10 common problems with stakeholder management

10 Things that can go wrong with Stakeholder Analysis

In our recent post on How to do stakeholder analysis with example templates, we covered the process and included some useful stakeholder analysis templates that you could try for yourself.

In this companion piece, we’ll cover the 10 most likely things to go wrong with the stakeholder management process and what you can do to mitigate these issues.

It goes without saying that project teams should make deliberate efforts to manage and influence stakeholders. It’s a real no-brainer as it can. However, it’s not always easy, In this excellent report by Anna Lund Jepsen and Pernille Eskerod they go into some detail about the differences & Challenges from what they teach you in the classroom to real-world scenarios, and there’s some interesting points raised.

Part of the issue is sheer complexity of human relationships and trying to map them out and predict reactions at the start of the project, hoping they hold true until the end. Therein is one of the issues in that true stakeholder management is not a one-off exercise but one that should go on throughout the project.

Here are our top 10 problems with stakeholder management

1/ Identifying stakeholders is harder than it looks.

While most protect leaders will say that identifying stakeholders is the easy part it’s surprising how many brainstorming sessions can go wrong. All too often one of the key issues here is the dynamics between individuals within the contributing project group. Some “loud” individuals can dominate these sessions and in this situation, the projects managers key task here is to ensure that everyone has an equal voice and can contribute.

What’s important here is that the stakeholders get mapped out and being loud and domineering does not always equate to knowing everything so facilitating the situation to get maximum input from your team is a must.

2. You get your communication methods wrong

Let’s get this straight. Getting your communications right is hard. It’s tough, really tough. Novices might think – yeah just bash out a powerpoint and email updates out every now and again and that’ll do. Wrong!!
Here’s a few things to consider when planning:

a) Every piece of communication the project distributes should have a purpose eg.
Are you looking to inform
Are you looking to create influence?
Are you looking to create controversy (and therefore action?)
Are you looking to enhance the relationship?

b) Choose the right communication method for each stakeholder (group or individual). You may find specific bespoke methods are required for certain individuals. This might feel a chore but it’ll pay dividends to get it right.

c) Consider how your communications can be two way. Far too many projects fail in the communications planning because they think communications is always from the project to the stakeholders and don’t set themselves up for the flip side. How can your stakeholders get in touch with you? Does everyone has the same method?

3. When analyzing your stakeholder’s power/influence you get it wrong.

The typical result of analyzing the power and influence of your stakeholders is usually defining will be managed during the lifetime of the project. Underestimate this and you’ll also get your management plan wrong. This can result in misunderstanding the power of some stakeholders, considering them of lesser importance and finding that those of the ones that kill your project.

4. You group your stakeholders incorrectly.

Often the defining question is are they an individual or are they part of a group, or even is the group part of another group. This can be alot trickier than it sounds with understanding the stakeholder’s influence and power at each level and understanding how they are best served during the project (And importantly what their price is (the contribution as a stakeholder in return for deliverables within the project.)

This part takes time and you may wish to map out different scenarios to see which works best for your project. Remember also that stakeholder analysis is not fixed and firm. If you find during your project that it’s just not working for you or that you find out new information, you are at liberty to amend the analysis.

5. You misunderstand stakeholder needs

Remember, needs are not requirements, requirements are specific attributes of your deliverable within your project, i.e. “I’d like my user interface blue”. Needs are related to the ongoing demands from your stakeholders during the project i.e. a project that delivers machinery to replace shop floor workers could be opposed by trade unions who may need the project to fail. One simple method is to review project elements that can be opposed/supported and map them using a simple stakeholder needs analysis box, see our example below. Mapping out these needs can give you considerable insight into the desires of your stakeholders and again help you to manage them.

Needs supported/opposed by table

6. You don’t spread your stakeholder management resources effectively.

In most projects, you’re managing a broad range of stakeholders with a range of demands and needs. Most projects don’t have an infinite number of resources so one of the tasks is to determine how you spread your project team in managing them. Spread your team to thinly (to actively manage a greater percentage of stakeholders) and you might either miss an important set of influencers or not be able to manage them effectively. Target your team at managing only a core set of influencers and you risk spreading resources too thinly that they don’t manage effectively.

7. Stakeholder rewards are misunderstood

As we discussed in item 4, stakeholders will typically expect some form of price for their contribution within the project. I.e. for your managers time, he expects success that may help his career. In supporting a business change program, employees may expect better working conditions etc. Expectations may vary between individuals and groups (and individuals within groups). Where this changes within the project or the team judge the “price” wrong and in the eyes of the stakeholders look set to “underpay”, the result can cause sufficient discomfort to the stakeholders. This is often enough for them to switch allegiances or alter their expectations driving changes to the project.

8. Risks associated with stakeholders are not understood and are not added to the risk register.

Many project teams overlook stakeholders when it comes to risk planning. It goes without saying that stakeholders can stop a project dead in its tracks (withdrawing funding, influencing controlling stakeholders etc). As a result of this stakeholder management must feature prominently in your risk planning

9. Stakeholders influencing other stakeholders

Another aspect that many project teams fail to consider is that stakeholders influence each other. The relationship with stakeholders and the project team is not just two way between the project team and the stakeholder, but stakeholders can interact with and influence each other. For example, consider a project that is relocating a business. The local community (fearful of losing jobs in the area) may look to influence the local government (another stakeholder) to influence the outcome of the project.

While this can be detrimental in some cases astute project teams can also use this to their advantage where you might have one group/individual that is unsupportive but can be influenced in a positive way by other groups/individuals – establishing a plan on how stakeholders can influence others can be a vital part of your stakeholder management that shouldn’t be overlooked.

10. Incorrect management strategy used

Our final problem with stakeholder management is where project teams choose an inappropriate strategy to deal with a particular stakeholder. Your strategy should, of course, look to deliver a benefit to you, your team and your stakeholder but it needs to be carefully considered and outcome focused. In many cases, this strategy is not a one size fits all approach that can just be rolled out across all stakeholder groups. This is often the default position of many project teams who, short on time, look to roll out broad strategies without considering the nuances within their stakeholder community. This is especially true of diverse groups that may have complex varying needs and results in a set of clearly thought through strategies that are tailored to the specific needs of your stakeholders matching those needs with your action plan.

So there you have it that’s our 10 things that can go wrong with Stakeholder management, we hope you found it useful and will give you the kick to review your own stakeholder plans for your projects. New to Stakeholder analysis and planning? Be sure to check out our how to do stakeholder analysis article.

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