Identifying Project Stakeholders

Identify stakeholdersAs a project manager if you are able to identify stakeholders properly and come up with strategy to manage their expectations, much of your success is guaranteed!

We saw in an earlier post about identifying a stakeholder that “stakeholder is a person or organization, whose interests may be positively or negatively affected by execution or completion of the project.”

Identifying stakeholders is a very important activity. If one or two crucial stakeholders are missed, rest of the Communication Management processes will not yield good results no matter how well they are executed.

Consider this. What if one of the missed stakeholders comes along during project execution phase and requests for a major change? The change cannot be ignored since the person is an important stakeholder. Moreover, her interests and influence on the project were not considered during planning process. This can be a recipe for disaster. You can imagine how major issues can arise on the project if an important stakeholder does not get a required information on time.

It is important to understand that stakeholders’ interest can influence the project positively or negatively.

Consider this example we saw earlier –

State government puts up a proposal to change the path of river Netravathi so that dry land areas above the Western Ghats can be irrigated. This will benefit hundreds of farmers who will get water for most part of the year for irrigation. However, a set of farmers whose farm lands will be acquired by the government for this project stage a protest.

Here, the farmers staging protest are negative stakeholders, because if the project was to succeed they will lose their land.

A project may have negative stakeholders, and they provide a great opportunity for you to create strong support for the project.


Effectively address their concerns, and they become advocates of the project – which is great for project success! This is one of the goals of stakeholder management strategy.

When we identify stakeholders we also collect as much of information about them as possible. After all, we need to who can influence our project (positively, or negatively) and accordingly form strategies to deal with them in a way that is most beneficial for the project.

This is a process that is often repeated – either whenever stakeholders change and it comes to our knowledge, or at the beginning of each phase.

Whats the deal?

Pretty much all the documents we’ve created till now since inception of the project. That’s what we’ve got to bank upon.

We need Project charter, being the very first document created on the project, that has reference to internal and external stakeholders. This is required to be studied to identify as many stakeholders as we possibly can.

The business plan, benefits management plan, agreements that are in place.

If your company bids a project with seller, OR if you have a contract in place for your project, OR if you are planning on contracting out part of the project – then there are external stakeholders in picture. This is the reason you would need these procurement documents (or any other name it is called by) as an input to this process.

As we know this is a process that is repeated as many times as required. And hence we’ll use communications management plan, stakeholders management plan, requirements documentation, issue log, and change log too.

We may find existing templates, lessons learned, and stakeholder register from earlier projects to be helpful.

Steps of Identifying Stakeholders

At a high level, the following 3 steps related to ‘data’ will help us identify most of the stakeholders.

Most, I say.

Because by definition, even those that THINK they are impacted by the project ARE stakeholders in the project. And assuming the project manager is not a mind reader, she would have no chance on earth to identify ALL The stakeholders of a project going by the strict definition of the word! 🙂

Now, back to playing with ‘Data’.

  1. Data gathering
  2. Data analysis
  3. Data representation

Now each of these steps have few tools or techniques at your disposal, and you choose them based on tailoring considerations or simply by using the standard practices of your organization.

Let us look at each of them briefly.

Data gathering

Questionnaires and surveys are two standard ways of gathering information from people that you already have access to. That data, as we’ll see in a minute, will help us find more stakeholders.

After all, identifying stakeholders is a repetitive process.

Brainstorming and brain-writing are two techniques of discussing and writing with existing stakeholders and experts to collect more information.

Which paves way to the second step in our dance with data.

Data analysis

Stakeholder analysis and document analysis are two ways to classify stakeholders and find more specific information about them. Many inferences drawn at this time give better insights into stakeholders, potentially helping us discover more stakeholders.

Remember that we need to understand expectations and needs of these people that have ‘stake’ in the project. Hence the more we know about them, easier would it be to deal with them in a way that helps them as well as the project both.

In stakeholder analysis we get some the following information about identified stakeholders –

  • Interest – how are they impacted by the project, positively or negatively.
  • Knowledge – different stakeholders need different information and knowledge to do their job well in the project. By knowing who possess what information, the project manager can be more effective in supporting stakeholders.
  • Influence – this is a critical aspect to know. Different stakeholders have different level of power and influence to wield. Understanding this is important for the project manager, so she can streamline that influence for the benefit of the project.
  • Rights and ownership – certain gates can be opened by specific stakeholders, for the project to move to the next stage. A PM should know who has what rights and ownership in order to open those gates when times comes.

Data representation

Remember Grid, Cube, and Model.

A grid is basically a 2-dimentional graph to plot the position of stakeholders. For instance, power-interest grid will have power on x-axis and interest on y-axis (or other way around, you choose). Then you plot each of the stakeholders on the grid based on their power and interest, and devise strategy to deal with them based on their position.

In the next section we shall see this in detail.

Few other types of grid you can use are -power-influence grid and impact-influence grid.

Now coming to Cube.

Grid had 2 axes, and if you add 3rd axis you’ll get a cube.

As you can imagine it would be a 3 dimensional model – power-influence-impact – for instance.

Coming to Model, this would be the Salience model.

Salience model

This is used to determine relative importance of identified stakeholders so you can allocate your limited resources in proper priority to engage them to the extent you need to.

This is a way to classify stakeholders based on their assessment of power, urgency, and legitimacy.

This is typically used when the project has large amount of stakeholders, with complex interconnectivity among them.

Directions of influence

Apart from putting them in grid and cube :-), you will also map stakeholders’ influence in order to understand their influence better.

  • Upward – (in relation to the PM) senior management, sponsor, steering committee etc. people that have a large amount of influence on the project
  • Downward – senior managers or specialists than control /manage stakeholders under them
  • Outward – stakeholders outside the project team, such as govt officials, vendors, suppliers etc.
  • Sideward – peers of the project manager, such as other PMs or functional managers, middle managers etc

Stakeholder analysis

Stakeholder analysis is an important technique to create stakeholder register.

Step 1: Identify stakeholders from the info you already have

Identify key stakeholders from the project charter and procurement documents. Add to this list people from the organization that you think should be involved.

Also, never underestimate the power of expert judgment! 🙂

People that have been part of similar projects earlier, external consultant on the project – are some of the people that can straight away contribute in identifying stakeholders.

Step 2: Collect information about them

It is okay if you don’t get everyone at the first go, or identify few people who are not really stakeholders in your project. Stakeholder register is a living document. Once you have all the names, get some crucial information about them that you must know. Their role, level of influence on the project, level of knowledge that you can leverage, interests in the project and such.

Step 3: Plot power-interest grid

This step is critical. With the information you have collected above prepare a power-interest grid and place each stakeholder in the appropriate quadrant based on their level of power and interest on the project, as shown in the figure in the next page.

This will then tell you about people you should spend more time on and people you can afford to spend less time on, and people that you should keep satisfied (refer to Manage Stakeholder Engagement process) and stakeholders that you should keep informed about the developments on the project.

Similar to power-interest grid you can prepare power-influence grid, influence-impact grid and Salient model (which is basically grouping stakeholders based on their power, need of attention and their involvement in the project). Doing these will help you manage your time well, AND manage stakeholders expectations well.

First, refer to the power-interest grid below. Let us look at couple of examples of how you can assign stakeholders to this grid –

CEO of performing organization has good amount of power over the project but may not be much interested (he is more interested in new business and revenue, let us say). You would put him into top-left quadrant and will provide him information like project progress and customer feedback that keeps him satisfied knowing that project is going smooth.

Chief of Process Excellence team may be much interested in the project, to see how you implement processes. However, she does not have much power to exercise on the project. As a project manager, you would keep her informed on certain information like process metrics.

Power Interest grid Figure: The Power-Interest grid

Here is an interactive tool using which you can prepare Power-Interest grid for your own project!

Step 4: Plan on how to manage these stakeholders

Refer your risk register, look at each of identified risks and make a note of how each of the risks can affect these stakeholders, and plan how you will manage them.

The second tool is expert judgment, which means that you talk to experts inside or outside the company and get guidance on how else you can identify potentially missed stakeholders.

Meetings, the third tool, refers to discussions with specific project team members or groups to analyze and identify stakeholders.

What does a Stakeholder Register contain?

Stakeholder register is a document that contains stakeholder information gathered using the tools and techniques we saw earlier.

The main content would be information such as stakeholder names, designations, roles, location, contact information, their expectations, and levels of knowledge, interest and influence over project.

Stakeholder management strategy can be represented in a tabular format as below –
Stakeholder management strategy

Figure: Stakeholder management strategy tabular format

Since stakeholder information can be sensitive and stakeholder management strategy document is a project document, project manager should exercise caution on what kind of information is to be included.

Take a moment and look back at the power-interest grid above. This is a place where all stakeholders (or groups) are placed in order to strategize how their expectations are handled.

Now, project manager also IS a stakeholder in the project. Where would you place the project manager on this grid?

Do share your thoughts in the comments below.

With key stakeholders identified, let us plan how to manage them on the project.

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