to know what the expectations are to begin with if you are ever expected to meet them. After expectations have been set, follow up with your stakeholders to ensure that the expectations haven't changed. People change their minds often, so communicate in order to influence their perceptions and expectations. You may be surprised how simple communication and understanding expectations can positively affect your next project.


As project managers, we have often heard stories about our fellow project managers being set up to fail by sponsors, stakeholders, and senior management because of expectations that were out of line with what a project could actually deliver. How and why does this happen? There is no single correct answer, but there is plenty of blame to go around. It takes a thorough examination of the relationships and tendencies of project managers, business analysts, and stakeholders to uncover how perceptions can become misaligned with reality. The bottom line is that it is the job of the project manager to be the honest broker with the project sponsor as to what a project can realistically deliver. It is the job of the project sponsor to communicate those same realities to the senior management and executive audiences.

The Role of the Project Manager in Stakeholder Management

The project manager is the tip of the spear when it comes to stakeholder management. It is the project manager's responsibility to build a thorough, deliberate, and complete stakeholder management strategy. In order for a project manager to build that strategy effectively, he or she must first conduct a thorough stakeholder analysis. Stakeholder analysis is all about understanding the different personalities, agendas, and priorities of the stakeholder community. As a rule of thumb, there are three steps to stakeholder analysis:

1. Identify stakeholders

2. Stakeholder assessment and classification

3. Identify stakeholder communication needs

For the project manager, identifying all of the potential individuals and groups that have a stake in the project is an important first step in setting the conditions for successful stakeholder management. This effort should not be limited to a once-over of the clear project players, but should be an attempt to identify all those who could be affected by a project's outcome (real or perceived), those inside the organization who could help or hinder your project, and even those outside the organization whose actions could help or hinder your project. Because of the complexities of identifying the full array of stakeholders in a single round, stakeholder identification should not be limited to a one-time event-identification should be ongoing throughout the entire life of the project.

Once the project manager, with help from the project sponsor and project team, identifies the stakeholders of the project, it is then time for the project manager to assess and classify all the stakeholders. The truth is that not all stakeholders are created equal, and equal time and effort cannot be devoted to each stakeholder. The purpose of assessing and classifying the stakeholders is to discover, through multiple rounds of analysis, which stakeholders constitute the key stakeholders. All stakeholders will be managed, but the key stakeholders will be those who must be satisfied in order for a project to be deemed a success. There are many different ways to analyze stakeholder importance, but one of the most popular ways is using an Impact x Influence grid. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, (PMBOK® Guide) - Fifth Edition, Project Management Institute, Inc., 2013 defines impact as the ability to effect changes to the project plan or execution, and influence as a stakeholder's active involvement in the project. Organizations must determine an acceptable standard for assigning numerical values to subjective ranking criteria. There is not a defined standard, if using a ranking system for impact and influence of 1-5 for example, as to what makes a stakeholder a score of 1 (the lowest) vs. what makes a stakeholder a 5 (the highest). But, by these two definitions, it can be inferred that those stakeholders who must be actively involved in the project in order for it to be successful (high influence), and those who have the ability to change organizational priorities for resources (high impact) should be considered key stakeholders who must be closely managed.


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