Managing a project where multiple stakeholders are involved can often feel like a tricky balancing act. When there are different groups, each with different aims or objectives, they often will have different expectations. For those managing the project, things can get very complicated very quickly. That’s why we would recommend going into your project with a robust stakeholder management plan, which makes sure your stakeholder expectations are adequately managed. In this article, we’re going to look at what exactly a stakeholder management plan is, before discussing some ways to go about it.
When we talk about stakeholders, we’re referring to anyone that has an interest in the project. For small projects, there are likely fewer stakeholders, whereas larger projects will have a greater number of stakeholders. Stakeholders can be both internal or external. Internal stakeholders will be those who operate inside the organisation conducting the project. External stakeholders generally exist outside the organisation, but still with an interest in the project.
What also needs to be understood about stakeholders is that they will often have different interests and objectives to one another. This is where the challenge of managing stakeholders comes about, as the needs of each stakeholder group needs to be managed.
Stakeholders can have a degree of impact on whether a project becomes successful or not. Since no project exists in a vacuum, it often requires support, whether that be in the form of funding, approval, co-operation or something else entirely. Since having stakeholders on side can be paramount to a project's success, a stakeholder management plan will generally seek to achieve ‘buy-in’ from stakeholders. This means that the stakeholders are supportive of the project, and will do all they can to see it succeed.
Now that we’ve understood why stakeholders are important, and why they need to be managed, you may be wondering why we need a plan to achieve this. It may be that you have previously managed stakeholders in an ad hoc way, reporting the information that you think is relevant to them whenever it seems appropriate.
There are a few reasons to avoid this, and do things in a more structured way.
The first is that by having a stakeholder management plan in place, you are aligning their expectations from the outset. You are making it clear to them when to expect communications and what they will be regarding. This prevents any surprises further down the line.
Next, by creating a stakeholder management plan, you’re ensuring each stakeholder is receiving the information that they are concerned with. This avoids bombarind stakeholders with information not relevant to them, or worse, missing out on vital information they’re most concerned with.
It should also be considered that not all stakeholders will require as much attention as others, something we will explain in more detail later on. Since resources in a project are often limited, having a stakeholder management in place that clearly indicates which stakeholders need what level of attention avoids you or your staff expending too much resource on unnecessary communications.
Now that we’ve established what a stakeholder management plan is needed, we can look at the key parts of a solid stakeholder management plan.
A good stakeholder management plan will usually start with stakeholder mapping, which we’ve discussed in detail in another article. Stakeholder mapping is important as it details all the relevant stakeholders, before prioritising them according to a matrix. As mentioned, this is useful for prioritising your organisation's resource use, prioritising stakeholders with the most influence and relevance to the project.
Next, you’ll want to consider drafting a stakeholder communication plan as part of your stakeholder management plan. The stakeholder communication plan details what communication channels will be used for each group, along with the frequency of communication and the information that they will receive. It’s useful here to first consult with your stakeholders, to make sure that they’re happy with what is being proposed. Bear in mind that the stakeholder communication plan is ongoing, and may change over time in response to evolving stakeholder requirements.
You will also need to consider the fact that different stakeholders have different objectives. Unfortunately, this can mean that stakeholders may disagree at times. To overcome this, we define a conflict resolution procedure that details how any conflict that arises is dealt with. It’s important to circulate this around your stakeholders prior to the project beginning, so that everyone is aware of how conflicts will be dealt with and they’re not taken by surprise if the procedure is implemented. Make sure to include the circulation of this document in your stakeholder management plan.
After the stakeholder communication plan and conflict resolution are drafted, you might also look to include some KPIs that will be reported to your stakeholders, and will reflect their objectives. These should be actively monitored, and updated as often as is feasibly possible. You could even come up with some internal KPIs that monitor the effectiveness of your stakeholder engagement. Consider things such as feedback rate, and sentiment of feedback received. This is a practical way to ensure that if your stakeholder engagement process is veering off at any point, then it can be quickly flagged and early intervention can occur.
Another internal factor to consider is areas of responsibility. This should also be detailed in the stakeholder management plan. You may wish to delegate specific tasks to individuals relating to the stakeholder engagement process. Alternatively, you can assign individuals with areas of responsibility, for them to independently come up with their own tasks. Whichever the case, the plan should include this, so that those individuals are fully aware of their responsibilities.
Lastly, once the project comes to an end, you may wish to conduct an evaluation of the stakeholder engagement activities that took place throughout. This is a chance to retrospectively look at how you’ve performed over the project, and make any changes for next time. Although this will not take place until the end, it’s useful to mention it in the stakeholder management plan, perhaps including what KPIs will be considered for evaluation. This solidifies trust in your process, demonstrating a desire to continually improve your stakeholder engagement.
This article has explained what stakeholders are, why they need to be managed, what the stakeholder management plan is and why it can be useful. You may be about to start a new project where additional stakeholders are involved. Perhaps you're taking on new stakeholders to an existing project. You may even just be looking to learn more for future reference. To help you on your journey, we will soon be releasing an in-depth guide on managing stakeholders, which will be available to download shortly.
Any business, from 10 employees to 10,000 share common characteristics. They’re made up of people, products or a service, and have processes in place that ensure they’re operating effectively.
Business process has taken a centre stage in recent years. With the popularisation of automation, partly fuelled by technological trends, including:
Employees and customers alike are spread around the globe, meaning effective business processes have become more important than ever.
Internal Business Processes are any, but usually predictable or recurring activities that take place throughout a businesses life, that take inputs to create higher value outputs.
As businesses become more developed, these processes become more formalised, and tailored to the businesses specific situation. A project development cycle for a local plastics manufacturer for instance, where a few stakeholders are managed informally, will be different than for a multinational construction company, where stakeholders spread around the world must be kept informed in the appropriate way for their timezone and culture.
Business processes are key to successful operation. Rightly or wrongly, people and products are becoming less necessary due to technological change. For this reason, you’re likely looking to optimise business processes at your organisation.
So we’ve established that business processes are important, but how can we leverage what we already know to improve day-to-day operations. Fortunately, ‘Business Process Optimisation’ is a well researched and discussed topic, with organisations from a wide spectrum embracing the principles in their operations.
‘85 percent of more than 300 executives we surveyed believe that processes help them share knowledge across divisions and regions, and executive agree that seamless delivery and service processes can be central to meeting customer expectations’ - Mckinsey
We’ve sorted through the noise to bring you the top tips for optimising internal business processes at your organisation:
The first and most achievable step is to streamline the business process workflow. You may already have a flowchart that illustrates your process. If not, the first step would be to make one.
Once you have this in place, think about which parts can be removed, or replaced with a quicker or easier task. You may also want to consider automating tasks that are repetitive or take up large amounts of your time. Technology is your friend here, so look into solutions that can take the manual load off your back. For some processes, look for an opportunity for outsourcing, again removing the strain on resources that your workflow is currently prone to.
2. Automate Communication
Automating communication is very much an extension of streamlining workflow. For most workflows, communication will be a bottleneck. How many times have you found yourself waiting on a reply? Or someone has done something wrong because they misinterpreted a message?
Automating communication has to be one of the quickest wins for optimising your business process. We recommend looking into automatic emails, text alerts or encouraging your team to switch to a more efficient communication platform. What's best for you will of course depend on your situation, but anything that moves away from ad-hoc, word-of-mouth communication will speed things up.
3. Maintain Consistency
A fully optimised business process should stay consistent to itself. Though improvements should be made in response to feedback, consistency being a goal should always be in the back of your mind. Keeping consistency means everyone is reading from the same book, minimising room for error or misunderstanding. This allows everyone to become more efficient and better at their job. What’s more, it opens the door for automation opportunities, further streamlining the workflow.
4. Focus and Measure the Results
Improving your business process over time should be a priority, and the best way to do this is to continually track your results. What you use as success metrics must accurately represent the goals of the process, and having too many can obscure things. We suggest having a few, well defined goals, that follow the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timebound) framework. Once you have decided these, you can test changes against these success metrics.
5. Utilise Data to form Best Practices
We live in a data-driven world, and your business process should be no exception. Recording and analysing data can be a strong way of further excelling your result measurement, with 53% of companies now adopting big data analytics. This gives greater insight that can be picked up anecdotally. We suggest using a specialist digital tool to effectively do this, potentially outsourcing to experts in this area.
6. Report on Findings
Capture both qualitative and quantitative information, ensuring knowledge spreads throughout the organisation. A formalised reporting procedure, at recurring time intervals is a good way to consolidate this information. This ensures your organisation loses no knowledge. Again, this provides an opportunity for the process to improve and develop over time, and will inform decision-making going forward.
Different processes, organisations and industries will have different needs. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and finding what works best will often involve some trial and error. With this in mind, we suggest exploring the points above further, working out what works best for you and your organisation.
As part of any stakeholder engagement process, you’re going to usually begin by mapping your stakeholders. But what exactly is stakeholder mapping? And why is it important? In this article, we’re going to explain what stakeholder mapping is. We’re going to explain the benefits of it, including why you should be doing it. Finally, we’re going to suggest some additional resources, for finding more information about stakeholder mapping and engagement. Without further ado, let’s get into it.
Stakeholders are any person, group of people, or organisation, who may have an interest in the project's success. Stakeholder mapping refers to the process by which stakeholders are visually portrayed on a map prior to a project beginning where stakeholders are going to be engaged. Stakeholders can be both internal - those working within the organisation, or external - those working outside of the organisation.
A stakeholder map will typically first involve identifying the stakeholders, before assessing their influence and relevance (or power and interest) to the project. Stakeholders are then categorised, prioritised and engaged accordingly. Usually, a stakeholder communication plan will be drafted shortly after, planning out how each will be engaged.
The first benefit of a stakeholder map is that it will eventually form the foundation of your stakeholder engagement strategy. Without one, your stakeholder engagement can become ad-hoc, with no structure. Starting with a stakeholder map avoids this, by making sure everyone is aware of the stakeholder engagement that is required, and forming the basis of future stakeholder engagement.
2. Categorises stakeholders
The second benefit of stakeholder mapping is that stakeholders can easily be categorised. You may have several stakeholders, who would previously have been considered as separate entities. By creating a stakeholder map, you can group them into categories based on similarities. This allows you to streamline future communications, by creating communication channels for each group, rather than what was previously each entity.
3. Understand the relevance of each stakeholder group
Next, the stakeholder map allows you to understand the relevance of each stakeholder group. By mapping each stakeholder or stakeholder group, you can build a picture of their relevance to the project. Building a picture of their relevance is useful, as it provides an idea of who needs to be considered and to what degree. It also gives a sense of scale for the stakeholder engagement strategy, which is an early indicator for how much resource needs to be dedicated to it.
4. Understanding the aims of each stakeholder group
By first mapping stakeholders in relation to a project, you’re starting to build a picture for what their aims might be in terms of the project. This will be especially useful later on, when you’re building a stakeholder communication plan. By identifying their aims, you can tailor the communications to that stakeholder around what their aims are. This maximises buy-in, as they’re receiving the information most relevant to them, which they care most about.
5. Prioritise stakeholders
Prioritising stakeholders is one of the key value drivers of the stakeholder map. No project has unlimited resources, and engaging with stakeholders is likely to take up some of those resources. By prioritising them, you are ensuring that the resources that are available for stakeholder engagement are being used most effectively, by prioritising engagement with those stakeholders with the most impact on the project success.
6. Ensure all relevant stakeholders are considered
On the flipside to prioritising stakeholders, a stakeholder map also makes sure that no stakeholder is left unaccounted for. By first identifying every stakeholder, you are removing the risk of accidentally missing out a potentially important stakeholder from your engagement strategy.
7. Visualise resource use
As was previously mentioned, by having an understanding of all the relevant stakeholders and their relevance, you are able to make deductions about how much resource needs to be dedicated to the stakeholder engagement strategy. This can prove vital in time and budget planning later on, as the early indication of stakeholder engagement resource use can be built into the project plan from the outset.
8. Alerts potential conflicts early on
Stakeholders often will have similar areas of concern to one another. Unfortunately, they may not always have the same objectives or opinions when it comes to these areas for concern. This is a natural part of stakeholder management, and often when a large number of stakeholders are present, a conflict resolution procedure will need to be drafted. Where a conflict between stakeholders or stakeholder groups is likely to occur, identifying it early is valuable as it allows you to put measures in place to minimise disruption. Stakeholder mapping therefore lets you easily identify where stakeholders may cross wires, so that something can be done about it before it's too late.
9. Indicates how best to communicate
As mentioned, your stakeholder communication plan will usually follow shortly after your stakeholder mapping takes place. Having the stakeholder map already in place prior to drafting the communication plan makes it much easier. This is because you’ve already assessed who your stakeholders are and what their interest and relevance is, so you can build your stakeholder communication plan around this. For example, stakeholders with significant interest in the project may have detailed, regular updates, whereas stakeholders with less interest may receive infrequent, summarised reports of project progress.
10. Increase buy-in from stakeholders
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is that mapping your stakeholders prior to a project being undertaken is ultimately likely to increase the buy-in from these stakeholders. Stakeholder mapping leads to better stakeholder engagement, as we’ve already covered. But why is stakeholder management so important? It’s because stakeholders have an influence over your project's success. Without them, your project is more likely to fail, so it’s important to gain stakeholder buy-in whatever way you can. Stakeholder mapping is a simple way to make sure your stakeholder engagement will go well, maximising the likelihood of your project being successful.
We’ve now covered the 10 benefits of stakeholder mapping, but before you rush off to map out your stakeholders, consider these additional resources for support and information on your stakeholder management journey.
One of the tools we’ve found really helpful in stakeholder mapping is an application called Miro. It has preset templates for stakeholder mapping that are simple to use and easy to understand, so we would recommend using this for building your final map.
We would also suggest reading more around stakeholder theory, as this is the theoretical underpinning of modern stakeholder management techniques.
Finally, we will soon be releasing a guide on effectively managing your stakeholders, which will tell you everything you need to know, and you will be able to download shortly.