Identifying Project Stakeholders

”Remember, identifying all stakeholders and understanding how they will be impacted is crucial to the success of your project.” —Terri Wagner

Our first step in the stakeholder management process is to systematically identify all people and groups that have an interest in or can affect our ability to execute the project. Failing to identify all relevant stakeholders can leave you and your project open to, well, failure. You need to take the time necessary to review and ascertain all external entities that can affect your project.

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Note that we won’t ever be able to do this with 100% accuracy the first time we begin this process. As is often the case in project management, we must *progressively elaborate,* or iterate the stakeholder identification process, taking multiple passes through the overall flowchart, adding, subtracting, and modifying our list as the project progresses.

Besides simply overlooking stakeholders at the beginning of a project, other outside people and groups will become interested in, or be affected by, your project later in the execution of your project. This sometimes occurs even at the very end of a project. You must treat this identification step as a continuous, on-going process that doesn’t fully end until your project concludes.

There are many methods we can use to help us identify stakeholders. These include:

  • General Classifications. A good place to start identifying stakeholders is to begin with standardized/pre-determined categorized lists and stakeholder “wheels.” These include general categories and classifications that will help prompt you. An example of a stakeholder wheel can be found here. Another classification method is “PESTLE.,” which is an acronym for six basic types of stakeholders that may affect your project: (1) Political entities; (2) Economic or financial entities; (3) Social groups and organizations; (4) Technology-specific groups, organizations, and suppliers; (5) Legal entities; and (6) Environmental groups and organizations.

  • Work Breakdown Structure. Taking the time to work through your project’s Work Breakdown Structure, asking yourself whether there are people or organizations that are impacted by each element of the WBS, can often reveal previously unidentified stakeholders.

  • Project Phase. Like the WBS approach above, thinking through each phase of your project (initiating, planning, executing/monitoring/controlling, and closing) can help identify stakeholders interested in, or impacted by, your project.

  • Brainstorming. A powerful identification technique to stakeholder identification is to assemble small focus teams and allow them to brainstorm for 30-60 minutes on identifying possible stakeholders. Similarly, so-called “brain-writing” exercises can be employed.

  • Outside Experts and Previous Projects. Another powerful technique to identify stakeholders is to interview and query outside experts and participants in previous projects that are similar to yours.

For the above, you can/should ask yourself and your team the following types of questions:

  • Who has a financial or emotional interest in the outcome of your work?

  • Who might be positively or negatively impacted by the outcome of your project?

  • Who are the clients or customers the output will serve?

  • Who represents the governance and oversight of this project both internally and externally?

  • Who will be jointly engaged in the execution of the project activities? And so on…

Most project managers understand the importance of identifying key stakeholders. Where they fall short, however, is stopping with just the “key” or “primary” stakeholders. Successful project managers ensure they spend sufficient time and effort identifying *all* relevant stakeholders that have an interest in, and/or are affected by their projects.