Stakeholder management is one of the key pillars of project management. With stakeholder management, your main goal is to identify and engage with the potential parties your project may affect. However, how do you identify stakeholders?
Identifying stakeholders can be seen as an inside-out process. You first identify them yourself before bringing in your team, members of your organization beyond your project, leaders in your organizations, and your clients. You can consider communicating via email, phone calls, interviews, or conducting brainstorming sessions.
This article explores how you can identify stakeholders within your project. You can also get an identification cheat sheet with 65+ potential stakeholders. It will help you kick-start the identification process.
Why Should You Identify Stakeholders?
Identifying stakeholders allows you to create a stakeholder management plan with ‘targets’ to focus on. Identifying stakeholders lets you quickly spot potential parties you can leverage to push your project in the right direction.
Most projects, no matter how big or small, may affect individuals, parties, or organizations around them. If you are tasked to manage a project, you want to identify these people, as they can help your project in many ways.
Firstly, you can harness or leverage their skills and abilities to push your project forward. Suppose you want to build software to help dentists manage their clinics.
A stakeholder may be a dental salesperson, you know. This person can later help you to market your software through his contacts with dentists.
You can now devise a strategy to rope in this salesperson to propel your project, perhaps by offering a better commission structure. This brings the salesperson in, and you can leverage his skills and contacts for your project.
Identifying stakeholders allows you to identify potential threats or parties that may negatively affect your project. You can then devise a strategy to manage these parties and reduce the potential damage they may do.
For example, you identified the school canteen operator as a stakeholder in your free lunch program. You think they may feel threatened by it since they may lose sales. You also worry that they may protest against the school principal to cancel your project.
You can now think about ways to negate the potential threat they bring, perhaps by contracting the lunch preparation work to them instead.
What Are The Processes In Identifying Stakeholders?
Discovering and identifying stakeholders is not rocket science, but it may not be a walk in the park either. You want to undertake this process with a system to ensure you do not miss out on any potential stakeholders on your project.
I call this the ‘Inside-Out’ approach, where you approach parties and organizations from the inside and go out. By interacting with them, you understand their perspectives, and they may also help you identify potential stakeholders.
Step 1: Identify Who To Talk To
In this approach, you essentially identify stakeholders by asking people in the following order:
- Your Project Team Members
- Members Within Your Organization Not In Your Project Team
- Leaders Within Your Organization
- Internal Stakeholders
- Your Clients
Yourself: As a project manager, you can likely quickly name potential project stakeholders. A sit-down and a notepad may be all that you need to start.
Your Project Team Members: There is a reason why teams always win over individuals. More brains usually equal more perspectives and can quickly pinpoint potential stakeholders you may have missed.
Members Within Your Organization Not In Your Project Team: These could be people who managed the pre-sales or managers who onboarded your client. They may be able to tell you some concerns and the mindset of your client. You and your team may get some clues on potential stakeholders.
Leaders Within Your Organization: You can also go to your organization’s upper management. They may be able to show you potential stakeholders that may be affected by your project at a higher level. Consider discussing your project with your manager, senior manager, or C-level executives.
Internal Stakeholders: Internal stakeholders may be parties or organizations you have identified for your project. They could be the HR department responsible for assigning executives to your team or the finance department issuing funds for your project.
Your Clients: If your project involves working with a client, then you can also meet your client and see who they think may be stakeholders in the project. They may know critical stakeholders inside their own organization or industry in general.
Step 2: Get Busy Asking The Right Questions
Once you have identified who to talk to, it’s time to get talking. Approach these people, and see if you can have some of their time to talk about your project.
During the initial approach, avoid being too direct, but use a more collaborative tone.
For example, rather than saying that you are looking for ‘project stakeholders,’ open the discussion by saying you are ‘looking for people who can help with your project.’
The reason is that the term ‘project stakeholders’ is an inside term, and not everyone will understand it. It also makes the discussion a little too cold, and people may become averse to talking to you too much.
Depending on their preference, you can set up different ways to communicate. You can opt between the following:
Some methods, such as meetings or brainstorming sessions, may work better if you engage with a team. Instant messaging may be more casual than emails, which may help people open up more.
While communicating or discussing with these parties, understand that the burden is on your side. It is your and your team’s responsibility to try to get them to open up and suggest potential stakeholders.
This could be achieved by asking the right questions. Consider asking the following questions to start the snowball:
Who can help with our project? This question quickly opens up discussion and helps to identify stakeholders that can influence your project in a positive direction.
Who might be interested in our project? With this question, you can also identify stakeholders that may have an interest in your project. However, you may identify stakeholders who may be positively or negatively affected, so you need to sort them out later.
Who must be involved? Are there any mandatory processes? This question may help to bring out stakeholders that may set the requirements for your project. For example, government organizations or bodies that set standards related to your project.
Who may be against our project? This may be one of the major, important questions here, as it allows you to identify parties threatened by your project. This allows you to neutralize, pre-empt, or contain the possible damage they may bring.
What drawbacks might the project have for others? Similar to the previous question, this allows you to identify parties that may be negatively affected by your project. You can alleviate their concerns or get them involved to change their behavior.
It may be good to have a checklist to note down all the discussion results during the process. We may forget important things during the discussion, especially if they are longer than expected.
Cheatsheet: Who Are The Common Stakeholders In Projects?
Common stakeholders in most projects usually involve the project owners, people within your organization, parties responsible for approvals, and experts. You may also identify parties that may resist, support, depend on, or are unaware of your project.
Project managers on the client’s side
|Organizational Structure||Your manager|
Your senior manager
Director of a department
CEO (Chief Executive Officer)
CTO (Chief Technical Officer)
CFO (Chief Financial Officer)
Sales manager who brought in your client
|Processes & Approvals||Human resources|
Standards & regulatory agencies
Board of directors
|Rare, Critical Expert Knowledge||Experts in other teams|
Project Managers who did similar projects
Organizations with experience in your project
Universities Research institutes
|End Users||Consumer research organizations|
Hardcore fans of product/brand
|Critical Project Team Members||Business analyst|
|Resistance||Your client’s competitors|
Rival project managers
Leaders within your organization
Rivals to your organizations
Outside parties negatively affected by your project
Activist groups, NGOs
|Stakeholders Unaware Of Your Projects||General public|
Experts within your project area
|Supporters||Other project managers|
Experts not on your team
Social media influencers
Another project team
|Sources Of Requirements||Quality standards body|
Legal compliance body
Environment standards body
Google Play Store
Once you actually work with your team and list out potential stakeholders related to your project, you may be surprised by the list you develop. This is because stakeholders can come in many forms, concerns, and effects.
To make the task of identifying stakeholders easier for you, we have listed out around 65 stakeholders that may come in at many projects to get you started. We have also grouped these stakeholders into several groups to help you zoom in during your identification process.
Project owners are basically stakeholders who have direct control over your project. These may include sponsors, clients, brand owners, or project managers on the client’s side.
With the stakeholders within your organization, this should be straightforward. However, it is the external stakeholders that are part of your project but not in your organization that you need to watch for.
For example, a (VC) venture capitalist is part of an external firm. Still, it funds your project/startup as a major shareholder. You need to work hand-in-hand with these project owners and update them regularly on your work.
At the very least, check if they have any mandatory processes or requirements that may impact your project work. For example, the VC requires your product to be built using a specific coding language and to not take another investor in unless you discuss it with them first.
In the simplest language, these people are your bosses within your organization. On the surface, they should generally want your project to succeed, especially if it helps to achieve their own objectives and results.
For example, suppose your dentist clinic management software takes off and launches into Beta. Your division head may be happy, as it helps him to achieve his KPI of two applications moving to the Beta mode that year.
However, some bosses may prefer stability and happy clients over rapid progress. These may be portfolio managers who want you to slow down and ensure their clients are happy with your work first. Only then do you undertake it.
Take time and identify these stakeholders, and see how you can keep them informed of your project’s progress and challenges.
Processes And Approvals
When running your project, you must ensure you comply with the regulations and standards within your organization. If you do not and proceed to ignore them, they may block your progress.
Generally, these stakeholders may involve human resources (HR), recruitment, procurement, legal, or policy compliance. For example, suppose your organization practices a zero-paper policy. In that case, you must ensure your project is planned and conducted as such.
Usually, you may need to brief and inform these regulatory stakeholders that you are aware of their policies and processes and how you are implementing them in your project. For extra points, describe how achieving your project objectives helps to achieve theirs as well.
Rare, Critical, Expert Knowledge
Projects you are running may require unique expert knowledge that not many have. Without them, your project may fail to take off. As a result, these experiences are usually very expensive.
For example, you are managing a project to build an underground metro system that requires tunneling. There are not many underground tunneling machines around, nor are there many experts who can operate, maintain, and manage them well.
One way to reduce the potential cost is to help them see how participating in your project helps them to achieve theirs beyond monetary gains. However, this may not be easy.
Suppose your project involves creating or building a solution or product. In that case, the key is having access to the people you target to use them in the first place. If you are creating a new chicken sandwich recipe, you will need people to test and eat them.
These testers can give you feedback and help you to improve your product. This prevents your project from building in the dark, and launching to crickets.
Some common end-user-based stakeholders include consumer research groups, communities of early adopters, and hardcore fans of the brand you are working with.
Critical Project Team Members
Apply the Pareto Principle (80/20 rule). You may easily see how 20% of the team members may contribute up to 80% of your project’s success. These are what you can consider critical project team members.
They may contribute unique skills nobody else in your team has or are simply capable of outworking other members. For example, the lead engineer in your software development project or the top salesperson bringing in clients and cash hand-over-fist.
What are your major objectives with these stakeholders? Keep them motivated and engaged in the project, and avoid them from leaving your project team. Other project managers may try to pinch them away.
Your project does not live in a utopia and may present a threat to other people. These stakeholders will likely be hostile to your project and find ways to stall, kill, or break your project.
Suppose you are setting up a large plantation. Environmental groups may protest, as well as the local residents, who fear habitat destruction and nature.
Within your organization, your project may eat away funds that some other project managers have earmarked for themselves. They may try to discourage your project from being approved, reduce its funding, and even collaborate to vote to cancel it.
The key is identifying and then projecting the potential damage they could do. Then, seek if there are ways to convert, neutralize, or at least contain the damage they could inflict.
Stakeholders Unaware Of Your Project
Unaware stakeholders could be like a spanner. As your project commences well, they suddenly appear out of nowhere and start to demand explanations, updates, proofs of compliance, or more.
They may act like a spanner that gets thrown into your project cogwheel and stops everything from working.
These stakeholders may be regulatory agencies, NGOs, politicians, and government bodies. You may not be able to fully identify all of these stakeholders, but you can at least work with those you know and ensure they are fully briefed on your project.
Supporters may be parties inside or outside your organization that you know will have your back when they learn about your project. Usually, these parties happily choose to be involved with your project and contribute positively.
Within your organization, these could be project managers who may benefit from your project or a mentor who can help you with management and leadership.
Outside your organization, they could be media or social media influencers who can spread the good word about your project to generate publicity and public goodwill.
Third-party dependencies are stakeholders that you may rely on in some ways. They can be internal or external. Internal stakeholders may be part of your organization but not your project team. External ones are commonly not part of your organization.
Internal third-party dependencies may be other project managers or critical experts within your organization that you consult on but are not in your project team. External stakeholders under this category may be vendors, marketers, or workers that help to ensure the smooth execution and delivery of your project.
Sources Of Requirements
Generally, all stakeholders come in with their own sets of requirements. However, some stakeholders are lenient about it, while some insist that their requirements be followed.
These requirements may range from policies, compliance, legal, quality, or process. Some stakeholders may insist that you implement certain actions or place certain people in certain positions within your team to protect their interests.
The key here is to ensure that fulfilling their requirements does not bring harm to your project or that they bring in more positives than negatives.
Next Steps in Stakeholder Identification
Identifying stakeholders is crucial in stakeholder management, as it allows you to zero out on parties affected by your project. You can then decide how to manage them, either driving their energy to propel your project or seeking ways to contain the damage they may bring.
The key is to engage with all the possible parties that could pinpoint you to stakeholders you may have missed out. Aside from yourself, engage with your team, organization, and relevant outside parties, such as your client.
All stakeholders you identified should land into your Stakeholder Register. In general, I recommend identifying them first. Then, perform a stakeholder analysis.
Unfortunately, this article was just one piece of a complex project stakeholder management framework: Many other processes happen before and after this one.
If one part doesn’t work, the whole system breaks.
My Stakeholder Management Plan Template connects all processes and tools into one cohesive system. It also provides access to other articles and videos on stakeholder management.
Don’t put your projects and reputation at risk. Ensure you know how stakeholder management works in the real world.
All successful project managers know it’s better to learn from someone else’s experience (aka lessons learned). Tap into my 12 years of practical IT experience and get the Stakeholder Management Plan Template.