A stakeholder refers to any person who has a stake in a given project. Project managers will tell you that running a project involves lots of planning just from the onset, days or months before it commences.
Stakeholders have an immense impact on your project, and without proper management, one could face project delays, termination, political intervention or even resource drain. You, therefore, need the best stakeholder management strategies to see your projects through.
This article explores eight of the best stakeholder management strategies based on industry practice. This should help you understand your stakeholders and their expectations to reduce risks and pull a successful project.
1. Stakeholder Identification
The first strategy for successful stakeholder management is stakeholder identification. You need to know who your stakeholders are and their claim to the given project. This is not limited to only people but also organizations and bodies.
Therefore, it would be best if you evaluated anybody who has a stake or role in the completion of the overall project. Keep in mind that project stakeholders can play different positions towards the completion of the project.
Come up with a list of anybody who is sponsoring the project/ the team, the people in the sales department or even customers, or any other person or entity investing its resources and time in the project.
Once you know who your stakeholders are, you need to evaluate their expectations and how they will measure up to the project’s success. You should be prepared for varying results since they play different roles.
2. Analyzing The Level Of Influence Of Each Stakeholder
The next step after identifying your stakeholders is analyzing the influence they have on the project. A project manager should have a clear understanding of each stakeholder’s levels of interest in the project.
Key stakeholders usually have significant influence or power over the project, and they consist of sponsors and at times, consumers or customers depending on the project. Make sure that the key stakeholders remain engaged all through the project.
Engaging the stakeholders will also allow you to apply and implement specific changes to the project efficiently. This strategy is often depicted in a grid by pitching the influence against the interest. Once you understand the level of power and interest, you will have an easier time coming up with a communication strategy for the stakeholders.
The easiest way of measuring the level of influence the stakeholders have on the project is by identifying their status on a ranking of high to low. High is reserved for stakeholders who have the power to impact decisions, timeframes and results.
Medium is meant for stakeholders with a considerable interest in the project but have a relatively lower power level and cannot affect a project change. Low is for those with no or little ability to influence the outcome of the project.
You will know the information that different stakeholders need and how best to relay it to them once you understand their interest and influence in the project. This will help you avoid giving too much or too little information which may have a tremendous repercussion.
However, managers must also confirm the stakeholders’ role once again to avoid miscommunications during the course of the project.
3. Identifying Triggers
You have to understand that people are different, and therefore, there will be no uniformity in reacting to project action by various stakeholders. However, you can avoid complaints by identifying other triggers, a strategy that may seem small but is extremely powerful.
A manager must understand and be responsive to the stakeholders. This is a quantitative and qualitative management trait that cuts across the entire organization. Managers must learn to engage and be engaged at the same time.
Stakeholders can react because of different reasons. However, some of the main ones are experiencing changes in the environment or a change in business expectation. It would be best if you came up with a list of potential known triggers, including anything that may threaten or disrupt their standard patterns.
The next step is to estimate the impact of the reactions that follow the triggers may have on your projects and whether you will need targeted communication or mitigation. Some may also require an alternative solution, which you have to figure out for effective management.
4. Leveraging Stakeholder’s Perception
Stakeholder management entails lots of things. Stakeholders are often diverse and therefore have different views and ideologies. A manager must look for opportunities that may arise based on their perception.
It is essential that a manager focuses on stakeholders who may cause disruptions as the project continues or before even its commencement. If you do not have a good strategy, any challenge from an activist group or stakeholder can threaten your project or operations.
The best way to avoid this is to build a relationship based on trust, transparency and mutual benefit to all stakeholders, which will arise only if there is honest engagement. You need to genuinely understand the nature of the stakeholders, which can be the government.
It would help if you also displayed trust-building behaviours among the stakeholders. You have to listen to them and acknowledge the importance of whatever they say, even if you have a divergent view. A manager must know how to manage interactions.
Do not forget to also focus on those who are for your project and view it as favourable even as you attend to those who may cause disruptions. Identify both stakeholders and investigate the opportunities that may help you leverage their positive perception as you go on with the project.
Also, learn not to treat those who are opposed or have something to say on the project as adversaries since their voices also count.
5. Come Up With a Good Communication Strategy
It is pretty evident that the next step after identifying stakeholders and analyzing their level of influence is thinking about a good communication strategy. One of the biggest mistakes that a manager can ever do is coming up with a communication strategy that cuts across.
Specific stakeholders expect to be addressed in a given manner, and therefore, when you decide on the same approach used on those with low influence, you will be making a huge mistake.
There are certain considerations that will help you settle on the best approach. First, determine the preferred method of communication. Stakeholders are different, and therefore, their preferred communication means can never be the same.
Whereas some may prefer a weekly summary email, others may expect a daily phone call. The best way to know their mode of communication is by meeting and asking them. Successful managers know how to balance each communication style with the level of influence of the stakeholders.
By doing this, they do not spend a lot of time communicating with low influence stakeholders and ignoring those at the top of the food chain. Second, one should create a communication schedule which will keep the managers engaged throughout the project.
Successful managers know that facilitating stakeholder communications recurringly is essential and should not be limited at the beginning or end of the project. A manager must update stakeholders regularly and not assume that a quiet one is a happy one.
A useful hack is to create an expectation for the stakeholders on how the communication will be and how they can always expect receiver updates.
6. Performing Risk/ Change Impact Analysis
Stakeholder management is more than what meets the eye. A good manager must analyze the impact of each stakeholder on the project objectives. This is closely tied to their expectations and level of influence.
One must also be aware of the possibility of unforeseen circumstances that may inform a stakeholder’s decision to extend the project’s budget or deadline to meet changing audience requirement.
To overcome these obstacles, a manager should understand how the stakeholders define success, especially significant influencers. Specific actions need to be taken for successful risk/ changer impact analysis.
First, a manager must identify advocates and potential enemies. One must know the stakeholders who are advocating for the project and those who are against it. In short, he/ she should establish those who are willing to advance the project and those who can stand in the way of progress.
The best way of doing this is by assessing past projects that involved similar stakeholders and identifying the issues that arose. This way, managers can have a clear vision of dealing with potential problems in the new project.
Secondly, a manager should create space for conflict resolution, and the best way to go about it is assessing the outcome that one is looking for. One should then focus on all the milestones and ask the stakeholders some of the things they feel could go wrong.
Managers and stakeholders will then identify some of the risks that need to be closely monitored, and those that do not pose a threat. Let us discuss this further in the next step.
It is easier to develop a proper mitigation plan when you know your stakeholders and have a perfect understanding of their influence and triggers. You must ensure that the plan you settle on is proactive.
When coming up with one, ensure that you consider the risks that you are willing to accept, share or avoid. You must also come up with ways to reduce their impact if you decide to accept them.
You need to identify your negotiables and non-negotiables early enough and think about how you will go about them. Having said this, you have to accept that there are certain risks whose impacts can only be mitigated but cannot be done away with.
While doing this, make sure that you involve the team of stakeholders. This will help you improve the project and show credibility. The stakeholders will also feel like they own the mitigation measure, which will work to your advantage.
8. Executing Plans
You do not have to plan extensively if you do not execute what you have decided on. Project execution is one of the essential parts of stakeholder management. However, for this to be a success, there are a few steps that you should look out for if you want to be successful.
First, ensure that you engage the stakeholder before and during the execution. It is always better to over-communicate or appear to be doing so than to assume that the stakeholders are happy and satisfied.
Your stakeholder influence analysis should help you come up with a proper balance of interaction. What does this mean? Always strive to ensure that critical stakeholders or those with more significant influence are always kept on the loop. Such people should be involved in all the business and project decision.
You should also involve those with less influence, just that it does not have to be as thorough as the former. Second, feedback is of the essence. You will never know if you are doing something right without input from the stakeholders and at times, on-lookers.
Over time, industry practice has shown that the most significant determinant of effective stakeholder management is time and experience. Once you have followed all the laid down strategies, take some time and ask for feedback from the different stakeholders.
The answer you get should help you make adjustments and improve on areas that need you to.
We have covered some of the best strategies when dealing with stakeholders. Keep in mind that they apply to all stakeholders and not just a given faction. Keep in mind that even the lowest-tier stakeholder can influence the perception of a given service or product.
The last thing a manager wants is an unhappy stakeholder. Such persons can negatively drag a viable project. Therefore, when coming up with a project plan, make sure that you heavily consider stakeholder management.
You may have the best team globally, but if the stakeholders are unhappy, that will be all in vain. Ensure that you keep them engaged and valued. Ensure that you come up with the right communication strategy and not just a common means of communication.