“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?
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:
According to Info-Tech, there are typically four types of stakeholders to consider:
You will need to think broadly about who your stakeholders are; it’s not just who will be directly impacted by the project.
Having gathered a complete list of your stakeholders, you will want to determine where your stakeholders are in terms of the following:
Additionally, consider other factors for each stakeholder such as:
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.