A brief description of a stakeholder is that a stakeholder is a person or organization who may be positively or negatively impacted by your project.
That can be a large group of people. Think about it - when you are working on a large project or program just about everyone you pass in the hallway is a stakeholder. How are you supposed to manage all of these groups and interests?
You cannot. What you want to consider is how can you strategically manage the various groups and interests? You cannot give everyone the same amount of time and attention, unless that amount of time and attention is ZERO. (Of course that is a bad idea.) This means that you need to spend some time identifying the various parties impacted by your work
. You want to do this as part of your planning - so that your actions are proactive not reactive. Some people will receive more of your time and attention. This is not a commentary on their value as a human being; it is about their impact to your project.
How do you know who these people are? Some you know because they are already involved with your project. If you are not 100% certain you can begin by asking these questions:
It does not hurt to revisit these questions throughout the project. Things change, staff members come and go and levels of participation change too.
- Who will make a contribution to the effort?
- Who will be impacted, who will have to do something new or different because of this project?
- Who will be expected to participate in telling others about your work?
- Who is signing contracts or procuring items for your project?
- Are vendors participating? If so how?
Once you identify your stakeholders you want to know more about them or to consider what you do know about them. This is not to be nosey or to gossip. It is so that you can best leverage relationships and so that you can devise a communication strategy that whenever possible strengthens professional relationships between all stakeholders.
Things you want to know:
This is information that you will treat as confidential.
- Do they make decisions vs. influence?
- Are they for/against the project?
- Their level of participation?
- Their relationship with other stakeholders?
- Their relationship with you.
- What do you need from them on this project?
- What are they getting from the project?
- What are their strengths & weaknesses?
Most politically savvy people are not going to come out and say that they are not in favor or your project. You may already know this is the case or you learn it. You want to make note of it and plan accordingly. If someone is difficult - again they may not know it or care to admit it - but you will plan for them being difficult so that you can navigate the challenges they bring.
The truth is that the person you wish to avoid is the person you really need to spend time with. You may never turn a difficult person into an easy person to deal with, but you can mitigate the challenges they bring. It is almost certain that the more you ignore someone who is difficult, the more difficult they will become later.
Of course if you spend all your time and attention on someone who is difficult, you risk annoying those who are on board with your project. That is why this is about balance.
You can also leverage relationships - partnering people who work well together, placing someone who is enthusiastic about your project with someone who is less enthusiastic. Or put together a group who all gets along well and one person who is difficult. At some point though, you do want to put your 'easy' people together with your 'difficult' people. You may not want to wait until the very end to do this because it might be more disruptive at the end of the project. If you place them together earlier, they MIGHT hash out their differences (in terms of your project anyway) BEFORE final decisions need to be made.
Now you see why Stakeholder Management should be part of your initial plan.
When you communicate with people strategically your communications will be more successful. When you are purposeful about placing people together you will build stronger relationships. You don't want to feel like you meet your project objectives despite
the people around you; you want to feel like you met your project objectives because of
the people around you.