Planning How to Deal with Project Stakeholders?

Plan Stakeholder ManagementThis project management activity makes sure that project managers give enough thought to managing stakeholders’ needs and expectations, and plan appropriate steps to meet them by studying each and every stakeholders.

Just like other planning processes this one talks about plan and strategies. Strategies to engage stakeholders throughout the project so that you can leverage their understanding of project needs, interest and level of influence to benefit the project.

Also, this is an iterative process to take care of stakeholders’ changing expectations, and to identify and accommodate new stakeholders.

Managing stakeholder expectations can be a challenge and having proper plans to keep them updated with timely and necessary information will help.

Let us see how to plan engagement with stakeholders on the project keeping in mind their needs, expectations, positions of power & influence, and so on.

Let’s begin. What do I need?

Project charter and Project management plan are the two documents we get from project initiating exercise. Remember that develop project charter and identify stakeholders are the 2 processes in Initiating process group.

So we use these 2 documents to understand, although at a high level, the project lifecycle used, personnel policies identified, communication strategies and methods that can be, schedule and cost requirements, identified risks, quality needs – things that you need in order to assess their impact on stakeholders (or vice versa) and plan for managing impact.

Agreements are what dictate our relationship with vendors, suppliers, and contractors – and we need to understand how to plan our engagement with them as well.

Stakeholder register – only second process to be executed before ANY of the planning processes begin, Identify Stakeholders process produces the Stakeholder register, which is used to plan stakeholder management. This is one of the project documents we use, along with assumption log, change log, issue log, project schedule, and risk register – with whatever data we have in them at this point in time.

Then you need to refer to the lessons learned in dealing with stakeholders from other similar projects will be particularly useful in strategizing and planning. The big two – EEF and OPA – play an important role in the planning.

OPAs could be corporate policies around social media, ethics, and the policies around risk, change, and issue management.

EEF could be policies around people administration, organizational culture, established communication channels, and team composition and geo-location in case of agile organizations.

How do I do this?

Use expert judgment and meet the right people – Assessing each stakeholder’s needs, level of engagement needed for them and planning to satisfy them can be a bit tricky. You will need help from senior management of your organization, project managers of other similar projects, senior members of the team or even someone from PMO in order to get a good assessment.

Analytical techniques

Level of engagement with each of the stakeholders can be assessed using analytical techniques. This again is not one time activity. A matrix is maintained with level of engagement with each stakeholder. At any point in time current level of engagement is compared with this planned level of engagement. This helps to balance your time spent with stakeholders, when variance is found.

The level of engagement can be classified as below, for each of the identified stakeholders –

  • Unaware – stakeholder is unaware of project and impact
  • Resistant – aware of project and impact, but resists change
  • Neutral – aware of project but nonchalant. Neither supportive nor resistant.
  • Supportive – aware of project and supportive of change
  • Leading – aware of project, impacts and actively participates to make the change


Need a mnemonic to remember engagement assessment matrix categories?

Close your eyes, take a deep breath and imagine an important Stakeholder (your CEO) of your project calling you into his office. He looks right in your eyes, smiles and says – “<your name>, U R a Natural, Successful Leader. I’m proud to have you on my team!”.

If you felt this, you’ll probably never forget the sentence. Putting it together, the bold letters in the above interaction description U, R, N, S, L stand for Unaware, Resistant, Neutral, Supportive and Leading.

Now, there is another silly but effective way to remember. Again, vivid imagination is key here to make sure your brain stores the picture for later recall. Imagine the grumpiest stakeholder on your project (hope you don’t have one, but still 🙂 ) Imagine you need him to do you some favor, which actually is beneficial for him too.

Now, imagine you approaching him with an open hand to shake his hand. He’s unaware of what you want from him at this stage. Then you tell him what you want in the earnest possible way. Imagine him getting grumpier (Resistant). You watch his face intently, without changing your own expression. His face turns from grumpy to Neutral.

You are wondering what is he thinking because you can’t read his thoughts on his face. Now he starts smiling (you feel he’s supporting your idea as he has realized helping you will help him too). Now he gets so excited that he hugs you, holds your hand and leads you to meeting room to work out the details.

(You probably even cringed while imagining this, if so it’s even easier to remember!)

I digressed a bit here to explain couple of ways to remember an important information. You can apply these to remember anything basically. The trick is to imagine vividly something out of the ordinary so your brain finds it easy to store the picture in, and then it becomes easy to recall. When you do this, it becomes simpler to download your PMP brain dump on to paper just before the exam.

Stakeholder engagement matrix

We can plot a matrix at regular intervals and for each stakeholder current level of engagement (marked as C) and desired level of engagement (marked as D).

This is called Stakeholder Engagement Assessment Matrix, as shown below.

Stakeholder Engagement Assessment Matrix

Figure: Stakeholders Engagement Assessment Matrix

What’s in Stakeholder Management Plan?

This is a subsidiary plan of project management plan. And this contains strategies required to effectively engage each of the stakeholders identified in stakeholder register –

  • Desired and current level of engagement
  • Identified relationship between key stakeholders
  • Communication requirements of each stakeholder including expected method and frequency of communication
  • Information and its level of detailing required to send to each stakeholder
  • Approach for updating stakeholder management plan itself

If a stakeholder is Resistant in his engagement level, sending him certain type of information may be damaging for the project. Therefore, stakeholder communication needs have to be carefully understood and planned.

Now that we have identified stakeholders, planned how to deal with them, let us see how – during execution phase of the project, do we manage engagement with our stakeholders.

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