A stakeholder analysis is a necessary first step in any project, or you endanger the project by not focusing on the right priorities. This four-step guide will help you draft one.
One of the most important project manager responsibilities is to make sure you have all of the stakeholders taken care of. It’s one of the basics of project management that is necessary to get right at the very beginning, or you risk chaos and delays when it’s too late to change course.
It’s one of the most preliminary steps you should be taking — even before defining the project scope. A well-thought-out stakeholder analysis will inform all aspects of the project, so it’s important to get started with it right away.
Overview: What is stakeholder analysis?
A stakeholder analysis is a process that assesses a project and what factors may have an impact on the people with an interest in or influence over the project (the stakeholders).
The purpose of a stakeholder analysis in project planning is to identify who the key stakeholders are, and then determine how their interests should be addressed in the project plan.
These different stakeholders all have their own demands and interests, and determining how those different interests will be balanced is a key part of stakeholder analysis.
This analysis is vital before the start of a project, because it helps you spot risks and obstacles before the project gets underway. By keeping all of the stakeholders’ interests in mind and making sure they are accounted for, you dramatically increase your project’s chances of success.
How to conduct a stakeholder analysis
The stakeholder analysis is actually a pretty straightforward process — and it’s a key project management step. There’s nothing particularly complex about it, but it can give real clarity about who the stakeholders are and which of them are most important for you to take care of.
Step 1: Identify the stakeholders
The first stakeholder analysis step in project management is to identify who the stakeholders are, after which you can start to get into the nitty-gritty of who has what interests, and what level of influence they have.
At this stage, you shouldn’t really be concerned with just how involved they are in the project — if they have any stake at all, list them. Anyone with a vested interest in this project or with influence over it, no matter how small that influence or interest is, is a stakeholder.
Tips for identify stakeholders
This is an important step because if you forget a stakeholder, it could throw your entire project off because you made a decision that negatively impacted a stakeholder you didn’t think of and now you need to adjust. Here’s a couple tips to make sure you identify everyone:
- Just start brainstorming: Chances are, you know most of the stakeholders off the top of your head. You could even bring in the obvious stakeholders to help you brainstorm the other ones you might be missing.
- Learn from the past: Are there similar projects you’ve worked on in the past that could help inform you of who the stakeholders are? Use that as a reference.
Step 2: Assess their level of interest
Of course, not all stakeholders are on equal footing, and there are two main factors to consider here: level of interest and level of influence.
We’ll start with level of interest, which refers to how invested that individual stakeholder is in your project and how much they will be affected by the success or failure of the project.
You’ll want to estimate what each stakeholder’s level of interest is, perhaps simply tagging them as “low” or “high” or using a numbered scale for more specificity.
Tips for assessing level of interest
By ascertaining the level of interest a stakeholder has in the project, you will have one half of the puzzle in how each stakeholder’s concern should be prioritized. Here are three tips for figuring out their level of interest:
- Ask what would happen if the project failed: A good way to measure the level of interest of a stakeholder is to ask how they would be impacted — specifically — if the project failed. Would they lose a lot of money? If so, you can mark them as having a high interest in the project.
- Accountability means interest: An individual who is accountable for the success of a project also has a high interest, even if they don’t benefit financially or otherwise. The failure of the project could mean a significant professional setback for them.
- Not everyone has high interest: Just because a person has some measurable interest in the project, that doesn’t mean they have high interest. It’s tough to estimate something so subjective, but try to put some stakeholders in medium and low categories, or you will struggle to prioritize later.
Step 3: Assess their level of influence
Interest is not the only factor, however. There are people and entities who have no interest in your project but a high degree of influence. One example might be the government.
If you’re working on a construction project, the government probably has little interest in its outcome but expects you to abide by all laws and regulations.
Any misstep by you, and the government could shut the entire project down, meaning it has a high degree of influence but little interest. Therefore, you’d need to factor it into your stakeholder analysis.
This can also be useful for your workload management, as it helps you identify who has a big impact on the project and should therefore take on higher-priority tasks.
Tips for determining level of influence
When you determine the level of influence of your stakeholders, you will have the complete picture to proceed to the analysis phase. Here’s some tips on how to get there:
- Ask what they could do to shut down the project: Sometimes it’s tough determining a level of influence, but by asking yourself what they could do to kill the project if they wanted to, you’ll go a long way in uncovering how much influence they have.
- Conversely, ask who is most likely to help the project succeed: Even if a stakeholder has no power to shut down a project, they could still have a huge influence over the project by being the one most likely to have an outsized influence on the project’s success. For example, this could be an outside expert you’ve brought on to guide you throughout the project.
Step 4: Conduct the analysis
Now that you understand who the stakeholders are, what their interests are, and how much influence they have on the project, you can start balancing and prioritizing their needs.
Stakeholders with a high interest and high influence in the project should get first priority, and those with the lowest interest and lowest influence should get last priority.
This may seem obvious, but until you lay it out in an analysis, you may find yourself wasting time catering to the needs of one stakeholder who you didn’t realize was low interest and low influence at the expense of someone who really matters on the project.
You might also find it valuable to create a risk register, which is a document that lays out what risks are associated with which activities, and which stakeholder has ownership of that activity. This is a way to further build off your analysis to create a comprehensive risk management plan.
Tips for conducting the analysis
Now that you’ve laid the groundwork in the previous three steps, the analysis should be fairly straightforward. Here’s some things to keep in mind when you do it:
- Create a schedule: Once you’ve identified how important each stakeholder is, you should come up with communication strategies and allocate time for appropriately catering to their needs. Once you’ve determined that you’ll communicate with, say, the director of the project in person once per week and every day via email, and a low-level supervisor once per week via email, you can sit down with them and make it clear just how much communication they can expect from you.
- Resist overcommunication: The entire point of this plan is to prioritize stakeholders so you don’t spend more time with stakeholders who are less important than others. If someone is constantly emailing you or asking for updates when they are of low importance, resist the urge to acquiesce and stick to the plan you drew up to protect your valuable time.
- Come up with an implementation plan: You should map out the stakeholder assessment in a way that you and the rest of your team should follow. You might want to draft a plan for each stakeholder: e.g., this is how often the owner should expect to hear directly for the foreman, the director, and so on.
Stakeholder analysis example
To truly illustrate what it means to conduct a stakeholder analysis, it’s helpful to look at what a finished product looks like to give you some ideas on how to conduct yours and what information you will need to gather.
Here’s a quick mock-up of what a simplified stakeholder analysis might look like for a small construction firm tasked with developing a one-story building.
As you can see, it’s not extraordinarily complicated, but it does give a clear picture of who your stakeholders are, what their priority should be, and how often you should be communicating with them.
Project management software can help
The Ascent has reviewed a lot of project management software options that can help you better manage stakeholders (and the project in general).
As a result, it may make sense to try a few out of them to see if you can do a better job of drafting a project communication plan that will serve the needs of all of your stakeholders.
In addition to helping with stakeholder analysis, these software options have many other essential project management tools — such as task prioritization, team calendars, resource management, time tracking, and more. Take a look and see what might be a good fit for your business.