CXO

5 tips on identifying the right project stakeholders

Stakeholders play a vital role in the outcome of projects. Here's guidance on selecting the ideal stakeholders for your specific project.

Image: iStockphoto.com/hanhanpeggy

The role of project stakeholders should not be underestimated because at every level there's potential for positive, as well as negative, influence over other stakeholders. The greater the potential influence, the greater the risk to project deliverables and final goals.

Stakeholder identification, analysis, and selection can be tricky areas to navigate. If at the end of the day, the appropriate stakeholders aren't selected for a project, requirements and deliverables may not be successfully met, and the end goals can erroneously be sidestepped.

The benefits of thorough stakeholder analysis include:

  • maintaining focus on stakeholders' needs;
  • ensuring positive influence exists between stakeholders;
  • reducing unnecessary risks;
  • having the relevant and key stakeholders involved from inception to close; and
  • providing the best possible project outcome(s).

Sometimes stakeholders actually have a vested interest in seeing a project fail. Sadly in such situations, this fact may not be discovered until well into a project, causing unnecessary conflict and wasted time, energy, and resources.

SEE: Project Management Resource Kit (Tech Pro Research)

How to find the right stakeholders

There may be many different stakeholders throughout the life of a project. Typically, stakeholders fall into one of three categories:

  • Direct internal stakeholders
  • Indirect internal stakeholders
  • External stakeholders

These stakeholders can range from the project team members and project sponsors who are directly engaged in the project activities, and internal departments or users/customers and leaders who are involved in, or utilize the end product or service, to external customers, government bodies, and so on.

Here are steps to make sure you're on the right track and that all factors and options have been weighed carefully, fairly, and with the best possible end result in focus.

1: Ask questions about stakeholders early in the process

As a project manager (PM), it's your job to ask questions; the goal is to ensure all stakeholders that may have been selected and included on an initial Stakeholder Register are relevant to the specific project. Don't wait until the middle of a project, or worse, nearing the end to voice concerns. Take the initiative to do additional due diligence, and raise concerns and options with project sponsors and executives before leaping in both feet first—sponsors and executives are more likely to appreciate the extra effort versus withholding this information.

2: Allow sufficient time for stakeholder analysis and mapping

Take the necessary time to analyze and weigh the anticipated contributions of each stakeholder, as well as their impact on various aspects of the project and the final expected results. Think about the risks if the stakeholder is unable to contribute to the required level. Perhaps the stakeholder can deliver in terms of their knowledge and skill level but can't commit fully due to other obligations outside of their control. In a situation like this, consideration may need to be given to an alternate candidate.

In conjunction with stakeholder analysis, stakeholder mapping can be done to draw a clear picture of which are key stakeholders, where each stakeholder fits in the overall picture, their precise role in the project, the impact to the project, the benefits and risks, and the likely results.

3: Develop and/or utilize the best methodology for the specific project or situation

Various stakeholder analysis and mapping methodologies have been developed over the years that focus on specific criteria. Some are based on:

  • the ability/power to influence others;
  • the value within hierarchies and key areas or performance;
  • the project's requirements and the relative significance of each stakeholder to others in the project or company as a whole; and
  • the potential for a stakeholder to be, or be perceived to be, a threat or an asset.

4: Use stakeholder analysis and mapping tools

This can go a long way to do the heavy lifting, and it provides a mechanism to not only document the outcome but also identify analysis criteria and methodology and the processes behind the final selections.

5: Learn from past lessons and from others

Don't reinvent the wheel—learn from your past mistakes as well as the mistakes of other PMs. Talk with other project leaders about their strategies, the methods they've used, what worked well, and their lessons learned. This is not to say that what worked for someone else will work in every situation, but it can often provide enough insight to allow you to engage in discussions with project owners so they can make more informed decisions.

SEE: The three best lessons I learned from a failed project (TechRepublic)

The bottom line

You play a vital role in project success. By identifying the right project stakeholders, you can save everyone lot of aggravation and sleepless nights, and greatly reduce the risk of task, milestone, or even project failure.

Also see

About Moira Alexander

Moira Alexander is the author of "LEAD or LAG: Linking Strategic Project Management & Thought Leadership" and Founder & President of Lead-Her-Ship Group. She's also a project management and IT freelance columnist for various publications, and a contr...

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