How to Effectively Manage and Engage Project Stakeholders (Checklist)

“What are the biggest mistakes project managers make when dealing with stakeholders—and how can they be avoided?”

Ask around, and answers will undoubtedly center around two major challenges of stakeholder management:

  • Identifying stakeholders
  • Planning an effective approach to stakeholder communication

We spoke to Dave Wakeman, PMP and principal of Wakeman Consulting Group, and Kiron Bondale, PMP, PMI-RMP and Senior Manager for Practice and Governance for TD Canada Trust, to learn their methods for avoiding the common mistakes managers make with stakeholders.

Wakeman and Bondale are well-known voices in the industry—Wakeman writes monthly for Voices on Project Management on ProjectManagement.com, and Bondale is an active blogger and contributor at ProjectTimes.com.

With their insights, we’ve created the following checklist of best practices for stakeholder management. Managers can use this list as a template and can modify it according to specific project and industry needs:

Download Checklist

Now, we’ll review each step in detail and explain how project management (PM) software can benefit managers as they communicate and collaborate with stakeholders.

(Click on a link below to jump directly to that section)

Identify Project Stakeholders

Identifying stakeholders and their claim to the project is an essential first step in stakeholder management. This involves evaluating any person, department or organization that has a role in completing the project.

Project stakeholder roles can include the project sponsor, team, sales department and even customers—any entity that is investing time and/or resources in the venture.

Identifying stakeholders involves the following steps:


Review expectations: Once you know who your stakeholders are, it’s important to evaluate their expectations, particularly in how they will measure project success. This can vary drastically from one stakeholder to another.

For example, a project sponsor might commend a project that finishes on or under budget, while a sales team might measure success by deliverables that exceed customer expectations.

“What I have found is that where you really get in trouble is when you don’t make any plan for how to handle stakeholders and start getting pulled in multiple directions almost immediately.”

Dave Wakeman, PMP and Principal of Wakeman Consulting Group

A best practice for managing multiple stakeholder expectations is to communicate a common understanding of the project’s scope, resources and timeline prior to project execution. Include these parameters in the project plan and provide updates in subsequent communication.

Analyze level of influence and interest: It’s imperative that managers understand each stakeholder’s influence/power over the project and their level of interest in it. High influence/high interest stakeholders are the “key stakeholders” and will be most important to please and keep engaged throughout the course of the project life cycle.

“Make sure you engage the stakeholders who will be impacted by or have impact over specific changes before you implement them.”

Kiron Bondale, PMP, PMI-RMP and Senior Manager for Practice and Governance for TD Canada Trust


Often, this dynamic is depicted in a grid, with influence charted on the y-axis and interest on the x-axis.

 

Example Analysis of Stakeholder Influence and Interest

 

An understanding of this relationship forms the basis of effective stakeholder communication. According to Wakeman, this lets the manager know what information each stakeholder needs, which helps determine the best way to relay information to that person or group.

“If you aren’t careful, you give someone too much information, or too little, and confuse everyone involved. So paying attention to what each stakeholder is looking for can help overcome that.”

Dave Wakeman, PMP and Principal of Wakeman Consulting Group


Bondale cautions managers to validate assumptions about stakeholders’ role in the project to avoid miscommunications down the line. This process helps inform the project change impact analysis (more on this later).

Develop Communication Strategies

Once managers have identified stakeholders and analyzed their respective roles in the project, it’s time to develop communication strategies. Bondale states that one of the biggest mistakes a manager can make is using a one-size-fits-all approach when communicating with stakeholders.

The steps involved with making a stakeholder-specific communication strategy are:


Determine preferred method of communication: Stakeholders will prefer to communicate in various ways—some want a weekly summary email, others a daily phone call. The best way to determine each stakeholder’s preference is obvious: Meet with them and ask.

“Executive-level, high impact/influence stakeholders may require lots of personal contact whereas stakeholders that just need to be informed might be communicated with via e-mail updates.”

Kiron Bondale, PMP, PMI-RMP and Senior Manager for Practice and Governance for TD Canada Trust


Wakeman notes that managers will have to balance each stakeholder’s communication style with their level of influence. This ensures managers don’t spend too much time communicating with low influence/low interest stakeholders while leaving key stakeholders in the dark.

Create a communication schedule: Facilitate stakeholder communication on a recurring basis—it is NOT a one-off event at the beginning and close of a project. According to Bondale, stakeholder management is only effective when practiced over the course of a project life cycle.

Bondale notes that it’s a best practice for managers not to let too much time pass between stakeholder touch points. Assuming that a quiet stakeholder is a happy stakeholder is a common pitfall for managers.

Wakeman advises setting up a communication schedule so managers can remain engaged with stakeholders over the duration of the project.

“You want to set an expectation early on about what communications will look like and when or how your stakeholders can expect to receive these communications.”

Dave Wakeman, PMP and Principal of Wakeman Consulting Group

Perform Risk/Change Impact Analysis

Analyzing each stakeholder’s impact on project objectives is closely tied to both the stakeholder’s expectations as well as level of influence/interest.

Unforeseen setbacks may call for a stakeholder decision to extend the project’s budget or timeline to meet changing customer requirements. Understanding how each stakeholder defines project success, particularly among major influencers, can help managers overcome these obstacles.

To perform risk/change impact analysis, managers should:


Identify advocates and potential adversaries: At this step, managers should evaluate which stakeholders are project advocates versus those who are project adversaries; i.e., who has the power to advance the project and who has the potential to impede progress.

Bondale advises looking at past projects which involved a similar set of stakeholders to identify issues related to those stakeholder groups. Based on that intel, managers can brainstorm how to best deal with potential issues in the new project.

“The risk of lower influence/impact stakeholders could be passively accepted if their impact can be absorbed without hurting the project’s objectives. The same decision-making process which applies to other risks would apply here—if the cost of prevention exceeds the cost of doing nothing, then do nothing.”

Kiron Bondale, PMP, PMI-RMP and Senior Manager for Practice and Governance for TD Canada Trust


Plan conflict resolution: Wakeman says that a good way to plan resolution strategies is to begin at the end and ask “what is the outcome I’m looking for?” Then, focus on all the milestones along the way and ask stakeholders what they think could go wrong.

This helps managers and stakeholders identify which risks should be monitored closely and which require less attention.

“The big deal risks, we manage more aggressively and monitor more closely. We may assign someone to keep an eye on certain things. With the smaller deal things, we kind of estimate in advance what’s the likelihood of an occurrence and what we will need to fix the problem if it arises.”

Dave Wakeman, PMP and Principal of Wakeman Consulting Group

Execute Plans, Evaluate Success

Once plans are in place, it’s on to project execution. Following these steps can put you on the best track for success:


Engage stakeholders: Remember it’s better to over-communicate rather than assume stakeholders are on the same page with you. Use your analysis of stakeholder influence/interest to balance interaction: Key stakeholders should be closely involved with business decisions whereas other departments may require less involvement.

Gain feedback, refine approach: The biggest determining factors for effective stakeholder management are time and experience. Follow the steps laid out above and ask for feedback from stakeholders. This can help you refine and perfect your approach.

Benefits of Using PM Software for Stakeholder Engagement

There are several tools managers can use to communicate with stakeholders: email, phone calls, face-to-face meetings. However, project management (PM) software offers several capabilities and benefits not available in these other methods:

Capabilities and Benefits of Using PM Software
to Improve Stakeholder Interaction

Centralized workspace Stakeholders and managers can center the project around a common understanding of priorities, project schedule and budget. Any updates are reflected in real time, so users stay on the same page.
Document management Create, edit and store documents in a central location. Users can collaborate together, keep track of changes and ensure they are working in the most up-to-date version.
Dashboards and reports Live dashboards and automated reports can be used to share project information and key metrics with stakeholders. This helps create a baseline that stakeholders and organizations can refer back to when making future business decisions, such as which projects to fund.
Collaboration capabilities Team members can comment on tasks, calendars, discussion boards etc. and users can stay up-to-date on changes with an activity feed and/or in-app or email notifications. Many PM platforms also contain chat functionality, providing team members another way to stay connected.
Searchable project database Store project information from ideation to completion. This creates a traceable record of the project life cycle. Users can look back and see why decisions were made and who was involved.

Next Steps

Email me at eileen@softwareadvice.com with questions or comments about our stakeholder management checklist. I’m also available if you’d like to learn more about the PM tools available to help managers communicate with and engage stakeholders.

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