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How to master stakeholder mapping for project success

PostsProject management
Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

March 06, 2024

No matter how great your plan is, no matter how capable your team is, every project needs the support of external parties. But not just any external parties: stakeholders. 

Knowing who your stakeholders are and, most importantly, how they can make or break your project is essential for success. This is where stakeholder mapping comes in. It’s a handy methodology that’s all about identifying and ranking stakeholders according to influence and then tailoring your engagement approach to match. 

This helps you focus your efforts (and resources), turn potential obstacles into allies, and ultimately create a positive, receptive environment for your project to flourish. Ready to learn more? Read on! 

What is stakeholder mapping?

No project exists in a vacuum. It will both affect, and be affected by various people and groups — aka the project stakeholders. Stakeholder mapping is a way to organize these VIPs, including working out who they are, what their interests are, and how they might relate to the project at hand. 

It’s essentially a categorization exercise where you identify the stakeholders and then rank them according to their interests and influence. This, in turn, will inform how much you involve them as the project progresses. 

The main points about stakeholder mapping:

  • Identifying stakeholders: Figuring out who has a stake in your project’s outcome.
  • Categorizing stakeholders: Organizing stakeholders by their level of interest and influence.
  • Analyzing relationships: Understanding how stakeholders are connected to the project and each other.

Stakeholder mapping offers a structured way to visualize and plan for interactions with those who have a stake in your project, ensuring no ally or obstacle is overlooked.

A stakeholder map example 

Image source 

  • High influence and high interest: These are your key players. They have significant power over the project and a strong interest in its success. This group will probably consist of company execs, both in your organization and that of your clients. 
  • High influence and low interest: Stakeholders here might not focus on your project daily but have the power to affect its course significantly, like regulatory bodies.
  • Low influence and high interest: The core team and other similar groups might be deeply interested in the project’s success and work closely on it but have less power over strategic decisions.
  • Low influence and low interest: Competitors and others who might not have a direct stake in the project but are part of the broader ecosystem.

The advantages of stakeholder mapping

Here’s why stakeholder mapping is worth your while.

1. It sharpens your focus

Knowing who has the biggest impact on your project helps you tailor your approach. From allocating resources to managing expectations, stakeholder mapping helps you plot your path with confidence. 

2. It enhances your understanding of stakeholder needs

Every stakeholder has unique expectations and interests regarding your project. Through stakeholder mapping, you gain a deeper insight into these diverse perspectives. This helps you develop a nuanced approach, fostering a positive relationship between you and them. 

3. It helps with risk management

Stakeholder mapping helps you plot strategies to mitigate risks, whether operational things or simply resistance from various parties. This proactive approach minimizes downtime disaster when issues invariably strike while having the added bonus of making you look prepared. 

4. It streamlines communication

Effective communication is tailored, not one-size-fits-all. Stakeholder mapping allows you to segment your audience and customize your messages to resonate with each group. This targeted communication strategy ensures stakeholders are informed and engaged in a manner that aligns with their interests and level of involvement.

5. It builds a foundation for stakeholder engagement

Understanding who your stakeholders are and what drives them is the first step in building strong, productive relationships. Stakeholder mapping lays the groundwork for engagement by highlighting the stakeholders’ positions relative to your project, enabling you to approach them in an informed and respectful manner.

When do you need stakeholder mapping?

Stakeholder mapping isn’t a done-and-dusted activity. As your project evolves, so too will your stakeholder relationships and needs. For that reason, it’s a good idea to do stakeholder mapping not just once but at several key points throughout the duration.

Think of it as recalibrating your compass; as the project landscape shifts, so too should your understanding of who can influence and who is affected by your project. 

When should you do stakeholder mapping?

At the beginning of a project

You should conduct stakeholder mapping at the beginning of a project to help you lay a solid strategic foundation. But it doesn’t stop there. 

Major milestones

As you hit major milestones or face significant changes — be it in scope, timeline, or resources — it’s time to revisit your map. New stakeholders may have emerged, while others influence or interest levels may have changed. Understanding how shifts in your project affect stakeholder interests and influence allows you to adjust your engagement strategies in real time.

When it’s time to make a critical decision

Stakeholder mapping is especially important when you’re navigating challenges or making big decisions. Why? Because it keeps you on top of the project-critical stakeholder landscape, helping you make proactive choices while avoiding oversights and mitigating concerns.

Stakeholder mapping can highlight whose insights would be most valuable and who might be most affected by these decisions, ensuring you consider a range of perspectives.

In preparation for project closure

Finally, as your project nears completion, a fresh look at your stakeholder map can help you manage project closure, ensuring all relevant parties are informed and engaged in evaluating the project’s success. It also helps you recognize stakeholders who could play a key role in sustaining the project past its official endpoint.

What happens if you skip stakeholder mapping?

It might seem like a time-saver at first glance, but this oversight usually leads to a ripple effect of challenges throughout the lifecycle of a project. 

Stakeholder mapping is essentially about understanding the landscape in which your project lives, identifying allies and opponents, and tailoring your engagement strategy accordingly. Without this key step, projects can veer off course, with you missing opportunities for support and collaboration that could have propelled things toward success.

This lack of insight can lead to inefficient use of resources, as efforts to communicate and engage may be misdirected, failing to reach or resonate with the intended audience. Projects can suffer from communication gaps and misunderstandings stemming from a one-size-fits-all approach to stakeholder engagement that overlooks the unique perspectives and needs of different groups.

What’s the difference between a stakeholder and a shareholder?

Two similar-sounding titles. But are they the same? Yes and no. 

Shareholders are individuals or entities that own shares in a company. They are primarily concerned with earning dividends and seeing an appreciation in the company’s stock value. Their influence is exercised through voting rights, which can affect major company decisions, especially in publicly traded companies.

Stakeholders, on the other hand, encompass a broader category. This group includes anyone who has an interest in or is affected by the outcomes of a project or the performance of a company. Beyond shareholders, stakeholders can include employees, customers, suppliers, community groups, and even governments. Each stakeholder group has its own set of interests:

  • Employees may be concerned with job security and working conditions
  • Customers are interested in the quality and reliability of products or services
  • Suppliers seek dependable business relationships and timely payments
  • Communities might be focused on environmental impact and corporate responsibility.

The key difference lies in the scope of interest and influence. Shareholders have a financial stake, while stakeholders encompass a wider array of interests.

Stakeholder mapping vs stakeholder management

While these two similar-sounding terms, they have two undeniably different functions.

Stakeholder mapping is the act of identifying and visually organizing the various stakeholders related to a project. The primary output is often a visual diagram that categorizes stakeholders, making it easier to see at a glance who needs attention and how they might impact or be impacted by the project. It’s a foundational step that sets the stage for deeper analysis and engagement strategies.

Stakeholder management, on the other hand, is the broader discipline that encompasses stakeholder mapping as its initial phase. It includes developing and implementing strategies to engage with and manage relationships with stakeholders throughout the life of a project or the operation of a business. Stakeholder management is about:

  • Building and maintaining positive relationships.
  • Communicating effectively to keep stakeholders informed and engaged.
  • Addressing concerns and leveraging support to advance the project’s goals.

Stakeholder mapping vs stakeholder engagement

Both stakeholder mapping and stakeholder engagement fall under the ‘stakeholder management’ process, but they represent different stages — and understanding how they interact will come in useful. 

Stakeholder mapping is the initial step in the stakeholder management process. This model helps project managers and teams to:

  • Recognize all parties potentially affected by or interested in the project
  • Prioritize stakeholders according to their importance and impact on project success.
  • Plan strategies for stakeholder engagement.

Stakeholder engagement, on the other hand, is the next step in the stakeholder management process, where the insights gained from stakeholder mapping are put into action. It aims to:

  • Build and maintain positive relationships with key stakeholders
  • Gather feedback and insights to guide project decisions
  • Ensure stakeholders are informed, consulted, and involved in the project as appropriate.

What are the different types of stakeholders?

Understanding the various interested parties is crucial to the mapping process. Here’s how to identify your stakeholders.

They can be broadly categorized into several types, each with distinct roles, interests, and levels of influence. Recognizing these differences is essential for tailoring engagement strategies to meet the varied needs and expectations of each group. 

Internal stakeholders

Internal stakeholders are those within the organization who are directly involved in or impacted by projects and decisions. This group includes:

  • Employees and management: Their engagement is vital for operational success and morale.
  • Owners and investors: Interested in the financial health and strategic direction of the organization.

External stakeholders

These are individuals or groups outside the organization but who are affected by its activities. These include:

  • Customers: Their satisfaction and loyalty are directly tied to the organization’s success.
  • Suppliers and partners: Essential for the supply chain and operational efficiencies.
  • Competitors: Their actions can influence market dynamics and strategic positioning.
  • Community and society: Broader social and environmental impacts fall into this category.
  • Regulators and government entities: Compliance with laws and regulations is their primary concern.

Primary stakeholders

Those whose involvement is directly tied to the project’s or organization’s survival and success. Without their support or involvement, the project might face big challenges.

Secondary stakeholders

Those who might not be directly involved with the project’s day-to-day operations but can still influence or be influenced by the project’s outcome over time.

Key stakeholders

A subset of stakeholders who, due to their high influence, interest, or power, require special attention and strategies to ensure their needs and concerns are adequately addressed.

How to create a stakeholder map in 5 steps

Here’s a step-by-step guide to developing your map. 

1. Identify your stakeholders

Begin by listing everyone who has an interest in or could be affected by your project. This includes internal stakeholders like employees and management, as well as external ones such as customers, suppliers, regulators, and the community. Use a broad lens to ensure no key group is overlooked.

2. Analyze and categorize stakeholders

 Assess each stakeholder’s level of interest in your project and their ability to influence its outcome. Categorize them based on these criteria into groups such as high interest/high influence, high interest/low influence, low interest/high influence, and low interest/low influence. This categorization helps in understanding who to prioritize for engagement.

3. Determine the relationships

Examine how stakeholders are connected to each other and to the project. Identify any existing relationships, potential conflicts, or alliances. 

Start by listing everyone who has an interest in or influence on your project. This includes both internal and external parties, from team members and management to suppliers, customers, and regulatory bodies.

For each stakeholder, assess their level of interest in the project and their ability to influence its outcome. Consider questions like:

  •    Do any stakeholders have direct or indirect influence over others?
  •    Are there competing interests or alliances among stakeholders?
  •    How might the project affect these relationships?

4. Visualize the map

With the information gathered, create a visual representation of your stakeholders. This can be a simple grid plotting interest against influence or a more complex diagram showing the relationships and connections between different stakeholder groups. Tools like flowcharts or mind maps can be helpful here.

5. Develop engagement strategies

Based on the insights from your stakeholder map, devise tailored strategies for engaging with different groups. 

Consider the communication methods, frequency, and messages that will resonate with each category of stakeholder. This step is about turning your map into actionable plans to keep the right people involved from project start to finish.

Stakeholder map best practices

Here are some tips to help you squeeze the most value from this exercise.

1. Start early and update often: Begin your stakeholder mapping process at the outset of your project and revisit it regularly. Stakeholders’ interests and influence can change as the project progresses, so it’s important to keep checking in.

2. Engage your team in the mapping process: Involving your project team can give you diverse insight, which gives you a more comprehensive view of the stakeholder landscape. 

3. Use clear and accessible visualization tools: Choose a format for your stakeholder map that is easy for your team and other relevant parties to understand. Whether it’s a simple matrix or a more complex diagram, clarity is key to ensuring that the map is a useful reference tool.

4. Tailor your communication strategies: Use the insights gained from your stakeholder map to develop customized communication plans for different stakeholder groups. For example, internal stakeholders might appreciate a team meeting or a simple email. External stakeholders who want to be more hands-on might appreciate access to your project management software so they can check in on progress without having to wait for updates.  

5. Be prepared to manage conflicts: Stakeholder mapping can help you spot potential areas of conflict. Anticipating these conflicts allows you to strategize on how to address them proactively.

6. Document and share your findings: Keep a detailed record of your stakeholder mapping process and outcomes. Sharing this information with your team and key stakeholders keeps everyone on the same page.

Collaboration tools were made for stakeholder mapping

Collaboration tools are a perfect fit for stakeholder mapping, offering an easy, interactive way to visualize and manage the complex web of relationships central to any project. 

From diagramming tools to project management software — these platforms allow teams and stakeholders to create, share, and update workflows in real time, helping everyone involved access the latest information. 

By facilitating communication and providing a central repository for project (and stakeholder) data, collaboration tools help teams keep track of shifting influences and interests, fostering a deeper understanding of how each stakeholder fits into the project’s complex landscape. 



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