Project management is commonly believed to be the administration of the scope, time, and cost associated with a project. Yet, even when the project-triangle is carefully managed a project can still fail. Although all of these elements are crucial in the determination of project success, a lesser known (and often lesser managed) function within project management is stakeholder management. Without proper stakeholder management, a project is at far greater risk of failure.
The Association for Project Management defines stakeholders as those involved in the work or affected by the outcome of the project, program or portfolio. Most of these projects, programs and portfolios will have a variety of stakeholders with different and sometimes competing interests. To avoid unnecessary problems, APM identified four steps that need to be taken by the project team to properly manage the various stakeholders:
- Step 1: Identifying Stakeholders
Every project has its own unique set of current and potential stakeholders. Identifying stakeholders can be done through “research, interviews, brainstorming, checklists, lessons learned and so on” (APM, 2017). Identifying the stakeholders is crucial as it leads to the completion of the following steps.
- Step 2: Assessing Their Interests and Influence
Once the stakeholders have been identified, the project management team needs to assess their interests and influence. This allows the project management team to properly manage stakeholder expectations. It is also important to attempt to prioritize stakeholders based on the potential influence they hold over the project. Time and resources are limited, so it is important to “prioritize the stakeholders so that more resources are allocated to those stakeholders that have the greatest potential impact on the project (positive or negative)” (Eskerod & Jepsen, 2013).
- Step 3: Developing Communication Management Plans
Whether or not these expectations are realistic should be clearly communicated and leads to the next step of developing communication management plans. “You cannot manage project stakeholders properly if you lock yourself up in your office. Effective stakeholder management requires continual interactions” (Eskerod & Jepsen, 2013). However, coordinating these interactions can be challenging. Stakeholders are often exceptionally busy and it is difficult to coordinate calendars to arrange project update and status meetings particularly when there are multiple stakeholders. It is, however, vital during the project programming/planning phase, for time to be set aside to study the stakeholder’s calendars and schedule meetings well in advance.
- Step 4: Engaging with Stakeholders
Last but not least, you must follow through with the communication plan you developed and engage with the stakeholders. This should be done through monthly or quarterly project updates (in person, via phone, or by email) that details project status, potential problems or challenges, and stakeholder concerns and responsibilities. The stakeholders need to be informed about what is happening to their project and the possible effects on their overall expectations.
A project will be most successful when stakeholders are managed properly. Developing relationships and having clear communication plans in place prior to the execution of the work is crucial to ensure that the stakeholders are not interfering with the delivery of the project and are, at the same time, satisfied with the outcome.
Association for Project Management. (2017). Stakeholder Management. Princes Risborough, UK. APM. Retrieved from: https://www.apm.org.uk/body-of-knowledge/delivery/integrative-management/stakeholder-management/
Eskerod, P. & Jepsen, A. (2013). Project Stakeholder Management. Surrey, England. Gower Publishing Limited.