How to Improve Project Stakeholder Engagement in 4 Steps

Billy Guinan
By | Updated December 15, 2023 | 18 min read

Key Take Aways

The article provides a four-step process to help identify and engage project stakeholders, and suggests using BrightWork 365 to automate elements of stakeholder communication using Microsoft 365.

4 steps for improving project stakeholder engagement are:

  • Define the stakeholders and their roles in the project.
  • Analyze the stakeholders’ interests, expectations, and influence.
  • Plan how to engage with the stakeholders and communicate with them effectively.
  • Implement the engagement plan and measure its effectiveness.

 

The article also emphasizes the importance of building a strong relationship with stakeholders, which is critical to project success. Stakeholders are defined as “any person or group of people who have an interest in, can influence, or will be affected by any planned changes in an organization”.

Overview

Success in project management heavily relies on fostering robust relationships with stakeholders.

These stakeholders, encompassing any individuals or groups vested in, capable of influencing, or impacted by organizational changes, are integral to the project’s trajectory. Understanding and effectively engaging them early is fundamental for achieving desirable project outcomes.

This article presents a structured four-step approach designed to optimize stakeholder engagement. This process involves identifying your stakeholders and strategically engaging them to align their interests and influence with the project’s goals.

Additionally, this article highlights how the innovative BrightWork 365 solution can streamline stakeholder communication, especially using the Microsoft 365 platform.

Leveraging such tools enables the automation and enhancement of communication channels, which ensures that stakeholders are consistently informed and actively involved throughout the project lifecycle.

Join us as we delve into these four crucial steps, providing you with the knowledge and tools necessary to elevate your project stakeholder engagement to new heights.

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Who are Project Stakeholders?

As mentioned above, project stakeholders are people, groups, or organizations who may be impacted by or can impact the project. Stakeholders are divided into internal or external groups.

Internal Stakeholders in Project Management

Internal stakeholders typically belong to the organization executing the project. They can include:

  • The Project Management Office (PMO): This office is vital in setting standards and ensuring project management best practices across the organization.
  • The Project Team: Comprising members directly involved in the project, responsible for executing project tasks.
  • The Project Sponsor: A key figure who champions the project at the highest level, providing resources and making critical decisions.
  • Business Departments: Such as IT, finance, or procurement, which provide necessary support and resources.
  • Managers and Team Leaders: Responsible for overseeing various teams and ensuring alignment with project goals.
  • Subject Matter Experts: Individuals with specialized knowledge crucial for the project’s success.
  • Quality Assurance Teams: Ensuring project deliverables meet the required standards and quality.
  • Marketing and Sales Teams: Often involved in projects that affect the market positioning or sales strategies.

 

Recognizing External Project Stakeholders

External stakeholders are not part of the organization but are significantly impacted by the project or have a substantial effect on it. These include:

  • Suppliers: Providers of essential goods and services required for project completion.
  • Customers: The end-users who will be directly affected by the project’s outcome.
  • Consultants: External advisors or experts brought in for their specialized skills.
  • Subcontractors: External entities performing specific tasks under the main contract.
  • The Local Community: Residents or groups impacted by the project.
  • Government Agencies and Departments: Regulatory bodies with jurisdiction over the project.
  • Special Interest Groups: Organizations or groups with particular interests related to the project.
  • Media: Can influence public perception and awareness of the project.

 

The Diversity of Stakeholder Groups

Project stakeholders represent a diverse group of individuals, interests, and influence. Balancing their needs and expectations is a critical, albeit challenging, aspect of project management.

Why Early Stakeholder Engagement is Essential

Stakeholder engagement is critical to project success and begins as soon as the project charter is approved and before work commences. This early involvement ensures that stakeholders understand the project from the outset and are ready to lend their support.

As the project progresses, different stakeholder groups will be prioritized based on the particular phase of the project. This ongoing process is crucial for maintaining effective engagement and ensuring the project’s successful outcome.

Why are Project Stakeholders Important?

Project stakeholders exert considerable influence over your project and within your organization. Research shows that managing stakeholders’ expectations and interests is critical to a project’s success.

Exploring critical success factors in project management can offer valuable insights into maximizing stakeholder engagement and overall project success.

With the support of stakeholders, several benefits become more attainable:

  • Securing Buy-In: Gaining consensus and approval for the project at all levels, ensuring a smoother implementation.
  • Access to Expertise: Leveraging stakeholders’ knowledge and experience to enhance the project’s quality and efficiency.
  • Resource Allocation: Ensuring that the right resources, both human and material, are assigned to your project for optimal execution.

 

Conversely, if project stakeholders are not committed, they may become a source of risk. Your goal is to increase support for the project and minimize resistance to your initiatives.

The Importance of Stakeholder Feedback and Satisfaction

This study showcases how constant feedback and input from stakeholders significantly increase the likelihood that the project’s outcome will meet the end-user’s needs.

It highlights the importance of stakeholder satisfaction as a crucial metric of project success that can span beyond the completion of the project itself.

Ensuring Long-Term Success Through Stakeholder Engagement

The success of a project is often measured by how well the product or service generated is received and utilized by the end-users, which is directly linked to effective stakeholder engagement.

Bridging Expectations and Reality

Every stakeholder will have their expectations and definitions of success. It is the project team’s role, not just the project manager, to bridge the gap between these views and the reality of the project. Consistent communication is vital to this process.

How to Create a Comprehensive Stakeholder Engagement Strategy

As we delve into creating a comprehensive stakeholder engagement strategy, remember that the success of this strategy is closely tied to the effectiveness of your stakeholder management plan.

The following steps will guide you in identifying, analyzing, planning, and implementing a robust engagement approach, ensuring that all stakeholders are effectively involved throughout your project’s lifecycle.

Understanding the Stakeholder Landscape in Project Management

The first step is to define and identify your stakeholders. It involves understanding your stakeholders, including project team members, key stakeholders, and potential stakeholders who are either directly involved or impacted by the project.

It’s essential to recognize everyone, from project sponsors to the broader organization, as their interests in the project will shape their engagement.

Determining Stakeholder Influence and Interest

Analyzing each stakeholder’s level of interest and influence over the project is a critical step. This analysis, often facilitated through a stakeholder analysis or mapping exercise, helps understand the stakeholder’s role in project management.

It’s crucial for prioritizing engagement efforts, as it allows the project leader to identify which stakeholders need more attention based on their potential impact on the project.

Developing a Tailored Approach for Stakeholder Involvement

Planning your engagement strategy involves developing a tailored approach for interacting with and involving each stakeholder group. This step is based on the analysis of their interests and influence.

It might involve creating a communications or engagement plan considering the range of stakeholders, from supportive to negative stakeholders, ensuring two-way communication and effective stakeholder management.

Executing and Assessing the Impact of Stakeholder Engagement

Implement and measure your strategy to manage stakeholder engagement effectively. This involves executing the engagement plan and continually assessing its effectiveness through stakeholder feedback and involvement levels.

Adjustments should be made as needed, considering the entire organization’s perspective and the ongoing stakeholder management process throughout the project management plan.

Project management on Microsoft 365

Watch a demo of BrightWork 365 project and portfolio management templates for Microsoft 365, Power Platform, and Teams.

How to Improve Project Stakeholder Engagement in 4 Steps

Enhancing stakeholder engagement is a critical aspect of successful project management. This section will guide you through four strategic steps to optimize your interaction with project stakeholders.

Whether they are project team members, key stakeholders, or part of the broader organization, their involvement and commitment are crucial for achieving the project objectives.

To ensure effective engagement of all stakeholders, alignment of their interests with the project’s goals, and appreciation of their input throughout the project lifecycle, please consider following the steps mentioned below.

1. Define and Identify Your Stakeholders

As soon as the project charter is approved, it’s essential to start identifying your stakeholders. Begin with an extensive review of the project’s internal and external groups, referring to the project plan and other relevant documents.

This step is crucial for recognizing everyone with a stake in the project. Internal stakeholders often include team members and project sponsors, while external stakeholders may encompass clients, suppliers, and community groups.

Understanding your stakeholders’ relationship to the project is crucial to tailor communication and engagement strategies better. It helps meet their needs and expectations, which lays a solid foundation for successful project management.

2. Analyze Your Stakeholders

After identifying your stakeholders, the next step is to analyze them to determine the best approach for engagement. Consider the following aspects:

  1. Authority or Power: Determine each stakeholder’s level of authority or power within or outside the organization.
  2. Interest in the Project Outcomes: Assess each stakeholder’s interest in the project’s outcomes.
  3. Ability to Influence the Project: Understand their capacity to influence the project or cause changes.

 

Creating a Power-Interest Grid

Creating a power-interest grid can be beneficial. This tool assists in categorizing stakeholders based on their power and interest, guiding you on the type of engagement needed and when. Here’s how you might order them:

Stakeholder Power Interest Grid BrightWork

  • Keep Satisfied (High Power, Low Interest): Engage these stakeholders without overloading them with details. Aim to move them gradually into a more actively involved group.
  • Manage Closely (High Power, High Interest): Engage these stakeholders frequently, as they are critical to your project’s success.
  • Monitor (Low Power, Low Interest): Keep these stakeholders informed with necessary project updates without excessive details.
  • Keep Informed (Low Power, High Interest): Regularly engage this group to maintain their interest and obtain valuable inputs.

 

Directions or Spheres of Influence

Also, consider the directions or spheres of influence, such as:

  • Upward Influence: Senior management.
  • Downward Influence: Project team, subject matter experts.
  • Outward Influence: External groups like suppliers.
  • Sideward Influence: Other project managers who might need shared resources.

 

Gather this information into a stakeholder register, documenting contact details and roles. Store this register in a central document library for easy team access.

Regular updates to this register are essential as stakeholders and their parts or influence may change throughout the project.

3. Plan Your Engagement Strategy

Once you have analyzed your stakeholders, developing a comprehensive engagement strategy is next.

Using surveys, meetings, or focus groups, spend some time with your stakeholders to gather information like:

  • Understanding Stakeholder Awareness: Determine if stakeholders are fully aware of the planned project. This helps ensure everyone starts on the same page.
  • Defining Project Success: Ascertain each stakeholder’s definition of project success to align expectations with project goals.
  • Impact Assessment: Understand how the project’s outcome will impact stakeholders’ work. This insight can guide how you involve them in the project.
  • Motivational Factors: Identify what motivates stakeholders, as this can be leveraged to increase their engagement and support.
  • Communication Preferences: Learn each stakeholder’s preferred method of staying updated on project progress, whether through meetings, emails, or reports.
  • Identifying Enablers and Barriers: Encourage stakeholders to identify factors that can facilitate or hinder project success. This can help in planning for contingencies.

 

Developing a Communication Plan

Next, create or revise the project communication plan to include strategies for stakeholder engagement. This plan should detail how and when to communicate with different stakeholder groups.

A RACI matrix for project management is a valuable way to clarify who needs to see what information and when and who is responsible for making critical decisions.

  • Conflict Management: Develop strategies for managing conflicting views and expectations among stakeholders.
  • Defining Responsibilities: Assign specific team members the responsibility of managing stakeholder communications.
  • Handling Change Management: Establish procedures for addressing change requests from stakeholders to maintain project scope and timelines.
  • Success Metrics: Determine the metrics by which successful engagement will be measured. This can include feedback, participation levels, or satisfaction scores.

 

Incorporating these elements into your engagement strategy will help create a dynamic and responsive plan that accommodates your stakeholders’ diverse needs and expectations.

4. Implement and Measure Engagement

Having established your engagement strategy, it’s time to implement it and regularly assess its impact. This phase involves two key aspects:

Executing the Engagement Plan

This includes addressing stakeholder expectations, resolving issues or change requests, driving the necessary engagement for successful outcomes, and encouraging stakeholders to feel a sense of ownership in the project. Implementing project management software facilitates this process.

Monitoring and Adjusting Engagement

Essential skills such as active listening, conflict management, and negotiation are crucial in keeping stakeholders in the loop. Regularly monitor the impact of your communication and gather stakeholder feedback through surveys or meetings to make necessary adjustments and maintain the required levels of engagement.

Using BrightWork 365 to Simplify Stakeholder Engagement

Project management software like BrightWork 365 makes it easier to engage with stakeholders with real-time dashboards and automated email reports.

Real-time Dashboards

BrightWork 365 provides a series of project, program, and portfolio reporting dashboards in Power BI, delivering visibility across all the tasks in an organization.

It gives stakeholders immediate, transparent insight into their project – without having to ask for a report from you!

Share Status Reports

Using the Project Status Report, it’s easy to track indicators for % Complete, Health, Cost, Time, and Scope and log comments about progress regularly. Once the latest report is complete, select’ email report to project sponsor’ to share the update.

Maximizing Project Success through Effective Stakeholder Engagement

Effective stakeholder engagement is a cornerstone of successful project management.

Following the outlined four-step process, project managers can ensure comprehensive stakeholder involvement, aligning their interests with project goals and maximizing the chances of project success.

Microsoft project management software like BrightWork can further streamline this process, offering a more efficient and transparent way to keep stakeholders informed and engaged.

Remember, engaging with stakeholders is not just about meeting project objectives; it’s about fostering collaborative relationships that contribute to your organization’s projects’ overall success and longevity.

 

This article was originally published in March 2021 and has been updated for accuracy, comprehensiveness, and freshness

Project management on Microsoft 365

Watch a demo of BrightWork 365 project and portfolio management templates for Microsoft 365, Power Platform, and Teams.

Billy Guinan
Billy Guinan

BrightWork Demand Generation Manager • Marketing

Working with a range of B2B SaaS project portfolio management software for nearly 15 years, Billy specializes in best practices and methods of how to leverage Microsoft 365, Teams, Power Platform, and SharePoint to make project management easier. His focus areas are Collaborative Project Management and Template-Driven Project Management on the Microsoft platform. Beyond all things BrightWork, Billy enjoys reading, trying to golf, and walking his pug named Nova.

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