What is a project stakeholder?

Who are your project’s stakeholders, and how can you work with them to ensure better outcomes for your project? Here’s why project stakeholders are so important.

Project Management Institute, project stakeholders are defined as:

“Individuals and organizations who are actively involved in the project, or whose interests may be positively or negatively affected as a result of project execution or successful project completion.”

In other words, your project’s stakeholders are the people or groups who have something to gain (or lose) from your project’s outcome.

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Okay but really: what is a stakeholder in project management?

So according to the project stakeholder definition above, a stakeholder is anyone with an interest or investment in your project. But what does that actually look like in practice?

Your stakeholders are a varied group, with varied interests. (If you’re playing on Hard Mode, they might even have completely conflicting interests that you need to balance — fun!)

Not only that, but the list of stakeholders can change throughout the project’s journey: a certain stakeholder’s influence might become more or less important depending on the project phase, for example.

Your job as a project manager is to keep all stakeholders informed, involved, and on-board throughout the project’s progression. Stakeholder happiness is one of the cakes)

  • Suppliers

  • Vendors

  • Consultants

  • Customers

  • End users

  • So how do you know which stakeholders you need to focus on for your particular project? For that, you need to do a stakeholder analysis.

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    How to do a stakeholder analysis

    As soon as your scope of your project is defined, you can use it to start mapping out your stakeholders. Here’s how to get the ball rolling with a basic stakeholder analysis process.

    1. Identify your stakeholders

    First step, you need to identify who your stakeholders actually are. To do this, draw on your project charter and any other project plans and documentation to compile a full list of your project stakeholders, both internal and external.

    Bear in mind that some stakeholders won’t come into play until later in the project lifecycle — but if you can anticipate who they’ll be in advance, you can start to get their buy-in, build the relationship from the outset, and help them to feel involved from the beginning.

    2. Prioritize your stakeholders

    Once you’ve identified all of your stakeholders, you can start to prioritize them.

    Prioritizing your stakeholders is important because it helps you understand where to invest your resources. In other words, it helps you — as the project manager — to identify who the key decision makers are at any given moment, so you can ensure that you’re talking to the right people, at the right time.

    There are a few methods of doing this stakeholder prioritization, but one simple way is to plot them out using a power/interest (or power/influence, or impact/influence) grid.

    The power/interest grid helps you to identify your key stakeholders by answering two key questions that help you to group them into one of four categories:

    • What level of power do they have?: How important is it that they’re happy with the project’s progress and results? How integral are they to the project’s success? How influential are they to the project, to other stakeholders, to the team, and so on? (Remember: a stakeholder’s influence can be positive or negative!)

    • What level of interest do they have?: Is this project super important to them, or are they only tangentially connected to it? Is it something they’re directly accountable for? Are they reliant on it for other work or results? Are they opposed to the project or concerned about it in some way?

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    As we can see from the (highly technologically-advanced) matrix above, stakeholders who fall into the top-right quadrant (powerful + interested) are the ones you should be giving extra attention to, because they’re the ones who can have the most impact on your project — for better or for worse.

    3. Understand your stakeholders

    Now that you know who the key players are and which ones to prioritize, you need to get a full grasp of their expectations for the project.

    For key stakeholders, this might involve meeting up for a short face-to-face interview or conversation where you discuss things like:

    • What their definition of lots of different communication options means that you can tailor your notifications to each stakeholder’s unique needs, while still keeping a full audit history of every action and decision (which is especially handy when it comes to reporting time).

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      Give project stakeholders visibility over what matters to them

      Help each stakeholder to cut through the noise and get immediate insights into the metrics that are most important to them by creating custom Dashboards. Build personalized Dashboards with panels to keep track of things like tasks, project statuses, team activity, milestones, risks, and more, so your stakeholders can quickly see how certain parts of the project are progressing and get an immediate overview of the information they care about at a glance.

      Stakeholders shouldn’t be an afterthought. Instead, build them into your project from the beginning, by communicating regularly, keeping them up-to-date and involved, and ensuring they feel valued and listened.

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