Stakeholder engagement is the art or science of engaging and managing stakeholders to ensure they best support to the project. Stakeholder engagement is extremely difficult to do well and the success of the project depends on it.
Who Are Stakeholders
Stakeholders in a project sense is defined as anyone that is effected by the project, both positively and negatively. Stakeholders will generally sit in two camps, those who support the project, and those who oppose it. Remember, a stakeholder is anyone that is effected (positively or negatively) by the project. As a Project Manager, it is critical to understand which camp each of the stakeholder groups are in, as they can have a significant impact on the projects outcome.
Stakeholder Engagement Levels
One important component in understanding and managing stakeholders is to understand their level of engagement, how this can effect the project, which will be discussed further.
Most will be aware of the existing cost to change graph (below), which shows that as the project moves through its lifecycle, the cost of change increases exponentially. What this graph does not represent is the typical engagement levels of stakeholders (even the supporters) and the impact this can have.
In my experience, stakeholder engagement generally increases as the project matures, and especially as the project nears handover to business as usual or as the transfer of risk nears. It is at this transfer of risk that it’s becoming clear to your stakeholders that they will be responsible for the deliverable/s once the project ends, this is when they start to question the scope and request changes. As the graph below illustrates, the dotted line in red denotes the typical engagement curve of a stakeholder,
- Stakeholder interest is quite high as the project is initiated and planned
- Stakeholder interest drops rapidly as the planning process matures and stakeholders are focussing on business as usual
- Nearing completion (transfer of risk) stakeholder engagement levels increase rapidly, at which point change impacts greatly to the project cost
- Source “Striking Project Management”
It can be extremely difficult to maintain stakeholder relationships during a project over many months and sometimes years. Keeping this model in mind during project delivery, can help plan your stakeholder engagement strategy. Remember, Stakeholder expectations and mindsets will change, so allow for these changes and design your stakeholder management plan accordingly. Meet in person and build relationships early.