A stakeholder is someone inside or outside the organization that has an interest in the outcomes of the project. Some are more important to the life of the project, such as the sponsor, steering committee or project team members (which may include technical or business leads/supervisors) and the project manager, of course. Others are no less important but are involved only in parts of the project, such as subject matter experts, cross-functional managers, and suppliers.
Understanding who your stakeholders are, and why their needs are important to the success of the project, is a key responsibility of any project manager. Sharing this information with the project team, and asking the team to help define the answers, is important if the project is to produce a real solution. For the organization, the overall goal is to capture the value of the challenging opportunity or pressing business need. For the end user of the project’s result, the overall goal is to receive the actual product, service or result and find that it meets their needs.
Stakeholder focus is the lifeblood of successful project relationships. Stakeholders have varying needs at different project stages. These needs may involve communication, establishing a sound relationship, feeling trusted and relevant, and understanding how their work is contributing to successfully meeting project objectives.
Good project managers begin their projects by identifying stakeholders, understanding their role in the project, identifying their project-related expectations and, relative to other stakeholders, confirming common expectations and resolving conflicting expectations. Once this is done the job of managing stakeholders really begins.
Primary project stakeholders will be a part of the project for the duration. Their information needs, inputs, and decision-making will vary over that time, but will broadly be focused on seeing the project to a successful conclusion. Other stakeholders typically have a shorter involvement at some point in the project, usually a more specific role in completing activities and tasks either of a functional (e.g. legal, marketing, human resources) or of a technical (e.g. application-specific, contractor, supplier) nature.
Effective stakeholder management requires information, which requires communication. The role of the stakeholder will determine the amount of information they require. For example, the information a sponsor requires will be different from that of a team specialist. This is also linked to other project activities, such as progress reporting, stakeholder updates, and day-to-day communication.
The key to successful stakeholder communication is to avoid wasting project resources through unnecessary data collection and to focus on stakeholder decision requirements. Two strategies include:
Determine minimum information needs by asking the following questions:
- What decisions require information?
- What minimal amount of information is necessary to make that decision?
- When is that information required and by whom?
Determine the simplest, most direct and least time-consuming methods for collecting needed information.
Build trust by making sure that all stakeholders are aware of information reporting requirements and the purpose served by each. Solicit stakeholder input to increase the efficiency and relevance of information reporting activities.
The more you know about your stakeholders, the more likely you are to successfully meet their needs.