The Importance of Stakeholders

Stakeholders are vitally important in all projects. There will always be someone who has an interest in seeing a project succeed. In fact, no project gets started unless someone has an interest in it. Keep in mind that the main stakeholder, the sponsor, most likely came up with the idea for the project in the first place.

One thing is clear, you as the Project Manager, needs to identify all stakeholders in your project (Verzuh, 2011). Stakeholders are defined as those individuals or groups who are actively involved in the project or whose interest may be positively or negatively affected by the performance or completion of the project (PMBOK, 2013). And there can be many stakeholders and they can have an interest in the project in the most interesting or unusual ways. Stakeholders can also be both internal and external to the project.

Stakeholders have various levels of responsibility in a project. The sponsor is the main champion and also approves all expenditures. Your Program Manager oversees your project and numerous other projects similar to yours. The project team interest is in producing a quality result seeing it to completion. Customers/users interest is in wanting to use a product/service that will solve their problem or fulfil a need. As you can see, there are many different users and each of them has a different reason for being interested in the project.

Identifying these stakeholders can be challenging. Sometimes it’s easy to find them and other times you may get surprised that someone has influence over the outcome of your project. You have to ask the question of who is impacted by this project and in what way are they impacted? Does a stakeholder have approval powers over my project? If so, how, and what is the potential impact?

It is highly important to be very thorough in identifying these stakeholders. Miss one and it could cost you dearly. The three main ones are the sponsor, the resource manager and those with decision authority. I use a stakeholder register to store all information on a stakeholder. I look for such information as name, title, phone, email address, contact preferences, what is their role/interest in this project, what decision making responsibility do they have? And I ask each, or I find out what I can on the company systems, who is their boss?

I ask that last question due to past experience. I just recently inherited a high profile project that is showing signs of trouble. One of the first tasks I gave myself was to identify all the tasks, those responsible for those tasks and what did these tasks impact. I’m looking for all stakeholders, but first I have to understand what the project is all about so that I know where to look. I don’t want to be talking to the sales department if the project has nothing to do with sales.

After 2 weeks of identifying the tasks and the stakeholders we had a risk that became an issue. One of the functional groups that was supposed to supply a resource to perform certain tasks for us, and we had been assured they would do, suddenly told us they couldn’t do it. Two people from this functional group had actually approved these resources. The catch, their boss had the final decision authority and he wouldn’t give it claiming it was outside of their described duties. Lesson learned: always ask if the person you’re talking with has the final authority on making a decision.

So the key is to identify all the key players and stakeholders who have an interest in your project, learn why they have an interest, what their role will be in the project and keep a record of all information on these stakeholders. Word to the wise: don’t show it to any stakeholders, this is your information for your eyes only.

A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® guide) (5th ed.). (2013). Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Verzuh, E. (2012). The fast forward MBA in project management (4th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

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Author: Rich Garling

Successful results-driven experience in IT program/project management, focusing on collaborating with multiple businesses and IT workstreams to define detailed business process requirements into workable enterprise software solutions for retail, finance, pharmaceutical, and inventory processes. A successful proven track record in leading cross-functional international teams of project managers while managing expectations and delivering projects of greater than $10M within stakeholder expectations. Provided an in-depth knowledge of SDLC using Agile and Waterfall project management methodologies (Scrum Master (SMC)), MS IT Management/Project Management (AMU)), and a talent for developing business requirements delivering workable technology solutions. Rich holds a Bachelor of Science in Political Science from Northern Illinois University and a Master of Science in Information Technology/Project Management from American Military University. He is currently a Project Manager III for Bradford Hammacher Group in Niles, IL/