Enterprise Software

Ask these questions to reach your stakeholders

Understanding the needs and expectations of stakeholders in your client's project can only make your job easier. Here's a look at two tools and a series of questions you can ask to help you gather crucial stakeholder information.

Understanding the needs, expectations, and potential issues of project stakeholders is crucial to the success of any project. The work you do before a project begins to familiarize yourself with these stakeholders or anticipate any problems that their issues might create for your project can make or break your efforts.

Two tools that you can use to help analyze stakeholders and ensure their full participation in your project are a Stakeholder Assessment Map (SAM) and a Stakeholder Reporting Matrix (SRM). These tools can help you reach your stakeholders through a process of three Ps:
  • Process: How can I best discover the needs of my stakeholders?
  • Preparation: What information do I need to collect from stakeholders, and how do I plan to use that information?
  • Performance: What is the most effective way to act upon the information gleaned from the stakeholder analysis?

In this article, we’ll talk about the second step, preparation, and understanding the questions you should be asking your shareholders and the information you'll need to collect from them.

Second in a series
This is the second of three articles that examines ways to work best with project stakeholders. The first article discussed the stakeholder analysis process and the role of the Stakeholder Assessment Map and the Stakeholder Reporting Matrix. The final article will suggest the best ways to use the information you’ve gleaned from the stakeholder analysis.

Data collection for the Stakeholder Assessment Map
The information contained in the SAM, shown in Figure A, provides you with a detailed understanding of your stakeholders so that you can anticipate their impact on your project.

To properly build your map, you will first need to identify who can give you information on key stakeholders. Potential sources of this information may include:
  • Project sponsor—The key strategic supporter of your project in the client organization
  • Project manager from client organization—The individual who will manage the project from inside the client organization (The project sponsor and project manager from the client organization may be one in the same.)
  • Sales representative or account manager—This person has often spent a lot of time up front learning about the client and their needs. You might be one of several project managers that have worked with this client; however, the account manager may have had a longer relationship with the client.
  • Other project personnel—At times, other personnel on your team may have worked with the client.
  • Stakeholders—You can learn just as much about the stakeholders by interacting with them as you can from other sources.
  • Documentation—Written information from your client or about your client can also be very revealing. You can learn about your client’s organizational structure, the roles and responsibilities of your client's staff, and their reporting methods, motivation, challenges, and other items that might be key to understanding your client.

Figure A
A Stakeholder Assessment Map


Learn about stakeholders by asking these questions
One of the most efficient ways to learn about your stakeholders is by asking them pointed questions that involve different aspects of the project. To truly get a well-rounded view of your stakeholders needs and expectations, you should make sure your questions cover the "four Is": Figure out who they are (Identification), how the project affects them (Interest), why their roles are important to the project (Influence), and how the stakeholder will affect the project (Impact). Below are some specific questions you can ask to begin your stakeholder analysis.
  • Identification (of stakeholders)—Who will receive the deliverables of or benefits from the project? Who will work with you to implement the project, both from your organization and from the client organization? Who is considered an expert from your organization and from the client organization about different aspects of the project or solution? Who serves as your champion in the client organization? Who is paying for the project?
  • Interest—What direct benefit do stakeholders expect to get from the project? What ancillary outcomes do stakeholders expect as a result of the project? What changes will stakeholders be expected to make as a result of the project? What resources are stakeholders willing (or not willing) to provide for the project? How do stakeholders feel about each other? Do stakeholders have conflicts of interest concerning the project? For which stakeholders does the project help to meet their goals, needs, or interests (or not)?
  • Influence—What legitimate authority do stakeholders have in the organization (e.g., are they responsible for budget)? From where do stakeholders get their leadership authority (e.g., is it formal or informal)? Who controls strategic resources for the project? How much negotiating power or influence do stakeholders have over others?
  • Impact—Based on your understanding of the stakeholders, how will each stakeholder impact the project (negatively or positively)? How much will these impacts affect the success of the project? If they can impact the project negatively, how can you prevent or correct the situation? If the project is impacted positively, how can you make the most of it?

You want to gain as much information as you can about the stakeholders during the feasibility and planning phases. Gathering this information in the beginning of a project will help you to develop a realistic plan that key stakeholders will buy into early on.

You will need to update this information as you implement the project, but the majority of this data collection is done in the very early stages.

Data collection for the Stakeholder Reporting Matrix
I’ve found that the best time to draft the SRM, as shown in Figure B, is after you finish the SAM.However, you want to have your SRM ready by the time the project start-up meeting occurs so that you and the client can review and agree upon the reporting methods.

Figure B
Stakeholder Reporting Matrix


To begin building my SRM, I first make some general assumptions about how I can best communicate with my stakeholders based on my understanding of the different types of stakeholders and their roles in the project. Figure C shows the general framework I use to define the reporting needs of each type of stakeholder:

Figure C
Stakeholder framework


Keep in mind that the culture of the organization might influence the reporting mechanisms you should use. Here are some questions you can ask yourself that may help you decide which mechanism is the best fit:
  • Do my stakeholders prefer formal or informal communication? Do they prefer face-to-face, telephone, or written communication?
  • With which communication tools (e.g., e-mail, Web pages, MS Project) are stakeholders comfortable?
  • How does reporting generally occur in both my organization and in the client organization? What do reports look like in my organization and in the client organization?
  • What is the reporting relationship between the stakeholders?

Reaching your stakeholders
Do you have methods for reaching your stakeholders that you think would benefit other TechRepublic members? Share them with us, and we’ll feature them in upcoming articles, or post your comments in a discussion.

 
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