Stakeholders make many important decisions during project initiation and planning. In light of this one key question is, do you know your stakeholders?
The effects of a project are like ripples caused by a stone hitting the water. Regardless of which quadrant your stakeholder is in, the circular ripples fan out and impact all quadrants. All your stakeholders will eventually feel the impact of your project. You may be aware of potential project opponents, and, hopefully, advocates, but what about innocent bystanders?
Yes, innocent bystanders may not be as apparent, but they can become opponents if you do not understand their stake. You want to know and understand all your project’s stakeholders to limit and deal wisely with opponents, and encourage and support proponents. Ideally you want to consider more than the obvious stakeholders. Knowing your stakeholders enables you to expand your sphere of influence. Know is the key word in this sentence. You cannot influence stakeholders you haven’t considered and don’t know.
This article takes the reader on a tour of the primary generic project stakeholders, and concludes by listing questions to support identification of additional less apparent stakeholders.
Yes, a primary duty and initial task of the project manager is to identify all project stakeholders. Again, many important decisions during the definition and planning stages of a project are made by stakeholders. Failure to identify key stakeholders may result in requirements conflicts and rework at a minimum and, possibly, cancelation of the entire project. Neglecting stakeholders may have dire consequences. In light of this the question is how do we identify stakeholders in a way that captures not just apparent stakeholders, but all potential stakeholders? And are we even aware of the apparent stakeholders most projects encounter?
Sometimes identifying a stakeholder is easy; other times you have to perform a search and rescue operation to find them and bring them onboard. When searching for stakeholders you may ask, “Who is the customer?” or “Who is the project team?,” these are good questions. But a wider net is cast by instead asking “Who will make a contribution?” and “Who will be affected by this project?”. These two questions have a slight change of perspective that may make all the difference in a thorough and comprehensive stakeholder identification effort that truly captures all your stakeholders, both apparent and difficult to spot. These two “wider net” questions are really the golden nugget take away for this article, but new project managers may be helped by taking a tour of the stakeholders found on most projects. Let’s then acquaint ourselves with these generic project stakeholders.
The project manager is like the music conductor that must keep all disparate project groups moving in harmony. Yes, project managers are an obvious stakeholder, and have a primary role and vested interest in the success of any project. And the project manager should take the responsibility to clearly identify stakeholder roles on the project, including them self.
Who are the members of the orchestra? Or who will do the work? The project team is the answer in coordination with the project manager. In addition to company personnel team members may include contractors, vendors, or possibly customers. Yes, customers may play a role in support of system definition efforts.
Management stakeholders include the triad: sponsors, resource managers, and decision makers.
Management – Sponsors
Because of the temporary even ad hoc nature of projects most project managers have limited authority, which can be a serious detriment. The sponsor is the person with formal authority and has ultimate responsibility for the project. The sponsors’ duty is to support or “champion” the project team, and make them successful. The sponsor also reviews and approves the statement-of-work.
Management – Resources
The resource managers are the functional managers that have control over the workers assigned to the project team and decide when they are available. With the exception of project-oriented organizations functional managers are responsible for an organizational unit. These functional project managers should approve the statement of work and the project plan, as your project’s resources will come from their department.
Management – Decision Makers
Management support projects by making timely decisions based on the facts presented by the project team. The question becomes “Who are these managers with decision making authority?” Three possible decision making managers are as follows:
- Managers that have operations affected by your project.
- Managers representing stakeholders, such as the customer.
- Manager to whom the project manager reports.
The customer is usually the first stakeholder project managers think of when developing a list of project stakeholders, and rightly so. The customer pays for the project and, therefore, gets the first and last say on product description, requirements, budget, and quality assurance criteria. But who exactly is the customer? Is it the customer the employees actually using the software on their computers? Or the organizational departmental manager paying for the software? Instead of asking, “Who is the customer?” Ask instead, “What process should I use in determining installation requirements, and who should be involved in making the cost-benefit trade-off decisions? Perhaps, it is helpful to break the customer role into two primary contributors: those who supply requirements and those who provide funding.
Federal, State, and Local Government Agencies
Your project likely may require a permit, an inspection, or approval from a government agency. Are there laws and regulations directly affecting your project? If yes, who represents these laws? Government agencies can be considered external constraints too, but I choose to separate these agencies out into their own section to better highlight them.
An example of an external constraint is a bank your company borrows money from. The bank may require more insurance for your project than you consider necessary. The interface between your computer system and others represents an external constraint. Regardless of whether these external constraints are for or against your project, they may impose their own requirements you must understand. In light of this, a good question to ask is how does my project product connect to existing systems, infrastructure, and processes? And who represents those interfaces.
Just as the ripples from a pebble striking the water fan out in all directions, there you have your 360° panorama of all your potential stakeholders. You may, however, have to take several looks around before all your stakeholders appear on your radar screen.
To help with the identification of less apparent stakeholders included is a list of twenty questions you may ask to support a thorough analysis. It is meant that this blog and list of questions be used to support stakeholder analysis in your next project initiation.
Review this blog and accompanying questions and hopefully you can spot and understand all stakeholders, including innocent bystanders, before they become opponents to your project.
These questions are not in any particular order. Nor are they categorized as stakeholders may straddle across categories.
- Who approves funding for this project?
- Who approves functional requirements?
- Who approves technical requirements?
- Who approves design decisions?
- Who approves changes to requirements?
- Who approves schedule changes?
- Who approves cost changes?
- Person or group who will use the project’s product or service?
- Person setting project related organizational goals?
- Functional manager assigning people to the project team?
- Person who approves contracts for suppliers?
- Manager or executive sponsoring this project?
- Project manager managing this project?
- Person or group that represents organizational policies governing this project?
- Person or group representing regulations or laws affecting this project?
- Innocent bystander, who will have their work disrupted by this project?
- External constraint that will have to change their systems or processes because of this project?
- Person or group benefiting from this project?
- Team members performing the work for this project?
- Will participate in milestone gate decisions to approve moving the project to the next phase.
For a more in-depth review of stakeholders refer to “The Fast Forward MBA in Project Management” by Eric Verzuh.