Think of your project as an Oscar-nominated movie. You won, and you have to go up and give your big speech. Who do you thank?
In project management, those people would be your project stakeholders—people who have a stake in your project and have helped you get there in some way. Project stakeholders can vary from the people doing the work to the people approving the work to the people you’re doing the work for, but they’re all important.
Believe it or not, identifying project stakeholders can be harder than preparing your Oscars acceptance speech. That’s where a stakeholder analysis map can come in. By creating a stakeholder analysis map, you can easily identify and manage project stakeholders. In this article, we’ll walk you through how to create a stakeholder analysis map and increase your project’s impact. Here’s how.
Project stakeholders are the people who can impact or be impacted by the project you’re working on. Stakeholders can come from every level of the organization, from individual contributors to senior executives—but if they’re involved in your project, they’re important. Even if your stakeholders aren’t directly involved in a project's day-to-day work, they may still be affected by its outcome.
A stakeholder analysis map is a way to identify your project stakeholders and the impact they might have on the project based on two key aspects: stakeholder impact and stakeholder interest. A stakeholder map can help you understand which stakeholders have a high and low impact on your project and which stakeholders have a high or low interest in your work. That way, you can effectively communicate with all of your project stakeholders—in the way that works best for them.
Once you’ve created a map, stakeholder management is the process of communicating with your project stakeholders. With stakeholder management, you can ensure you’re sharing the right level of information with your stakeholders at the right time—whether that’s task-level updates, regular project status reports, or larger program overviews.
A big part of project stakeholder management is creating a communication plan. As part of your communication plan, clarify which channel—email, messaging, work management platform—stakeholders should use and when, how frequently different details should be communicated, and who is responsible for each of the different channels.Read: Why a clear communication plan is more important than you think
In a broad sense, almost everyone can be affected by your project's outcome. But in project management, your project stakeholders are the people who are involved—in some capacity—in your project’s decision-making process. These might be important stakeholders who approve the project’s deliverables, or they might be the team members doing the work to get from point A to point B. Members of your target audience are also project stakeholders, since they’re the most impacted by the decisions you make.
Basically, you can identify project stakeholders by asking yourself one simple question: “Will the work I’m doing affect that person?” If the answer is yes, they’re likely a project stakeholder.Read: What are the benefits of project management?
It’s important to note that not everyone who will be affected by your project has a say in how it goes. Key stakeholders, like the ones we’ll discuss in this article, are those who have a say in the outcome of a project. Knowing who your key stakeholders are can help you improve stakeholder relationships and gain buy-in from the people who matter most.
Broadly, there are two types of project stakeholders: internal stakeholders and external stakeholders. Internal stakeholders are probably who you think of when you think of stakeholders. They include anyone who works in your company—from your direct reports to executive leadership—who are invested in your project. On the other hand, external stakeholders are anyone outside of your organization. These might be customers, an agency or contractor, users, investors, suppliers, or other external contributors.
Project team members
Project sponsor, if you have one
Other cross-functional internal teams
Good stakeholders bring a lot to your project. During the project planning phase, your stakeholders are your guide to figuring out where the project should go. Internal stakeholders can support you in developing a budget or resource management plan for the project. Knowing who your external stakeholders are can help you set your project scope and project objectives. Then, once the project gets underway, good project stakeholders can drum up support, help when things go wrong, and keep your team motivated.
Clearly understanding your project stakeholders can help you gain buy-in and execute your project more effectively. In addition, a stakeholder analysis can help you:
Gain more support and resources
Increase project visibility, especially to executive stakeholders
Prevent costly roadblocks later in the project cycle
Communicate through the right channels at the right time
Share the right level of information with your stakeholders
Identifying and managing your project stakeholders is a great way to set yourself up for a successful project. When your key project stakeholders are bought in, they lend support that can be critical during the project lifecycle. Alternatively, without supportive stakeholders, you could find yourself having to set stakeholder expectations mid-project, which can lead to changes and unnecessary project risks. To avoid that, here are the four steps you need to take to create an effective stakeholder analysis map.
Before you can manage stakeholder expectations, you first need to know who your project stakeholders are. Make sure to account for both internal and external stakeholders. To figure out who your project stakeholders are, ask yourself:
Who cares about this project?
Who will be impacted by this project?
Who can influence this project?
Who can approve/reject this project?
If you need help tracking your stakeholders, consider creating a RACI chart or stakeholder register to track who everyone is, why they matter, and what their impact on the project will be. Before you move on to step two, do one last sanity check. Ask yourself:
Are there any other internal stakeholders I should be aware of, like resource managers or project portfolio managers?
Have I included all key project leaders and managers?
Are there any external stakeholders I’m missing who might be impacted by the outcome of this project?
High stakeholder engagement can really take your project to the next level. The best way to ensure high engagement is to create a clear stakeholder map that outlines each stakeholder’s influence-interest level. This grid—sometimes called a power-interest grid or an interest matrix—is the best way to visualize your four main stakeholder groups.
The four main stakeholder groups are:
High influence and high interest. These are likely your project approvers and sponsors. Externally, these may also be key partners or customers. Make sure you check with these stakeholders regularly and ensure your expectations are aligned. During the course of the project, be sure to actively collaborate with these project stakeholders—you can think of them as the key players in your stakeholder team.
High influence and low interest. These people can block or support your project, but they probably aren’t interested in doing so. They might be distant cross-functional partners or executive leadership at your company. Make sure these stakeholders are aware of your project basics and ask your high power and high interest stakeholders to help you manage the relationship if need be. Keep in mind that, even if they have low interest, their work might be impacted by your work—and you don’t want that fact to come as an unexpected surprise. During the course of the project, keep these project stakeholders informed at a high level to ensure they’re satisfied with the project’s progress.
Low influence and high interest. You likely don’t need approval from this group of stakeholders, especially on early project details. It’s more important to loop these stakeholders in during Step 4. During the course of the project, keep these project stakeholders informed.
Low influence and low interest. These are secondary stakeholders. Depending on the size and complexity of your work, you might want to loop them in semi-regularly on project status reports, or not loop them in at all until the end. However, during the course of the project, make sure you’re checking in with these stakeholders in case they do want to become more involved.
The reality is, some stakeholders may disagree with certain elements of the project. As the project manager, it’s your responsibility to understand their needs and perspectives and come to a solution that doesn’t negatively impact the success of the project. It’s not your job to do everything your project stakeholders ask—but it is your job to listen and understand their needs.
Sometimes, what feels like a “difficult stakeholder” is just someone who has different priorities than you. Maybe your work is even disrupting some of their work. If you try to see things from their perspective, you have a better chance of finding a solution—and turning the situation into a win-win scenario.
When in doubt, put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Ask yourself:
What do they need?
What level of communication do they want?
What’s the most effective communication strategy?
Are there any influences or influencers for these stakeholders?
How can you accurately identify stakeholders’ interests?
Once you’ve identified your stakeholders and thought about their needs, make sure you invite them to your project planning sessions and kickoff meeting, if you have one. Key stakeholders should also sign off on your project charter, project plan, project objectives, and project scope.
As your project gets underway, make sure to update any relevant stakeholders on changes and progress. In addition to increasing visibility, documenting your processes early reduces the risk of any miscommunication down the road.
Though you should aim to invite a variety of different stakeholders, always make sure you’re prioritizing key stakeholders. You don’t need approval on everything from everyone. When in doubt, go back to your stakeholder analysis map to identify who needs to be looped in.
You may meet with some stakeholders—your high power and high interest stakeholders, for example—frequently to discuss the project and deal with any unanticipated challenges. But to keep the rest of your stakeholders in the loop, send out regular project status updates with recently completed milestones, any blockers, and next steps. We recommend sending an update every two weeks, or more frequently if you’re managing a complex initiative.Read: How to write an effective project status report
There is no perfect solution to stakeholder communication. But here are the most common pitfalls and how you can avoid them:
Problem: Overeager project stakeholders are causing scope creep.
Solution: Implement a change control process.
Sometimes, overeager project stakeholders can have a negative impact. You’ve spent a lot of time planning your project and figuring out your deliverables—but if too many stakeholders have ideas for new deliverables, updated timelines, or adjusted budgets, your project could quickly veer off course.
The best way to establish boundaries with your stakeholders is to implement a change control process. By creating a process for proposing, reviewing, and accepting changes to your project’s scope, you can ensure your project is dynamic and up-to-date, without worrying about scope creep. There are four elements to a change control process:
Project stakeholders submit a change request.
Key stakeholders review the request.
Approve, reject, or defer the change.
Adjust the project scope or objectives accordingly.
Problem: During the initial stakeholder identification phase, you forgot about a stakeholder who has a high interest in this initiative.
Solution: Involve your project team during the stakeholder identification phase.
Inevitably, you might forget about a cross-functional stakeholder, or think of a stakeholder but forget to add them to your stakeholder list or calculate their influence-interest level. These types of mistakes happen—but you want to avoid them as much as possible, especially for stakeholders who have high influence or interest.
The best way to make sure this doesn’t happen is to involve your project team during the stakeholder identification process. Consider holding a team brainstorming session to identify and categorize each stakeholder so no one gets left off the list. If you’re still not sure, run the list by your manager or project sponsor to make sure you aren’t missing anyone who should be included. When in doubt—ask!
Problem: You already kicked off your project, and then started your stakeholder analysis.
Solution: Next time, create a stakeholder analysis map up front.
This one is an obvious one, but it’s worth including. If you do forget a stakeholder, use that as a learning opportunity for your next project. For example, if you forgot to do your stakeholder analysis map until after the project kickoff, make a note to yourself to do it the other way around the next time.
To ensure your project goes off without a hitch, you need to make sure your stakeholders’ expectations match your project deliverables—in other words, you need to increase and encourage clarity across your project.
The best way to do that is with a work management tool, like Asana. Work management tools help you coordinate people and work across all levels of your organization. To learn more, read our introduction to work management.