Stakeholder Strategy 101


Response to an organizational challenge may not be fruitful unless someone who believes in it is selling it. This someone is convinced that the response possesses competence and can be transformed into a solution. In addition, he or she endorses the solution until it renders ROI. These are some of the responsibilities of individuals or groups known as stakeholders. PMI defines project stakeholder as “anyone who has a vested interest in the project’s operation and/or its outcome”.

Stakeholders are also identified as business partners, sponsors, clients, customers, product owners, etc. They are concerned about the project’s proposed business value and how it is going to fulfill organizational objectives. They get affected by the outcome and deliverables of the project. Every project and program has them in some or the other role or designation.

Stakeholders are assets to an organization and project managers should utilize their time and skills efficiently. As stakeholders play decisive role towards solution delivery, it would be helpful for project managers to have a stakeholder strategy. Stakeholder strategy can help project managers facilitate communication between stakeholders and IT teams. Stakeholder strategy allows project managers to consider stakeholder availability and associated risks early in the project lifecycle. As the project progresses, if milestones get stretched, project managers should alter their stakeholder strategy. Adoption and implementation of stakeholder strategy allows project managers to efficiently involve and utilize available stakeholders. Stakeholder strategy allows project managers to respond to project needs. If I have to devise a stakeholder strategy within the organization I work, this will be it:

1. Identify Yours

Sometimes finding the right stakeholders is one of the toughest tasks. When projects are in the idea phase, their scope is not yet defined. Objectives and deliverables are not clear and concrete. This is also applicable to projects which are smaller in size with stringent deadlines. It is hard to expect key stakeholders to commit to projects on a short notice. For smaller projects, it is challenging to get stakeholders for a period of two to three months. For large, long, and complex programs, scope crosses several departments, existing or legacy systems, verticals or sections within the organization. The programs have complex business needs and demand innovative solutions. The stakeholder skills and knowledge base needed is not always available in the organization. Existing stakeholders may be too busy to start on new projects. The risks associated with hiring stakeholder talent on temporary basis are high. Additionally, availability of the talent may be low. Project managers should consider these factors while initiating a project. First step in stakeholder strategy allows project managers to envision stakeholder availability and utilization before initiating a project or having kick-off.

2. Feel their Pain

Once the stakeholders are known next step is to discover, analyze, and document their business needs. Stakeholders give birth to business ideas; hence their input is crucial while initiating the project. Stakeholders dictate the business needs and seek suggestions on how a solution can be provided. They are primary drivers of the project vision. The objective of solutions, systems or project deliverables is to satisfy their needs. Project managers or business analysts should act as primary communicators between stakeholders and IT teams. Business analysts should focus on the underlying business challenge. Solutions provided by business analysts and IT teams should build confidence in stakeholders and take them closer to their vision. Through business analysts stakeholders connect to the proposed solution. Stakeholders expect themselves to be closer to the details of the project to feel comfortable with the solution as well as solution delivery. And if your project is lucky enough, one of the stakeholders may end up directing solution development and delivery. Thus stakeholder strategy implemented by project manager allows stakeholders to serve the organization better by efficiently defining and analyzing the business needs.

3. Align to Their Needs

Stakeholders embrace the idea of a solution. They are concerned about the enterprise objectives. They are aware of the changes happening in the business arena which may affect the project’s outcome. They also track competitor’s products and approaches. Stakeholders have their views about how a solution should be delivered. They silently drive the project from the vision towards implementation. Therefore, project managers should align the project deliverables and outcome to their needs. Project managers should seek stakeholders’ inputs while defining the components or modules of the proposed solution. Project managers should quantify the complexity and magnitude of the components with assistance from stakeholders. These complexity and magnitude units should be used by project managers to estimate tasks of the project. Project managers need to know stakeholder priorities in order to define project or program milestones. If a project vision or functionality change occurs, stakeholders and project managers should work together to take appropriate decisions. Project managers should try to align project delivery to stakeholders’ needs and requests.

4. Involve them

As the development progresses IT teams transform stakeholders’ expectations into solutions. During development, IT teams expect stakeholders to be committed to the project. To provide solutions which are simpler and quicker, IT teams need to communicate heavily with stakeholders. If stakeholders are busy to look into project’s functional details, project managers should look for business users who can act as stakeholder’s representatives. For large, long, and complex projects, business needs are complex and domain knowledge may dominate. In such scenarios it is challenging for business analysts to have comfortable dialogue with stakeholders who are domain experts. Business users if available can bridge the domain gap and break the business needs into manageable pieces for business analysts and IT teams. Project managers and business users should manage the project’s business value. Business users should assist project managers in improving the solution from workflow as well as efficiency perspective. Project managers should define processes which will involve stakeholders in each step to reiterate their commitment, approve what is being built, and portray satisfaction for the solution delivery. Stakeholder involvement is a key to developing right IT solutions faster.

5. Cherish their Feedback

Once a project is implemented, IT teams are moved to another project. The knowledge acquired by project managers and development teams on one project can be used to refine their approach and performance in their next project. Stakeholder strategy suggests getting honest feedback from stakeholders about the way business need was analyzed, solution was proposed, delivered, and is being supported. Stakeholders’ feedback can be considered while working on the direction of the next project. As the development team continues to work on a different project, they can implement comments from their previous stakeholders. Input from previous project’s stakeholders is helpful for project managers in streamlining existing and future business value channels. Stakeholders also have an eye for the details of the solution. With stakeholders, IT teams learn how to approach to the details, factor the solution, and provide value to it. Project and development teams should cherish stakeholders’ feedback. If possible, attempts should be done to publish their feedback widely within the organization.

While concluding my stakeholder strategy, allow me to mention a quote from my childhood hero Mahatma Gandhi as I believe he is the greatest manager Republic of India ever had:

Customer is the most important visitor on our premises; he is not dependent on us, we are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.

Mahatma Gandhi – (Bapuji)

And Bapu’s quotation about customer is also applicable to stakeholders. I think managing and fulfilling stakeholder’s expectations contributes significantly towards solution delivery. I understand that my stakeholder strategy is not perfect and can’t guarantee results every time in all scenarios. However, it is a good enough strategy and worked well for me. I believe in implementing a good enough strategy than not having one.

Cheers to Strategy…

Author: Swagat Irsale is an Agile professional. His interests are SaaS Product development, and people management. He graduated from Auburn University and can be reached at


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