Stakeholders: Who's Who in the Zoo?

by Workfront
, 3 min read

Last month's post looked at different definitions of the word ‘change' and how, when not clearly defined, can result in a host of issues and noise pollution. This month I'm taking one of the terms and expanding it. The aim here is to challenge how you think about it and increase the level of attention you give it as you work and manage projects. There will actually be two posts spread over this and next month. The term I'm going to expand on is Transition and the two particular areas I've singled out for attention are:

  • Stakeholders; and
  • Handover

Quick recap. Transition is "the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another." The key factor for a successful transition is to make transition an inherent part of a projects language and messaging right from the outset. The more you talk in real terms about what tomorrow's way of working needs to support, ie., the business drivers and direction, the more normalised the inevitable change will become.

To achieve this, a good project manager must do two things up front:

  1. Get to grips with the purpose of the project. Find out why it exists and what business benefit(s) it will deliver. This builds knowledge, understanding, and gives an indication of what tomorrow's way of working could look like.
  2. Know who the stakeholders are. Know what is important to them, what they need and expect from the project and why. For example, their motivation, level of comprehension, and objectives.

Based on the assumption that No. 1 is satisfied, let's focus on No. 2 here. The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®, 1996 version) defines project stakeholders as individuals and organisations who are actively involved in the project, or whose interests may be positively or negatively affected as a result of project execution or successful project completion. Stakeholder identification is often difficult but must be done thoroughly for the project manager to know who's who in the zoo and put in place strategies to manage conflicting needs and expectations, and help stakeholders transition to a different way of working.

Stakeholder identification cannot be underestimated. It's a big task. A good reference is The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF®). It is a framework for enterprise architecture that's an excellent resource (challenging your thinking here) for project managers. The key facets of stakeholder identification are:

Stakeholder landscape – Here you're creating a picture of who's who in the zoo with regards their functions, ie., Corporate, Internal and External functions.

Stakeholder positions– Now it's time to identify individuals in each group and rank them as high, medium or low in terms of their:

  • Ability to disrupt change
  • Current understanding
  • Required understanding
  • Current commitment
  • Required commitment
  • Required support

Stakeholder management approach – This is effectively a power v. interest matrix, which helps determine the strategy to adopt for engaging with them.

Stakeholder map – Now your zoo becomes more solid. With individuals listed in each functional group you can add their key concerns, the management approach you're taking, and key artefacts for their input or validation during the project.

You'll find more detail and examples of each of these on the TOGAF® website. Review and adjust or use what makes sense for you and your project. The effort applied to this work gives a solid foundation for developing the Communication Plan, acts as input to the Risk work, and sets the scene for all on the project team. It also gives you a reference baseline for transitioning people and processes as the project moves through its lifecycle.

This process, way of thinking about transition, and resulting knowledge helps the project manager keep change front mind while making it less threatening. That is an important reminder for every interaction project managers have with direct or indirect stakeholders as it helps them maintain practical connection between the project and daily operations and moves the focus from ‘change' to a natural transition.

What approach do you take when identifying stakeholders, their level of interest or influence? And, what do you do that makes change a natural and unthreatening part of your projects?

For more on transition download my Principles for Intelligent Transition Whitepaper from the Unlike Before website.

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