A stakeholder engagement plan (SEP) documents the involvement and influence of your project stakeholders. It also outlines how you plan to communicate with stakeholders. Read on to learn how a stakeholder engagement plan can help you manage your stakeholder relationships.
Stakeholders often get involved in projects for financial or strategic reasons. Depending on their motivations, their level of interest in and influence on your project will vary. That’s why it’s important to know how to tailor your communication style based on stakeholder needs in order to prioritize those who have the biggest impact.
A stakeholder engagement plan template helps you outline who your stakeholders are, their influence and interest levels, and your communication strategy. Your team can use this template to meet stakeholder needs and prevent communication barriers from disrupting the project workflow. Read on to learn how a stakeholder engagement plan can help you manage your relationships with customers, investors, and executives.
A stakeholder engagement plan (SEP) documents how involved and influential your project stakeholders are. It also outlines your stakeholder communication plan, including when you’ll reach out to each stakeholder, what platform you’ll use, and how much information you’ll deliver.
Stakeholders can either be individuals from within your team or external parties that are impacted by your work.
Internal stakeholders may include project managers, operations teams, department heads, and board members.
External stakeholders may include clients, customers, investors, suppliers, company partners, or shareholders.
Because communication with stakeholders begins right at the start of a project, you’ll create your engagement plan during the project planning phase. Once you have an idea for a project, identify who your stakeholders are and how involved they need (or want) to be. As the project progresses, you can adjust your SEP to meet their needs.
A stakeholder engagement plan should not prompt your team to listen to some stakeholders while ignoring others. What it should do is guide you through the project planning process and help you communicate with those who desire it most.
For some stakeholders, buy-in and education is key. For others, they’d rather passively access material on their own time. As you create your SEP, separate stakeholders into categories so you can communicate with them in the way that will be most beneficial based on their influence and interest levels.
One benefit of an SEP is its collaborative nature. When you incorporate your SEP into work management software, your team can update the document as needed and assign ownership to different sections. This will also give you the freedom to share the plan between projects and people.Free stakeholder engagement plan template
Stakeholder engagement plans differ based on what team and stakeholder priorities.
Key components of an SEP include:
Stakeholder name: Identify who your stakeholder is.
Interest level: Give stakeholders labels based on what level of interest or engagement they have in the project. See the five levels of stakeholder engagement below.
Influence level: Give stakeholders rating labels from very high to very low based on how much influence they have on the project.
Communication frequency: Identify how often you’ll communicate with this stakeholder.
Communication channel approach: Identify what communication tool you’ll use to communicate with this stakeholder.
Information type: Identify the type of information you’ll deliver to this stakeholder when communicating.
The goal of creating your stakeholder engagement plan is to identify the stakeholder’s goals or motives as well as the communication methods you’ll use with them.
To create a stakeholder engagement plan that helps you work with stakeholders in a way they can appreciate, you’ll first need to understand what their needs are and how they influence your project. Use the steps below to get started.
Some stakeholders will be more engaged in your project from the start. This level of engagement often comes from their motives.
For example, an internal executive overseeing the project may be more engaged because their job depends on it. Alternatively, an external partner with a small financial stake might have less engagement and may not want every detail of what’s going on.
Leading: A leading stakeholder is aware of the project’s impact and is actively involved.
Supporting: A supporting stakeholder is aware of the project’s impact and supports the project.
Neutral: A neutral stakeholder is aware of the project’s impact but neither resists nor supports the project.
Resistant: A resistant stakeholder is aware of the project’s impact but resists change.
Unaware: An unaware stakeholder doesn’t know about the project or its impact.
Once you know your stakeholders’ engagement level, you’ll identify their level of influence on the project. The Project Management Institute defines influence as how much power a stakeholder has over a project. When a stakeholder has high influence, they can control key project decisions and cause others to take action.
Very high: A stakeholder with very high influence has a significant amount of control over key project decisions.
High: A stakeholder with high influence can cause others to take action.
Medium: A stakeholder with medium influence is often part of the decision-making process.
Low: A stakeholder with low influence can offer opinions on decisions and express their concerns, but you may not always take their ideas into consideration.
Very low: A stakeholder with very low influence can engage in the project when they desire, but they won’t have control over any decisions.
Now that you know your stakeholder influence and interest level, you’ll map each stakeholder on the influence/interest grid. This isn’t something you’ll want to share with your stakeholders, but it can help you determine what your communication style and cadence should be for each individual.
The four main stakeholder groups are:
High interest and high influence. These are your stakeholders from your “leading” or “supporting” category. They are your key players and the most important on your stakeholder list. Make sure you check in with these stakeholders regularly and thoroughly educate them about the project. These are the stakeholders that are most important to have on board.
High interest and low influence. These stakeholders also likely come from your “leading” or “supporting” categories. While they don’t have as much influence, they should still be kept in the loop on all major communication and encouraged to participate in other ways depending on the situation. When you use a project management tool, you can keep high interest stakeholders in the loop without added effort.
High influence and low interest. These stakeholders can come from your “neutral” or “resistant” categories, and education is critical to keep them on board. They can become more resistant if they're surprised by a project change, so make sure they have access to information when needed, and inform them of any work that might impact their project workflows.
Low influence and low interest. These are stakeholders from your “unaware” category. You don’t need to contact these people often, but you should use your project management tool to send out monthly updates. That way, you can provide key project details and they know they have the opportunity to get more involved.
Stakeholder mapping offers you some guidance on how to communicate with stakeholders based on their level of influence and interest. Using these grid points, your next step is to create a custom communication plan.
A communication plan is critical because it informs how you’ll educate and update your stakeholders. Regardless of what quadrant they fall into, make sure stakeholders have a way to access relevant project information. The best way to do this is by keeping all of your project information in one place, like a project management tool. Stakeholders who need real-time insight into project status or want to get a bird’s-eye view of the overall project timeline can use this tool to keep themselves informed.
There are two steps to creating a communication plan:
Identify your different communication channels. Which communication channels does your team regularly use? What is each communication channel for?
Identify what type of communication each stakeholder quadrant needs. Communication isn’t one-size-fits-all. Figure out how you’ll communicate and educate stakeholders during the project lifecycle.
For example, stakeholders who have a lot of interest and influence in the project may want weekly communication. You can provide this by sharing out your project status updates through your work management tool.
Once you create your communication plan, share it with your project team. If you change your communication plan, make sure you update it and communicate those changes. That way, team members always have access to the most up-to-date information.
Stakeholders often change behavior throughout the course of a project, so remember that the points you’ve mapped on the interest/influence grid aren’t set in stone.
Not only can you revise your plan based on behavior changes you observe, but you can share your plan with stakeholders and ask for their feedback. The best way to get feedback from stakeholders is to be clear about what you're asking for.
For example, provide stakeholders with your communication plan and ask them, “Does this communication plan work for you? Are there any areas you’d like to change?”
Other tips for getting feedback:
Ask for written feedback or provide a formal survey with detailed questions about your engagement process
Ask your internal team what they think about the engagement plan
Communicate any changes you make to the engagement plan with stakeholders and team members
Ask for feedback in a video call if it’s easier and more convenient for the stakeholder
Below is a filled-in example of a stakeholder engagement template that includes an area to list your stakeholders, rate their level of interest and influence, and outline their communication plan.
Download our free SEP template below to build a well-planned engagement strategy for your next project.Free stakeholder engagement plan template
A strong stakeholder engagement plan helps your team inform and educate stakeholders. Other benefits of SEPS include:
Manages expectations: Ensures stakeholders know the project’s trajectory and what to expect through each project phase.
Reduces project risks: Keeps stakeholders from making large changes that risk the project’s success.
Builds trust: Creates stronger relationships between team members and stakeholders.
Improves decision making: Makes it easier to anticipate stakeholders’ needs and desires to determine the next steps.
Promotes synergy: When teams communicate, they’re able to collaborate and create more effectively.
Stakeholder engagement is crucial to the success of any project. When you tailor your communication to each stakeholder's needs and desires, the results will be invaluable.
Asana gives you the versatility to plan your engagement strategy, share your plan with others, and put that plan into action alongside your project. Map out all of your initiatives in one place, from marketing campaigns to projects and client relationships.Free stakeholder engagement plan template