This post was originally published on June 22, 2017, and updated most recently on February 16, 2021.
Pleasing the right stakeholders throughout your project lifecycle is important. If you don’t meet their expectations, the project can quickly become a failure.
Therefore, understanding who your stakeholders are, what they need, and how to keep them happy will go a long way in making sure your team delivers.
Here are our tips for managing stakeholders.
What is a Stakeholder?
First of all, you need to understand what a stakeholder is and why they’re important to your project.
A stakeholder is any individual, group, or organization impacted by the outcome of a project. They can be within or outside the body sponsoring the project. And they can have a positive or negative influence on the project.
Stakeholders might include:
- client leadership,
- senior management,
- project team members,
- or anyone else with high interest or power over the project.
Depending on the size of your project, there will be many groups and tiers of people necessary to complete your project. Managing each is its own challenge, but your key stakeholders are crucial because they are the members most invested in the project’s success.
Identifying your Stakeholders
Not all stakeholders are equal. While a project may impact many people, key project stakeholders stand out for a few common reasons:
- They have the decision-making power to define the course of the project.
- They have the power to define what success means for the project.
- Their decisions affect larger groups of people.
- Their level of satisfaction with the project affects future business.
At the outset of any project, the project manager needs to identify who the key stakeholders are within a project’s scope. If you leave out an important person or group, you could miss out on critical information and insights relevant to the project.
To verify that you haven’t missed any important stakeholders, sit down with your client and/or upper management at the start of the project. Make sure you agree upon who your key stakeholders are and what they want as an outcome of the project.
Stakeholders vs. key stakeholders
A stakeholder is anyone who has influence over the project or should get updates on the project’s progress. A huge number of people both internal and external are viable stakeholders.
A key stakeholder, however, is someone with active influence over the outcome of a project. They make decisions or control some aspect or resources the project requires. Essentially, a key stakeholder is someone who can determine whether or not a project will be successful.
Like any other member of a project, stakeholders are people, too, which means some will be easier to manage than others. One of the soft skills of project management is learning to deal with a variety of personalities.
Start by doing what you do with any other aspect of your project: prioritize them. Some stakeholders will be more valuable than others, and some will require more attention during certain phases of the project.
Once you understand how to prioritize your key stakeholders, you can focus on meeting each one’s needs according to the expectations and objectives set out by the scope of the project.
Creating positive relationships
Trust is earned through proactive communication and delivering what you promise.
One thing you’ll come to learn is that stakeholders sometimes have conflicting expectations or ill-informed opinions. Part of the stakeholder relationship is not just delivering everything the stakeholder wants, but also helping them understand the bigger picture behind decisions.
If the project runs smoothly, they’ll learn to trust your judgment. But if the project encounters problems without proper communication, you could find yourself in a difficult position.
Start by interviewing your most important stakeholders so you understand what they expect directly from them. As the project proceeds, you’ll want to execute some best practices.
Document all communication. Record all requests and feedback. This allows you to review information for accuracy and share it with other project members for transparency.
Share processes. Let your stakeholders know that each request is subject to review and approval via a formal process, and let them know what that process is. This protects both parties from miscommunications that can negatively affect the project.
Provide frequent status reports. Your stakeholders should never feel like they’re in the dark about the progress of a project. Most likely, you will be much closer to the project’s day-to-day workings, so they will rely on you to keep them in the loop. Regular and timely status reports reassure anxious stakeholders and answer questions before they need asking.
Communicate issues. Your stakeholders can easily catch wind of rumors or negative gossip related to your project. It’s always best if they hear negative news from you first. Therefore, don’t just share the project’s positive aspects with them and hope they don’t notice any missing information. Be upfront about things like delays or missed deadlines, and always provide context. Your stakeholders will take your honesty as a sign that they can trust you, and resolving issues promptly will add to that trust.
Now that you know what a stakeholder is and how to identify and manage them, it’s important to continue to follow these best practices throughout the lifecycle of your project. Stakeholders are constantly acquiring new information, and this can lead them to try to change their expectations of the project. It’s your job to guide them towards the best decisions, make concessions when necessary, and support your team along the way.
Projects are always changing. Therefore, the better you manage that change, the greater success your team will see.