21 Questions: Understanding Project Stakeholder Expectations

Asking your stakeholders the right questions is central to successful project management

October 23, 2023 | Denise Gifford

21 questions for stakeholdersUnderstanding the expectations of project stakeholders is absolutely critical to successful stakeholder management. Do you know what your stakeholders expect? If not, your project may already be heading down the wrong path.

In order to pinpoint stakeholder expectations, it’s important to first know who your various stakeholders are, and then dig deeper into how they feel about the project. You’ll want to understand the issues and requirements of the project from their point of view.

Identifying stakeholder expectations is key to the success of your project because your stakeholders, as a group, will usually understand the situation better than you do on your own. The situation may look quite different when viewed from different perspectives, and each stakeholder might have different expectations. What’s more, you may risk rejection of your finished product if your customer feels his/her expectations and priorities haven’t been considered.

Asking the right questions will allow you to clarify goals, gain insights, and foster communication with others. For a better understanding of stakeholder expectations about the project, ask these questions:

Expectations about the project’s long-term impact

  • What will be different one year after this project is completed?
  • How does this project support the mission of the department, division, and/or company?
  • In what ways do you see the project helping you achieve your mission?
  • What problems do you see this project solving? What is the evidence of the problems?
  • In what ways will this project be a solution to the problems?
  • Which of these problems is the most important to solve?
  • What happens if this project is not done?

Expectations about project completion

  • What, precisely, do you expect the project team to create or implement as part of its responsibilities?
  • What are the most important immediate outcomes you see for this project?
  • What tangible changes do you expect to see at the completion of this project?
  • What, specifically, do you expect to be different when this project is completed?
  • If the project team could accomplish just one thing, what would that be?
  • How will you know if this project has been successfully completed?
  • When this project is officially completed, what will make you say: “This project was right on target?”

Expectations about the process of carrying out the project

  • What do you think could go wrong with this project?
  • What are the major risks to the project’s success?
  • What are the most important problems to avoid in completing this project?
  • What suggestions do you have regarding how the project team should approach its job?
  • What concerns you most about this project?
  • If you were to identify the major problem to be faced by the project team, what would it be?
  • What are the major obstacles or impediments to the success of this project?

Once you’ve used this list of questions with your stakeholders, your knowledge of their expectations can be factored into your project plan. You can use this information to help construct project goals and objectives. By investing the time up-front to gain an understanding of your stakeholders’ expectations, you will set the framework for effective stakeholder management, which you can then build on throughout the life of your project.

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  • About The Author
  • Denise Gifford is co-founder of InfoWorks® International, which has provided consulting and training to companies worldwide in project management and related skills. Prior to leading InfoWorks, Denise worked in sales and marketing management, and as a consultant to the financial services industry. She holds her MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.