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.