Identifying and Managing your Project Stakeholders

Pleasing the right stakeholders throughout your project lifecycle is important. If their expectations aren’t met, the project can quickly be deemed a failure.

Understanding who your stakeholders are, what they need, and how to keep them happy will go a long way in making sure your team delivers.

Here are our tips for managing stakeholders.

What is a Stakeholder?

First off, you need to understand what a stakeholder is and why they’re important to your project.

A stakeholder is any individual, group, or organization impacted by the outcome of a project. They can be within or outside the body sponsoring the project. And they can have a positive or negative influence on the project.

Stakeholders might include:

  • client leadership,
  • senior management,
  • project team members,
  • customers,
  • or anyone else with high interest or power over the project.

Depending on the size of your project, there will be many groups and tiers of people necessary to complete your project. Managing each of them is its own challenge, but identifying and managing your key stakeholders is crucial since they are the members most invested in the success of the project.

Identifying your Stakeholders

Not all stakeholders are created equal. While a project may impact many people, key project stakeholders stand out for a few common reasons:

  • They have the decision making power to define the course of the project.
  • They have the power to define what success means for the project.
  • Their decisions affect larger groups of people.
  • Their level of satisfaction with the project affects future business.

At the outset of any project, the project manager needs to identify who the key stakeholders are within a project’s scope. If an important person or group is left out, critical information and insights relevant to the project will be lost.

You’ll want to start by sitting down with your client and/or upper management to determine who your key stakeholders are and what they’re specifically invested in as an outcome of the project.

Managing Stakeholders

Like any other member of a project, stakeholders are people, too, which means some will be easier to manage than others. One of the soft skills of project management is learning to deal with a variety of personalities.

Start by doing what you do with any other aspect of your project: prioritize them. Some stakeholders will be more valuable than others, and some will require more attention during certain phases of the project.

Once you understand how to prioritize your key stakeholders, you can focus on meeting each one’s needs according to the expectations and objectives set out by the scope of the project.

Creating Positive Relationships

Trust is earned through proactive communication and delivering what you promise.

One thing you’ll come to learn is that stakeholders sometimes have conflicting expectations or ill-informed opinions. Part of the stakeholder relationship is not just delivering everything the stakeholder wants but helping them understand the bigger picture behind decisions.

If the project runs smoothly, they’ll learn to trust your judgment. But if the project runs into problems that aren’t properly communicated, you could find yourself cast in a place that’s difficult to work your way out of.

Start by interviewing your most important stakeholders, so you understand what they expect directly from them. As the project proceeds, you’ll want to execute the following best practices:

Document all communication. Record all requests and feedback. This allows you to review information for accuracy and share it with other project members for transparency.

Share processes. Let your stakeholders know that each request is subject to review and approval via a formal process, and let them know what that process is. This protects both parties from miscommunications that can negatively affect the project.

Provide frequent status reports. Your stakeholders should never feel like they’re in the dark about the progress of a project. Most likely, you will be much closer to the day-to-day workings of the project, so they will rely on you to keep them in the loop. Regular and timely status reports reassure anxious stakeholders and answer questions before they need to be asked.

Communicate issues. Your stakeholders can easily catch wind of any rumors or negative gossip related to your project. It’s always best if they hear negative news from you first. Don’t just share the positive aspects of the project with them and hope they don’t notice any missing information. Be upfront about things like delays or missed deadlines and provide context. Your stakeholders will take your honesty as a sign that they can trust you, and resolving issues promptly will add to that trust.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know what a stakeholder is and how to identify and manage them, it’s important to continue to follow these best practices throughout the lifecycle of your project. Stakeholders are constantly acquiring new information, and this can lead them to try to change their expectations of the project. It’s your job to guide them towards the best decisions, make concessions when necessary, and support your team along the way.

Projects are always changing. The better you manage that change, the greater success your team will see.

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