Identifying and Managing Project Stakeholders

The more important the stakeholder is to the success of the project, the more time and resources you need to devote to maintaining their involvement and commitment.   - The NHS Institute

Managing a project from start to finish requires a lot of hard work and planning. And in the end, somebody will need to do something differently as a result of the project outcomes.

For example, if you implement a new performance development program, both managers and employees will likely need to follow a different process, use different forms, and have different conversations. But how would managers and employees know that they need to make a change in the first place?

As you begin a project – after you work with your sponsor to develop the project charter – one of the next immediate steps is to identify your project stakeholders. Stakeholder management helps identify who is impacted by the change - and how - so you can plan the appropriate engagement strategy, which primarily includes communications and training. In the above example, the managers and employees are two of many stakeholders who would need to be engaged as the new performance development plan is launched.

Here are the key project stakeholders you should include on the stakeholder engagement plan.

  • Sponsors - The role of the project sponsor is to “legitimize the change” – or provide the mandate, direction, resources, oversight, budget, and outward support of the project and its outcomes. Sponsors are also responsible for making decisions, removing roadblocks, and communicating to other stakeholders.
  • Change agents - In order to help make the project a success, you should identify change agents to help deliver and reinforce the key messages. You can organize the change agents by geography, line of business / department, area of expertise, or any way that makes sense based on the project scope.
  • Change targets - Who will actually be impacted by the project or initiative? Once you go live, the change targets are the ones whom you are intending to reach. They will need to understand the change, why it is happening, and what it means for them and/or what they need to do differently to support the change.
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A fun and engaging way to assess your project stakeholders is to gather your project team in a room and facilitate a stakeholder identification and analysis exercise. As a project manager, you are not expected to know who all of the stakeholders are, so getting input from your team is critical. It also is a good way to build an open team dynamic and share ownership of the stakeholder engagement plan.

A simple Excel spreadsheet can be used to identify, assess, plan, and manage project stakeholders. And the process you follow is quite simple:

  • Identify - List all of the project stakeholders.
  • Assess - Determine what the stakeholders need to know, feel, and do as a result of the change. Compare that end state to their current state to identify the gap in knowledge or support.
  • Plan - Develop a plan to close the gap – to get them from their current state to the desired end state. This plan could include communications, training, and other methods of engagement.
  • Manage - Assign the development and delivery of engagement materials to your project team and assess progress. You can add this work to the overall project plan.

One last tip… Every time you lead a stakeholder analysis, take note of any new stakeholders that never came up in prior analyses. You may find that they should be included in the future, so it is good to have them in your back pocket.