Don't forget your stakeholders

In most of the projects we focus too much on the tasks to fulfill and the goals we have to achieve. As good project managers we have learned that well defined goals are those that are under our control. But the project's environment is heavily competing who really decides about success of fail of the project. To integrate relevant stakeholders at an early stage in a planned manner is one of the most critical success factors in real life.

It is possible to ignore that. It is possible to forget important stakeholders, but be sure - they won't forget that! Very often close to the end of the project a little unease grows and forms serious resistance nobody had been aware of. You are facing heavy headwind exactly from the direction you did not care about.

For the success of your project you badly need the active support in your organisation, not just an interested crowd of onlookers. You can do a lot securing the success by actively collaborate with your environment. And you should really start in the beginning. If you know your enemy good enough, there is a good chance to make him a friend.

Six steps to integrate your stakeholders

The following six steps of stakeholder integration will give you a guideline that helps to work with your environment actively and to lead your stakeholders to active personal engagement for your project.

But before you start to walk that path I suggest a shift in looking at things. Stop staring at the tasks that have to be fulfilled, stop looking at the activities to be performed. Some sceptical people think that beeing brilliant at performing tasks makes only 30% of the project's success. We will not argue about the exact figure. But: Focus on the Stakeholders, the people, the individuals with their interests, their pains, their expectations. And look at their relations and influencing powers. That's the area where you will win, if you convince people and take them with you on your journey.


1. Identify stakeholders and their influence

First try to gain an overview who might possibly be affected by your project - directly or indirectly. Then take another step and ask who might have an interest in your project, whatever these interests might be. When you believe that the list is complete, ask yourself: Who else? Usually there are a lot more people, especially those who hide behind heavy curtains. Expand your list with everybody who comes into your mind. Having done this it's important to analyse who has how much influence on the success of your project. With these steps you produce a good picture of the powers related with your project.

2. Analyse expectations and interests

With every change, with every project there will be winners and loosers in your organization. Or at least people who think they might belong to one of these two groups. So be careful to identify the specific hopes and fears of any single stakeholder related to your project.And you will have a first view on possible supporters and probable opponents. Think about what the specific interest of any single stakeholder might be. For the next stept you now have a solid basis.

3. Develop strategies and key messages

The preferences of your stakeholders tend to be very heterogene. You should keep that in mind when you develop your strategies. Most likely you will need different channels and media to approach the different stakeholders in order to make them supporting yor project. Try to analyse which kind of change you can expect from whom and check carefully which move you want them to do. Then think who in your team is the best contact person for wich stakeholder. In the end you need a bunch of key messages for the different stakeholders. What's the story, you want to tell?

4. Plan the activities and media

Now, not earlier, you will be able to draft a meaningful communication strategy. What are the messages, what are the adequate media, what is the best rhythm to contact whom exactly? Be prepared to evoke reactions, how do you manage them? Are you prepared to deal with possible feedback, ideas or concerns? The earlier in your project you know these ideas, suggestions or objections the better you will adopt and direct your project. Maybe some of the objections turn out to be valuable improvements.

5. Contact humans and strenghen relations

There is no way, you have to be active. Perfect strategies and plans won't help if you stay at distance, it has to be personal. So don't expect too much from e-mails or bulk mails, that's just about spreading information. You never will evoke engagement or enthusiasm with e-mails. It's all about direct contact of human beeings! For some stakeholders the means could be workshops or focus groups. The key players you will have to contact face-to-face.

6. Monitor and alalyse results

Do not forget to monitor carefully whether you do achieve the desired results. Which messages and media works with which stakeholder groups? You project is dynamic, so is your environment. Some of the stakeholders will become more importand, others will loose influence. And new stakeholders will get on the scene. Adopt your stategies, plans and activities accordingly and continuosly.

Turn towards people and relations!

For each of the desribed six steps there are a lot of good to excellent methods. But the most important approach is to - maybe just for a moment - forget about the tasks. Turn your head and focus on the environment, the people, the relations, the interests, the emotions and powers of influence. And do not do this job alone, the co-operation with a good team raises the quality of your stakeholder management a lot.