Managing Stakeholders for IT Project Success

“Stakeholder” is a term we hear frequently in the association community, particularly when it comes to IT projects.  We need to involve the stakeholders in decisions that will impact them. “Stakeholder Management,” another term we hear frequently, can be defined as the process of creating and maintaining constructive relationships with key parties.  Positive relationships help us manage expectations realistically and move toward achieving organizational goals.

Stakeholder management is more important than you may realize. Our partner, Info-Tech Research Group, which specializes in IT research, indicates that surveys have found that it is the number one factor in CIO and IT project success. And working with your stakeholders is an evergreen process.  The stakeholder landscape shifts constantly, so it is important to have a plan on how to engage with them perpetually. The goal is to make them comfortable with the decisions being made through transparency, involvement, and understanding how the project will be successful.

But--- who are the stakeholders, and how do we involve them successfully?

Identify your stakeholders

The definition of a stakeholder is “any group or individual who can affect or is affected by the achievement of the organization’s objectives” (Freeman, 1984).  That’s pretty general, but the following questions will help you identify who can be considered your stakeholders:

  • Who will be affected by a particular project?
  • Who can have an affect (positive or negative) on a particular project?
  • Who is sponsoring the project?
  • Who benefits from the project?
  • Who loses from the project?
  • Who can approve?
  • Who controls resources?
  • Who implements the changes?

According to Info-Tech, there are typically four types of stakeholders to consider:

  • Direct stakeholders – those who will be directly impacted by decisions
  • Indirect stakeholders – “stakeholders of your stakeholders” who may be affected by decisions indirectly
  • Influencers – those who can influence the decision of the stakeholders
  • Connectors – those who may be positioned between two stakeholders and can have influence on decisions

You will need to think broadly about who your stakeholders are; it’s not just who will be directly impacted by the project. 

Analyze your stakeholders

Having gathered a complete list of your stakeholders, you will want to determine where your stakeholders are in terms of the following:

  • Power - The ability or capability of a stakeholder to effect change.
  • Urgency - The degree of immediacy claimed by a stakeholder.
  • Legitimacy - The perceived validity of a stakeholder's claim.
  • Size - How loud or large a stakeholder's 'voice' is or could become.
  • Contribution - What they have that is of value to you.

Additionally, consider other factors for each stakeholder such as:

  • What are their functions and responsibilities?
  • How do they function (processes, hours of work, etc.)?
  • Who do they report to, who reports to them, who do they influence, etc.?
  • What is their motivation, purpose, value to the project, importance to the organization, etc.
  • What is their ability, their budget, their skills?

Work to understand how influential your stakeholder is.  Do they have the power to effect change?  Do they feel that their needs are urgent?  How loud or large is their voice (or how large can it become)? 

Consider what motivates your stakeholders. How are they directly impacted by the project?  What is their attitude about the project?  Is their interest based on financial issues?  Is it political? Will their resources be required for the project and ongoing support?  Does the stakeholder have another agenda which will affect the project? 

What is their support style?  What you are trying to determine in analyzing your stakeholders is this:  will they be a supporter or a blocker of your project?  Or are they neutral, uncommitted to the project and not convinced one way or another of its merit?  Then you can begin to develop a plan to manage your relationship with each stakeholder in the most positive way.  Info-Tech suggests typical support styles include:

  • Supporter - Committed to your initiative and providing whole-hearted support.
  • Evangelist - Committed to your objectives but are apathetic in their advocacy.
  • Neutral - Not very committed to your objectives and not willing to expend much energy either to support or detract from them.
  • Blocker - Do not support your cause and have necessary energy to impede the achievement of your objectives.

Managing Your Stakeholders

A simple map of your stakeholders (below) can help you analyze where you need to spend time focusing on stakeholder management, and what the best strategy for engagement might be.

Source: Info-Tech Research Group

Taking the result of the map above, you can drill further into how stakeholders will engage with the project, such as who will be players, mediators, noisemakers, and spectators (described below).  It’s helpful to expand your map to include these.

Once you’ve expanded your mapping, a suggested next step is to chart out how to manage your stakeholders. For each stakeholder, plan out how to manage your engagement with them, using typical interaction methods as well as personalized techniques based on what you know about them as individuals. As every stakeholder is unique, they may not prefer to be interacted with using the stereotypical roles.

Info-Tech suggests the following approaches for certain types of stakeholders.  

  • Players - These are the stakeholders that will be most fully engaged in the project. Typical engagement approaches include:
    • Encourage their advocacy.
    • Encourage input in public forums.
    • Ask them to promote the agenda to their peers.
    • Be open and listen to their viewpoints.
    • Adjust your strategy to accommodate their needs.
    • Obtain the assistance of influencers to persuade this player.
  • Mediators – These stakeholders are likely to be connectors between other stakeholders and your project. Typical approaches include:
    • Encourage their participation by consulting with them.
    • Treat them very individually in their own business context.
    • Understand their business perspective.
  • Noisemakers – Noisemaker stakeholders typically bring to light issues and topics and have the “loudest” voices of the project which can influence others
    • Focus on this person’s relationship with a key stakeholder.
    • Be transparent.
    • Address issues early and provide proactive solutions.
  • Spectators – Spectators fall into the range of those who are not actively participating but must be kept informed of project progress and objectives.
    • Use a reliable method (e.g., email, intranet, blog, twitter, etc.) to keep them informed.

One last step to maximize your understanding of who you are going to be working with and how to engage them is to, based on your Stakeholder Map, Info-Tech suggests prioritizing your stakeholders in the following order:

  • Blocker-players (high-influence challengers)
  • Supporter-players (high-influence supporters)
  • Blocker-noisemakers (low-influence challengers)
  • Supporter-noisemakers (low-influence supporters)

At the end of this process, you can move ahead confidently with the understanding of who your stakeholders are and how you can most effectively engage them to achieve the objectives of the project. 

But one last thing--- track what works!

Take note of what works and what does not work throughout your project.  Keep track of how engagement with your identified stakeholders was successful or not as successful.  In most associations, you will be engaging the same stakeholders for future projects.  Maintaining data on how best to work with stakeholders also informs the success of future projects. 

As with any project, IT or otherwise, much of how well it goes depends on the people involved. Leverage your insights to the best advantage through thoughtful management and understanding of your stakeholders.

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