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.