Stakeholder management is an important skill for project managers, especially in a software development environment, where discrepancies in technical knowledge can lead to issues in collaboration and communication. As you may know, stakeholders are people that have a vested interest in the outcome of a project. These stakeholders will have an effect on the success of a project, as they provide support, feedback, and resources that are essential to completing project objectives and goals. In this project management tutorial, we discuss some tips and strategies for managing stakeholders effectively.
What are the Types of Stakeholders?
Before we get into discussing strategies for how to manage stakeholders, we first need to have a brief overview of the different types of stakeholders, to better understand the roles they play in a project. These types include:
- Primary stakeholders
- Secondary stakeholders
- Internal stakeholders
- External stakeholders
Primary stakeholders can be defined as individuals or groups that are directly affected by a project’s outcome. This can include end-users, customers, and sponsors.
Secondary stakeholders are individuals or groups that are indirectly affected by a project. This can include competitors, suppliers or vendors, or regulatory authorities.
Internal stakeholders are individuals that work within an organization that are directly involved in a project. This includes team members, developers, remote programmers, IT support, project managers, managers, and executives.
External stakeholders are people or groups outside of an organization that have an interest in the project’s success. This can include customers, vendors, and the community. Some external stakeholders may also be primary stakeholders as well.
Strategies for Managing Stakeholders
Below are some strategies project managers and developer leads can use to effectively manage stakeholders. These tips include:
- Identify stakeholders
- Keep communication channels open
- Tailor communications
- Be transparent
- Include stakeholders in decision making
- Address concerns in a timely manner
- Practice empathy
- Build relationships
- Manage conflicts
- Engage stakeholders
- Measure stakeholder satisfaction
- Always be adaptable
- Anticipate resistance
- Celebrate successes and team members
- Learn from past projects and failures
The first tip for managing stakeholders is to identify and prioritize them. This step should be taken at the project initiation stage, where project managers will want to conduct a stakeholder analysis to identify not just relevant stakeholders, but key stakeholders as well. Meet with each of them to gain a better understanding of their expectations and concerns. Then, prioritize them based on the impact they will have on the project.
Keep Communication Channels Open
Example of Collaboration, Communication, and Project Management Tool, Monday.com
Another strategy you can use to manage stakeholders effectively is to maintain open communication channels. Clear, consistent, and transparent communication is key to successful stakeholder management. Stakeholders need to be informed about project progress, any potential risks, changes, and decisions that will affect the project. Since teams can be scattered, remote, and have different communication preferences, you should always use a variety of communication channels, including meetings, conference calls, video meetings, email, and project management tools. These collaboration and communication tools will help ensure the team is on the same page.
Another strategy involves tailoring communication to stakeholders. Not every stakeholder needs to know the same level of detail or information. Instead of relaying the same information to every stakeholder, consider tailoring your communications to suit their specific needs and preferences. An example of this is the type of information an executive might require. Odds are they will want a high-level summary, while your developers may need a more detailed update.
We spoke briefly earlier about transparency. When discussing the project with stakeholders, make certain you are transparent and open about what the project can and cannot achieve. Managing expectations among stakeholders is a key step to avoid issues during the project lifecycle, disappointments, and conflicts.
Include Stakeholders in the Decision Making Process
You should always include stakeholders in the decision making process when possible. Doing so creates a sense of ownership and enforces commitment to the success of the project. Conducting workshops, focus groups, and surveys are great ways to gather input and include stakeholders.
Address Concerns In a Timely Manner
Another way to manage stakeholders involves using the practice of “active listening”. Focus on stakeholders and address their concerns in a timely manner. Resolving issues promptly – or even proactively – prevents them from becoming a larger problem that can negatively affect the project’s outcome.
Make an effort to understand the perspectives and motivations of stakeholders by putting yourself in their shoes and viewing the project from their position. This will help you understand their needs and concerns better and lead to more effective communication.
Relationship building is a big part of stakeholder management. Forging strong relationships with members fosters trust and respect, and enhances communication and collaboration for the entire team. This leads to better work environments, greater productivity, and a better chance for project success.
Conflicts with team members and stakeholders are an inevitability and are a normal part of a project lifecycle. Stakeholders have different ideas and backgrounds that are destined to lead to disagreements. How a project manager handles those conflicts is what is important. As such, project managers need to be professional and remain calm when handling disputes. Focus on finding win-win solutions to keep everyone involved satisfied without compromising the project’s goals and objectives.
Project managers can keep stakeholders engaged throughout the project lifecycle by providing regular updates on milestones reached, current and upcoming activities, completed and uncompleted tasks, and any changes or risks to the project plan.
Measure Stakeholder Satisfaction
Stakeholders’ feelings and input will change over the course of a project, and it is always a good idea to measure their satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) and get a pulse on how stakeholders are feeling. Gathering this insight can help project managers identify areas for improvement and strengthen relationships, as well as foster collaboration and communication.
Always Be Adaptable
In addition to the project objectives and goals changing over time, so, too can stakeholder expectations and requirements change. Additionally changes in the marketplace can alter a project’s end goals, and, as such, project managers and developer leads should remain adaptable, flexible, and be willing to adjust their approach if need be.
A good project manager will anticipate resistance from stakeholders. This is particularly true if the new project alters existing processes, workflows, or team structures. People are resistant to changes and can resist new ideas. Always expect resistance from stakeholders, identify team members whom you think might rebel, and develop strategies to address and mitigate any resistance you might encounter.
Celebrate Successes and Team Members
An important element to relationship building and morale boosting is celebrating the success of milestones that are achieved throughout the project lifecycle. Celebrating individual successes of stakeholders – both professional and personal – is also a great tool project managers can use to manage stakeholders.
Learn from Past Projects and Failures
One final tip – make sure to take time after each project is finished to learn from any mistakes or failures (perceived or real) that occurred. Think about interactions with stakeholders, what went wrong with those conversations, and think of ways to ensure a better outcome the next time they occur. Are there different ways of communicating that might facilitate better understanding? For instance, a lot of communication can be lost if you are only using an instant messenger app. Over video, stakeholders can read body language and better interpret not only what you are saying, but the way you are relaying message and the intent. Identity lessons learned and incorporate them into future projects.
Final Thoughts on Managing Stakeholders
Managing stakeholders effectively is essential for a project to be completed successfully. In this project management tutorial, we discussed the different types of stakeholders, which include primary, secondary, internal and external stakeholders. We then discussed 15 tips and strategies for how to manage stakeholders. These tips included starting off on the right foot by identifying key stakeholders, keeping communication channels open, tailoring communication to individuals, being transparent, and including stakeholders in the decision making process.
Finally, always remember that stakeholder management is a never-ending process. Employing continuous improvement practices (such as examining past projects and failures and taking frequent stakeholder feedback) will help you improve your skills and outcomes with each new project.
Collaboration Tools for Software Developers
Collaboration software is an essential tool project managers need to employ to ensure they are properly managing stakeholders and communicating effectively with them. This is especially true when working with remote teams and developers that may be working from different regions around the globe. The best collaboration tools for project managers of software development teams will also have built-in features that support developers, such as bug and issue tracking, task management, and file sharing.
To help you find the best collaboration tools for your team, we have several product round-ups we recommend reading, including: