The Importance of Stakeholder Management

January 28, 2010

We at The Braintrust Consulting Group feel that too many project managers ignore the importance of proper stakeholder management. As many of you know one of the greatest sources of requirements gaps is missed stakeholders. While missing requirements can be detrimental to your project, many project managers often discount the influence a stakeholder can have as well. A disgruntled stakeholder can use their influence to singly derail your entire project. On the other side of the coin a properly managed stakeholder can be your greatest asset, clearing organizational roadblocks and supporting your project in times of need. In order to ensure the success of your project you must properly manage all of your stakeholders.

So you may be asking, “Who exactly is a stakeholder?” Well according to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) a stakeholder is “Person or organization (e.g., customer, sponsor, performing organization, or the public) that is actively involved in the project, or whose interests may be positively or negatively affected by execution or completion of the project. A stakeholder may also exert influence over the project and its deliverables.”

The best time during the lifecycle of a project to uncover stakeholders is during initiation. The Braintrust Consulting Group’s best practice is to identify all stakeholders and interview them before completing the project charter. In order to identify all your stakeholders start by asking your project sponsor who the stakeholders are. During your interview with each of these individuals ask them the same question; eventually you will exhaust the list of possible stakeholders.

Once all of the stakeholders have been identified and interviewed the time comes to manage them. When you move to the planning phase involve the stakeholders in your requirements gathering sessions, let them help you define the project scope. Another key component is gathering their communications requirements. By understanding how each stakeholder can best be communicated to and how frequently they desire communication you can open the lines of communication. Make sure throughout the life of the project that you continue to meet their communications requirements. By keeping your stakeholders well informed of your progress you keep them engaged throughout the entire project lifecycle.

Every so often you are going to have to deal with a difficult stakeholder. This person could be someone who will be negatively impacted by the outcome of your project or someone who has an alternate agenda. Either way, these individuals can be very dangerous to the overall success of your project. We at The Braintrust Consulting Group suggest taking a two pronged approach to dealing with difficult stakeholders. First try and engage them on a personal level, find out if they are opposed to your project and why. Find ways to meet their needs and even let them take credit for your ideas and successes. Secondly be proactive and on top of your game. The moment that you show weaknesses or confusion is the moment that that a disgruntled stakeholder will swoop in and attempt to take control of your project away from you. Successful stakeholder management is even more critical when you are forced to deal with difficult stakeholders.

Now that we have talked about difficult stakeholders, what happens when we fail to properly manage our stakeholders? First and foremost is that we are likely to miss critical requirements. Failure to gather all requirements up front can lead to a failed project because you won’t deliver what your customer really needs. Secondly when you have a stakeholder that is negatively campaigning against your project you can have a difficult time succeeding. When negative propaganda about your project abounds even the smallest slipup in the management of your project can be grounds for termination. You must stay vigilant and try to sort out these negative relationships for the sake of your projects success.

When managed properly a team of engaged stakeholders can be one of your greatest assets. First off stakeholders can be a great source for requirements. Second they can serve as mentors to bounce ideas off of. In addition they can help raise the adoption rate of your projects output by the end users. Last but not least, they can support your team in times of need or crisis. By making sure that all of your stakeholders buy into the vision of your project and truly understand its benefits you will be assured of strong stakeholder support.

Stakeholder management is a critical function of any project manager’s job. Without strong stakeholder support requirements can be missed. With strong stakeholder support you gain a valuable ally who can help make your project a success. In addition to gaining their support it is key that you properly manage your stakeholders. Failure to properly mange your stakeholders can lead to project cancellation. On the other side of the coin properly managed stakeholders can be a source of great moral and organization support throughout your projects lifecycle. Don’t take for granted the importance of properly managing your stakeholders.

We leave you now with a list of stakeholder best practices:

  • One of the biggest sources of requirements gaps is a missed stakeholder
  • Uncover all stakeholders in the initiating phase
  • Make sure you interview all stakeholders before completing your project charter
  • Manage stakeholder communication requirements
  • Involving your stakeholders throughout the project is key
  • Carefully manage difficult stakeholders
  • Always remember to manage your stakeholders or they will manage you

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