Effective Stakeholder Engagement

One of the newest areas that have been called out by PMI® is that of Project Stakeholder Management.  It has been elevated to its own Knowledge Area in the 5th edition of the PMBOK® Guide.  But what exactly is a stakeholder?

A stakeholder is any individual, group or organization who may affect, be affected by, or perceive itself to be affected by a decision, activity, or outcome of a project.

In other words, anyone!

In order to help understand and work effectively with stakeholders, there are several steps and techniques that we can use to understand and more effectively engage these individuals or groups.  There are also several documents that can help with the various aspects of managing the appropriate level of engagement.

These documents include:

1.     Stakeholder Register – Identifies all stakeholders and the roles that they play on this specific project. It also often includes additional information gathered through various analysis activities

2.     Stakeholder Analysis Grid(s) – Various methods of helping determine the interest, expectations, influences and other aspects as regards their relationship to the project

3.     Stakeholder Engagement Assessment Matrix – Identifies current and desired level of engagement of individual stakeholders throughout the project

4.     Communication Management Plan – Identifies who, what, how, etc. communications will be provided to all stakeholders

5.     Stakeholder Management Plan – identifies the approach that will be used to ensure the proper stakeholder engagement and how their individual project expectations can be met.

When we start a project, we are not only concerned with the purpose and result to be delivered through our work, but also to understand all those individuals who need to be involved in one way or another.  There are a number of documents that may have been used to initiate the project. 

These may include a Business Case that provided the needs assessment and justification for the project.  Often the individuals who were key resources in the development of this document, as well as those involved in the approval of this proposed solution should be considered as project stakeholders.

If the project is the result of a procurement or contract there may be several documents that also identify groups of individuals who will become external stakeholders.

If the project is supported by or for a specific functional area of the business, previous projects in this area may provide project documentation from those efforts.  These may include Stakeholder Registers in additional to any archived project information such as Lessons Learned.

Depending on the project and the organization, there are often regulatory agencies that will be required as some point to be involved in the project.  These may play a major role in projects which are in response to the need to support a compliance requirement. They may also be those agencies who are required to evaluate or approve activities or results throughout the project work.

There are obviously other stakeholders who might be needed to be involved, based on the requesting and performing organization and the actual nature of the project itself.  Some questions that might help to identify additional stakeholders:

1.     Who initiated the project request?

2.     Who can make/influence decisions?

3.     Who can cause the project to end?

4.     Who is responsible for project financing?

5.     Who will be providing requirements?

6.     Who needs to know status?

7.     What regulatory agencies may be involved?

8.     Who will be providing resources?

9.     Who will be providing products, materials or services?

10.   Who will be using the product, service or result?

11.   Who will own the product, service or result?


Stakeholder Register

The document that is most often used to capture all of the information regarding stakeholders is known as the Stakeholder Register.  This like many of similar documents is usually maintained in a matrix or simple spreadsheet format.  The actual items that are captured regarding each stakeholder are determined during the initial planning effort as part of identifying the approaches that will be used on this project.

In addition to the normal identification and contact information for each stakeholder, the role that they play on this project, their expectations and priorities can also be captured.  Often a general classification is assigned to a group of stakeholders to help with communications and analysis activities.  As further stakeholder activities are performed additional, often confidential information may be collected and maintained either in a separate document, or an area that is secured and no visible to but a few individuals.  This often includes the results of the assessment using various Stakeholder Assessment techniques.

This register helps to consolidate information regarding the various roles and expectations of stakeholders.  This identification of individual stakeholder often includes additional preferences as regards to communication preferences, including frequency, format and delivery method of various project communications.  This portion will be closely tied to the actual communication documents that are identified in the Communication Plan.

Even though this register is initially created at the beginning of a project, it will be monitored and updated frequently as new stakeholders are identified and also as information about previously identified stakeholders change.  This is especially critical to continually monitor the engagement level of individual stakeholders.


Identification to Analysis

After we start identifying stakeholders, we need to understand individual expectations of stakeholders.  These discoveries are often documented in the more “private” areas of the stakeholder register.

Some areas of expectations that are important to understand include:

1.     What are their individual priorities as regards to the project objectives?

2.     Are their conflicting priorities among the various stakeholders?

3.     What relationship do you want to have with individual stakeholders? Is that relationship realistic?

4.     What time commitments do you believe are required of the stakeholder, and is that possible, or should an alternative resource be identified?

In order to help manage the way that we engage with various stakeholders, a number of Stakeholder Assessment models have been developed.  These allow us to determine how best to engage and communicate appropriately with various individuals.  These models include a Power/Interest grid, a Power/Influence grid and an Influence/Impact grid.  These each map the level of the stakeholders and based on the intersection of the levels help determine the level of engagement that is the most appropriate.


Power/Interest Grid

The grid that is most often done initially maps the interest of an individual to the power that they have as regards the project.

Their power is often determined by the influence or control they have over others.  This includes both the ability and the official authority that they have been given to impact project decisions. 

Their level of interest or concern for the project is often determined by the power that they possess.  Interest can also relate to the concern that they have for all or a specific portion of the project.  That interest usually is shown by the amount of interaction or involvement that they have for project activities.

As we see by the figure above, those stakeholders who have both low interest and low power are often monitored but only minimum effort is required for their engagement. For those who have low interest but higher power, we need to understand what level of engagement will keep them satisfied.  This often includes making sure that communications are being delivered appropriately. For those will high interest but low power, it is important to keep them informed, even though most often they will as a result of their interest, remain involved and therefore informed.  The last quadrant applies to those individuals who have both high interest and high power.  These are the individuals that need to be continually managed very closely.  It is important to realize if any change, especially in their interest in the project changes, as that may have an impact on their level of support.


Interest/Engagement Levels

It is noteworthy to take a closer look at the various levels of interest that individual stakeholders may have and specially to understand the impact if that interest level changes over time. On one end of the spectrum are those individuals who are unaware of the project and the potential impacts that it will have on the organization.

On the other hand, there are other stakeholders who are resistant to the change that the result of this project will have on the organization.  It is critical to understand what is causing their resistance or lack of support, what exactly that resistance pertains to, and what might be necessary to either remove or at a minimum reduce that level of resistance.

There are also those individuals who are aware of the project and yet are not either specifically resistant or supportive.  This is the minimum level that you strive to move those individuals who are resistant.

On the positive side, there are those that are aware of the project objectives and supportive of the change.  The key individuals are those that are actively supporting the effort and who are willing to help engage others to ensure that the project is a success.



Even though we most often associate power with those individuals in a management or executive position in an organization, there are other individuals who also are able to support the changes required by other types of power. 

Legitimate power and authority is officially granted through the position that an individual holds in an organization.  In most cases, the higher an individual is in the hierarchical structure, the more legitimate power they possess.

There are two additional powers that individuals may possess that are not the result of their role in an organization, but rather based on the respect and power they have earned from their peers.  The expert power is derived from the recognition of the knowledge and experience that an individual possesses.  That expert power is usually exercised when a decision is required in a specific area in which they are recognized.  Referent power is another power that is granted as the result of having a network of followers and who associate this individual as being successful.


Level of Engagement

As the project activities are identified it is helpful to map the various activities to the stakeholders who need to be involved, as well as the level of desired involvement.  This is based on the previous understanding of needs, interests, priorities and potential impact of not just their involvement, but also the absence of involvement.  This can be done as part of the assignment of resources to various project activities or the mapping of various project requirements to the stakeholders using a tool such as a RACI diagram. This mapping goes beyond just identifying their association with portions of the project, but also identifies those that are Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed for individual objectives, requirements or work packages.

Another useful method to help assess the engagement level of individual stakeholders is through the use of the Stakeholder Engagement Assessment Matrix.  This matrix maps the current and desired level of involvement for the key individual stakeholders.  By continually monitoring this engagement matrix the project manager or business analyst can see where the interest level may change.  Obviously a move from a position of resistant to at least neutral is a positive, desirable change.  Any change in the opposite direction must be quickly identified and determination must be made as to why the change occurred.

Another area to be mindful of is when the involvement level of a stakeholder drops for a period of time.  During this “inactivity” they may become unaware of progress and decisions that have been made.  It is important to make sure that these folks are kept informed where necessary to prevent future issues from occurring.


Stakeholder Management Plan

All the previous documents and techniques become part of the Stakeholder Management Plan, which is one of 13 potential subsidiary plans for the Project Management Plan.  Through this Stakeholder Management Plan, as well as the other management plans, the project manager and key team members identify the approach they will be using in this specific area of the project, and how to monitor any changes that will require modifications to the plan.

This plan often includes the Engagement Assessment Matrix and the detail behind the classification assigned for both current and desired levels, as well as potential methods that can be used to move an individual from a current state to a desired state.

The identification and assessment of both individual stakeholders and the interrelationships between them are important to not only recognize, but the approach that will be used to handle these interactions.

The level of engagement, including the expectation of time and the role of key stakeholders should be identified and how that expectation will be monitored documented as part of this plan.


Stakeholder Communications

The usage of the various Stakeholder Assessment models helps to identify the overall way communications to individual stakeholders should be performed.  This includes identifying the preferences in how communications are to be delivered, (push vs pull vs interactive) and the format preferred for those communications.  These preferences are usually included as part of the Stakeholder Register.

As a result of adaptive or agile methods, that personas, or categories of individuals or groups, including stakeholders, are defined and specific communications are identified for the various personas.  An example of this would be rather than just defining a weekly status report as a communication requirements, a more specific definition might refer to the timing, content and level of detail that would be included for various personas, i.e. functional managers, executives, stakeholders, or the PMO.

The other Assessment Model not mentioned previously is that of the Salient Model.  .  This model analyzes the following three areas for each key stakeholder:

1.     Power, or ability to impose their will

2.     Urgency, or the need for immediate attention

3.     Legitimacy, the determination of appropriate involvement

These three aspects can have an impact on the frequency and format used to communicate with key stakeholders. 



In order to foster effective relationships with stakeholders it is critical to identify and understand individual stakeholder’s needs and priorities.  This also includes developing a strategy on how best to meet those needs.

The engagement expectations, involvement and interest in the project must be continually monitored and adapted to changing stakeholder.  This also includes quickly identifying areas where there are conflicting views among the various stakeholders and determining how best to handle a potential resolution.

Through open communications and meeting commitments, trust can be built and the relationship elevated to a higher level.  Building this relationship takes time but in the end the benefits to the overall success of the project and the organization can be achieved.