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Although the roles involved in each project will vary, all projects will include a project manager and primary stakeholders who are directly impacted by the project’s outcome, such as team members, senior leaders, the customer, and the project sponsor. Secondary stakeholders, whose work less directly impacts the project, may also play a role. 

The most important part of program management is understanding the personalities of the people you work with so that you can tailor your approach to make sure that you’re working effectively with them. 

Primary stakeholders are people who will benefit directly from the project’s success, while secondary stakeholders are indirectly impacted by the project’s success. 

Stakeholder analysis is a visual representation of all the stakeholders. It helps you avoid surprises, build necessary partnerships, and ensure you’re involving the right people at the right time. 

  • It helps you see all the opportunities for success and the potential risks, it illustrates which stakeholders are taking on which responsibilities, and it can help you include the right people in important conversations, which is key to getting the support you need throughout the project. There are three key steps to kicking off a stakeholder analysis:
    • Make a list of all the stakeholders that the project impacts. 
    • Determine the level of interest and influence of each stakeholder. 
      • Influence measures how much power a stakeholder has and how much the stakeholder’s actions affect the project outcome.
      • Interest is pretty much what it sounds like: How much are the needs of the stakeholder affected by the project operations and outcomes? 
    • Assess their ability to participate, and find ways to involve them. 

The power grid is a super useful two-by-two grid used for conducting a stakeholder analysis. We use the power grid to assign each stakeholder’s level of importance to the project, measuring their interest and influence. The position of the stakeholder on the grid usually determines their active role in the project. The higher the interest and influence, the more important the stakeholder is to the project’s success. 

  • The stakeholder power grid is a two-by-two grid used for conducting a stakeholder analysis. The power grid assigns each stakeholder a level of importance to the project using two measures: interest and influence.
  • Creating a grid like this is an effective way to track who should be communicated with and when.

Techniques to Manage Stakeholders

  • The first group of stakeholders are the key players or key stakeholders. You’ll find these people in the top right corner of the grid. 
    • To best manage key stakeholders, you’ll want to closely partner with them to reach the desired outcomes. 
  • You’ll find stakeholders with higher influence but lower interest in the top left corner of the grid. 
    • To manage these stakeholders, you’ll want to consult with them and meet their needs. Their opinions and input are important to the project. The Director of Product has high influence, but may not be vested in day-to-day activities, and therefore will have a lower interest.
  • Stakeholders with lower influence but high interest are in the right bottom corner of the grid. 
    • For these stakeholders, you’ll want to show consideration for them by keeping them up-to-date on the project. It’s unlikely they’ll need a say in what’s going on, but keeping them informed is important. For example, the customer success team may have lower influence but high interest since they’ll work directly with clients on the new product. 
  • Stakeholders with low influence and low interest. You’ll find these in the bottom left corner. 
    • They’re the least important of the stakeholders, but this doesn’t mean that they don’t matter. It might just be that for this particular project, they aren’t as integral. So for this project, you mainly want to monitor them, keeping them in the know.

Create a steering committee made up of high influence and high-interest stakeholders. These people will be the most senior decision-making body on any project. They have the authority to make changes to the budget and approve updates to the timeline or scope. The project manager isn’t a member of the committee, but they’re responsible for bringing the right project information to the steering committee so that decisions can be quickly made. 

How you engage your stakeholders from this point on depends on your particular situation. There are different ways to involve each stakeholder, and you have to be strategic to get helpful and relevant input from the right people at the right time. You’ll want to meet with some stakeholders every single day, and others you’ll just send periodic updates to. 

Stakeholder buy-in is the process of involving these people in decision-making to hopefully reach a broader consensus on the organization’s future. 

  • To get stakeholders to buy-in on the project, you’ll have to pay particular attention to your high-impact stakeholders and make sure they feel looped in.
  • You’ll want to explain to them how the project will help them achieve their goals, and you want to have their support later on if any issues come up. 

Here are some important things to keep in mind when communicating with stakeholders:

  • If you have one main stakeholder, that stakeholder is likely to be highly influential and needs constant communication. But if you’re on a larger project with numerous stakeholders, they won’t be quite as involved in the day-to-day tasks. For stakeholders who need time to make decisions about the project, over-communicate early on. For example, hold frequent meetings and send daily end-of-day progress emails. This way, they have enough time to weigh the options and make decisions.
  • Think about the level of project details each stakeholder needs. You don’t want to spend time diving deep with stakeholders that just need a project summary. For example, the facilities team that delivers the product doesn’t need daily updates on vendor pricing or website issues. On the flip side, do spend time updating key members that need frequent updates. The sales team will need to know pricing and availability changes, so a weekly check-in might make sense here.

Prioritizing Stakeholders And Generating Their Buy-in

A project manager’s ability to balance stakeholder requirements, get their buy-in, and understand when and how to involve them is key to successfully fulfilling a project.  

It is key to keep stakeholders organized in order to understand when and how to involve them at the right time.

Stakeholder analysis is a useful tool that project managers use to understand stakeholders’ needs and help minimize hiccups during your project life cycle.

Conducting A Stakeholder Analysis

    • Make a list of all the stakeholders the project impacts. When generating this list, ask yourself: Who is invested in the project? Who is impacted by this project? Who contributes to this project? 
    • Determine the level of interest and influence for each stakeholder—this step helps you determine who your key stakeholders are. The higher the level of interest and influence, the more important it will be to prioritize their needs throughout the project. 
    • Assess stakeholders’ ability to participate and then find ways to involve them. Various types of projects will yield various types of stakeholders—some will be active stakeholders with more opinions and touchpoints and others will be passive stakeholders, preferring only high-level updates and not being involved in the day-to-day. That said, just because a stakeholder does not participate as often as others do not mean they are not important. There are lots of factors that will play a role in determining a stakeholder’s ability to participate in a project, like physical distance from the project and their existing workload.

You might want to form a steering committee during some projects. A steering committee is a collection of key stakeholders who have a high level of power and interest in a project. A steering committee can influence multiple departments within the organization, which means that they have the potential to release a greater number of resources to the project manager.

A power grid shows stakeholder interest in the project versus their influence over the project. This four-quadrant tool helps project managers evaluate how to manage their stakeholders. It is used to determine the appropriate level of engagement required by the project team needed to gain the stakeholders’ trust and buy-in.

Take the time at the start of the project to establish your stakeholder approach. List the stakeholders and then place them into the appropriate places on the grid. Being able to visualize their placement will help you manage communications and expectations. Having a quick reference tool to drive your communication actions will also allow you to have the ability to spend more time doing other tasks on your project. 

While these tools help organize information, they do not necessarily make the difference between successful and unsuccessful stakeholder engagement. What will make for successful stakeholder engagement is the project manager’s ability to know their stakeholders’ motivations and inspirations. This takes time, interpersonal skills, and insight into the organization’s internal political workings.