Stakeholders have a ‘stake’ in your project or business; not necessarily the owner or someone with a specific financial investment, but they do have an interest in the process or the outcomes of the work.
It is hard to overstate the need to understand who your stakeholders are, what they want and need, and what they are thinking and feeling at any particular point in time. Later in this module I will outline two simple techniques to start this journey of discovery. As formal disciplines stakeholder analysis and stakeholder management may be part of the specific remit of a Business Analyst, a Project Manager, consultant, or marketer, but there are important activities for anyone involved in software and technology projects or business change initiatives. They may even improve your day-to-day work, although I will focus on project work.
Stakeholder Analysis & Management
A word of warning though, generally people don’t like to be categorised or feel that they are being managed – the negative connotation of being controlled – so a subtle light touch is often the best approach. By manage, I mean:
- Manage engagement and communication with key groups or individuals
- Manage the flow of information
- Manage expectations, sensitivities and any political dimensions
The last of these are particularly important for groups who may be disadvantaged by what is happening, and have the ability to block or frustrate progress towards the desired state.
Here is a list of possible individuals and groups of stakeholders:
- Customers, buyers and Users of your service or product.
- The [Project] Sponsor, Owner or Shareholders.
- Your co-workers or project team colleagues. In projects this can mean developers, testers, and other ‘tech guys’ who may be involved in building and supporting the technology.
- Local ‘line managers’ and heads of other departments, however tenuous their apparent relationship with you or the work that you are doing. Definitely the senior managers, design authorities and decision-makers!
- Business Partners, Suppliers, Business-to-business Service Providers, i.e. any individual or group in the ‘value chain’.
- Unions, human resources, regulators, auditors, financial controllers, legal and compliance groups, both internal and external.
- Competitors, and potentially other writers, broadcasters or influencers in the wider community.
I’m sure you can add to this this list in your particular industry, organisation or project?
Tools & techniques
The first step towards understanding and analysing stakeholders is often making simple notes about who they are, recording contact details, specific role, interests and likely influence on the project’s success – both good and bad.
A simple stakeholder map or Onion model can show this information visually. The concentric rings represent proximity or distance from the centre of the system or project, not necessarily influence or power. It can also show relationships between various stakeholder groups in a more organic and flexible way than an organisation chart might (not in this example). Project roles can be more fluid and nuanced than the fixed structures used for pay and rations. The example below relates to a holiday home booking and servicing business and website.
One of the key outcomes from this analysis is to understand who are likely to be the most important or influential stakeholders and what level of interest or engagement they have. These dimensions can be represented in a simple 2×2 matrix, by plotting each stakeholder group in one of the quadrants, relative to others, you can focus your time and efforts in the right areas.
If I return back to the earlier list of possible stakeholder groups, you will notice that the technology and software systems themselves are not players in this particular game; they are dumb conduits through which requirements, designs, software acquisition decisions, and the quality of the development and testing, for example, are channeled. The paradigm is that a more motivated, professional, and inclusive group delivers a better end product. The converse is also true, that the forces that might undermine the cohesiveness or success of the team need to be minimized. This is what stakeholder management attempts to do, in the words of the song:
You’ve got to accentuate the positive/Eliminate the negative.
I hope you found this short introduction useful. As with a lot of the concepts in the Table of IT Elements, Stakeholders is far removed from the technology itself, but is more about human relationships and motivations, the softer side of IT.
(c) 2015 Antony Lawrence CBA Ltd.