Stakeholder Management 101

Consider those most affected to create lasting change

By Philip J. Kangas

This article was featured in January 2016’s Best Of Back to Basics edition.

Stakeholder buy-in is essential in any successful project, including lean and Six Sigma efforts. A leading cause of project failure, however, is inattention to those stakeholders with the greatest influence over implementation and sustainability. Effective management requires proactive and ongoing stakeholder engagement—including identification, communication and risk planning, and active collaboration—throughout the project life cycle.

Stakeholder management begins by identifying individuals and groups the project affects. To identify a comprehensive list of stakeholders, the project team should evaluate individuals or groups who contribute to or receive value from the project. The team should assess stakeholders for their influence, the extent to which they are affected and their attitudes toward the project.

Stakeholders’ perspectives, involvement and ability to influence the project may change throughout its duration. Teams should identify stakeholders not only in the project design phase, but also periodically throughout the project.

Recurring stakeholder analysis will help the team determine the right approach to effective stakeholder communication, risk mitigation and engagement throughout the project. At each new phase, the team should revisit the stakeholder analysis, which will help guide tactical decisions for engaging key stakeholders to support project goals.

To assess each stakeholder group, the team can apply numerical ratings or simply rate each as high, medium or low for stakeholder influence and involvement. The team can use these ratings to plot each stakeholder on a 2×2 matrix for analysis. For attitudes, the team can identify whether the stakeholders are supporters (+), neutral (0) or detractors (–), or use a green, yellow and red coding. This categorization will allow for stakeholder segmentation for communication and risk planning.

Stakeholder ratings will help form an effective communication plan, which recognizes that each group may have different information needs. For example, the stakeholders in the upper right–hand quadrant of each step in Figure 1 will have the most at stake in the project and possess the most power to influence the project’s outcome. The team should seek to create buy–in and ownership with this group through targeted communication.

Additionally, stakeholder attitude identification is useful for risk management planning. Each individual or group rated as having negative or neutral attitudes toward the project presents potential liabilities. The team should prioritize stakeholders who do not support the project and who have the greatest influence. Addressing these stakeholders through targeted outreach will reduce project risk.

Stakeholder analysis will help those responsible for project success to identify project advocates—supporters (positive attitude score) with high influence and stake in the project. The team should deploy advocates to influence those groups that may be neutral or negative toward the project. Influential and interested advocates will provide important allies to drive project success. Figure 1 illustrates the stakeholder advocate engagement process.

Organizations spend millions of dollars each year on projects designed to eliminate waste and reduce variation through process redesign. Many of these projects, however, fail to create lasting change. Active stakeholder management will allow these projects to maximize the return on investment through tailored communication, risk mitigation and stakeholder advocate engagement.

Figure 1

Philip J. Kangas is a director at Grant Thornton’s Global Public Sector practice. He earned a master’s degree in public administration from Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs in New York. Kangas is a senior member of ASQ and an ASQ-certified Six Sigma Black Belt.

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