Stakeholders are the people, groups or organizations that have a key interest in the outcome of a project. They can include department heads, investors, manufacturers, board members or simply team members. They are typically involved in the approval process and can either make a project difficult or extremely easy—depending on how well they’re managed via a stakeholder management plan.
In fact, certain stakeholders decide if there should be a project at all, and whether or not the project was a success. They have that much power. Given their influence, it’d be unwise to neglect your stakeholder management plan. But first, let’s review the aspects of good stakeholder management.
What is Stakeholder Management?
Put simply, stakeholder management is the concept of managing the stakeholders involved in any major project. Because of how much power they wield, the project manager needs to balance the requirements from key stakeholders with finesse.
What are their primary goals with this project? What are they hoping to invest? The more you can tease out what each of their goals and requirements are from the outset, the better.
5 Steps for a Stakeholder Management Plan
Because there are many different types of stakeholders, you’ll want a well-rounded stakeholder management plan. Follow these five steps to make sure all of the bases are covered.
1. List Your Stakeholders
The first step to any good stakeholder management plan is knowing your stakeholders. They are usually sorted into two groups: internal and external stakeholders.
Internal stakeholders are easy to identify. They are typically those within the organization that have a key interest in the completion of a project. They are usually department heads, such as heads of Marketing, IT, Development, Operations and more. These stakeholders can affect the project either directly or indirectly by influencing the direction of their department on the given project.
External stakeholders are not typically part of the organization itself but are made up of investors, users/customers, the media, neighboring businesses or governmental oversight authorities.
2. Prioritize Your Stakeholders
As we previously mentioned, prioritize which stakeholders are going to have a bigger influence over the project, and also note at which stage their influence becomes lesser or greater.
Start by considering how to manage the stakeholders on your project, and then start prioritizing their demands and goals. Understand that those priorities can flex at different project points. For example, at certain points, say, during a website design project, the stakeholder with a special interest in the design will have their goals prioritized. Then, as you move into the development phase, the stakeholders with a special interest in development will have their goals elevated over design.
3. Interview Your Stakeholders
Working with new stakeholders can be tricky at the start—some are easier to manage than others. Depending on the type of project, there will either be many voices from outside the company with different personalities and demands, or many voices inside the company with competing goals. Here are some example stakeholder interview questions to ask to get sorted:
- Why are you interested in this project?
- What are your expectations for this project?
- If you have a team involved, what do you expect from them?
- What deliverables are you most interested in?
- What inspired you to get involved in this project?
- What do you hope this project changes after launch?
- How quickly do you see this project rolling out?
- If you feel positively about this project, why?
- If you have worries about this project, why?
- Do you prefer in-person meetings, phone meetings or email?
You’ll want a solid understanding of whether or not your stakeholders feel positively or negatively about the project, and at what stages their perspectives might shift. Also, identify which ones have a stronger set of views and which ones are more flexible and open to compromise. This will help to mitigate any possible stop gaps down the road.
4. Develop a Matrix
A quick mock-up of a quadrant to sort your findings will help you easily distinguish those with high interest, high priority versus low interest, low priority. It will also help to sort all those in between.
For example, those with a high interest but a low priority are typically your best confidants. They’re ready to get work done and will cheerlead your project on. Those with low interest and high priority might be your squeakiest wheels—keep the lines of communication open with them, but keep a firm boundary so as to not spend all your time focusing on them.
They say the squeaky wheel gets the grease, so remember that even those in the low priority, low interest or high priority, low interest still need to be continually communicated with to ensure that their voices are heard throughout the project.
5. Set & Manage Expectations
Setting and managing expectations is the meat and potatoes of your stakeholder management plan. In fact, it’s the very thing that could make this initiative a success.
Once you’ve outlined your matrix and have identified priorities and interests, create your project plan. Clearly identify which stages each key stakeholder will be involved in, and timelines by which their feedback is needed. Include a schedule of office hours for them to easily reach you so that they can have time provide feedback either in a private setting or in a group. As always, be realistic, transparent and honest at every project phase—your stakeholders can tell, and will thank you for it.
Who Makes the Stakeholder Management Plan?
Typically if the entire project—stakeholders and all—are internal, then the project manager is the one that completes the process of a stakeholder management plan. However, if the project is dealing with external stakeholders and an external client, then the primary contact at your client’s organization will be the one to complete this process.
Why is a Stakeholder Management Plan Important?
No project exists in a vacuum—although that would make any project so much easier to execute. But stakeholders play a key role in making your project happen. They believe in the project and are devoting time, money and resources to your project.
Stakeholders help make it an extremely easy process by contributing funds, resources, materials, tools, expertise and more. But without proper management, they can also make it an extremely clunky process with a lot of messy red tape along the way. You know what they say about too many cooks in the kitchen.
Stakeholder management plans are also important from a PR perspective. Consider this—stakeholders don’t work alone; they hear about the project progress from other resources and stakeholders involved. It’s important that their interests are kept intact, and that you don’t find yourself facing the furrowed brow of a frustrated stakeholder who has heard some bad news.
Keeping that line of open communication is the most important step to a good stakeholder management plan.
Related: Free Communication Plan Template
The Risks of Not Having a Stakeholder Management Plan
Again, stakeholders make the world go round. They’re your investors, customers, neighbors, producers. They can be your biggest cheerleaders or can make the project slow to a crawl.
Since stakeholders usually involve multiple key contacts across many different avenues, it’s important to communicate with them effectively and efficiently. Without having interviewed them ahead of time or gauging their priority or interest, you could end up spinning your wheels trying to validate the requirements of a stakeholder with low priority and low interest, leaving those with a high priority feeling frustrated at the process.
Worse yet, you can set your organization up for a lack of funds on the next project or a poor customer experience. Don’t leave your organization vulnerable to a lack of resources, funds or time.
What Documentation is Needed?
Start with the steps outlined above, and then check in routinely. This can mean weekly, bi-weekly, monthly or quarterly, depending on the project scope or timeline.
Document all levels of communication, too. That way, other project members know the latest feedback from key stakeholders and can pivot or include their updated requirements into the project.
This will also ease the worries of upper management and keep them posted on the progress of the client and how each stakeholder is coming along. This ensures that even low priority, low-interest stakeholders are getting their fair share of involvement in the project.
ProjectManager.com Can Help with Your Stakeholder Plan
The best way to make a stakeholder management plan is with a project management platform where you can execute communication, project planning and more all in one place. With ProjectManager.com, you’ll get access to dashboards that provide real-time updates and live reporting for stakeholders. Not to mention in-depth project reports, like status reports, variance reports and more that can be customized to give stakeholders exactly the information they need, when they need it.
ProjectManager.com is an online project management software that gives you everything you need to plan, execute and track your projects. Whether it’s a project plan, resource management plan, stakeholder management plan or simply a task list—ProjectManager.com gives you the tools to succeed. See for yourself and start a free 30-day trial today.