You’re probably not without knowing that project management involves a great deal of negotiation and communication. Many people with different backgrounds and roles may play a key part in the success of your project; hence why you need a robust stakeholder engagement plan to ensure everything goes smoothly.
But what is it you may ask? Wonder no more, as reading this guide will teach you all there is to know about stakeholder engagement, as well as the steps to create an effective stakeholder engagement plan. To make things even easier, it also includes a free stakeholder engagement plan template for you to use for any type of project.
What is stakeholder engagement?
Who are the stakeholders of a project?
Simply put, they could be anyone with a direct or indirect interest or influence regarding your project. Project stakeholders are diverse and can regroup organizations, individuals and businesses of all shapes and sizes.
The relationship between stakeholders and the project works both ways: stakeholders may have a positive or negative impact on the project, and vice versa. Broadly speaking, stakeholders may fall into two categories:
- Internal stakeholders: they are part of the project team or project governance structures. They include the project sponsor, project manager, team members…
- External stakeholders: these are third-party stakeholders, such as government bodies wielding power over your project, contractors, customers or competitors.
Why is stakeholder engagement important?
Engaging stakeholders may be vital for your project and could prevent running into obstacles down the road. It’s an essential part of the project planning phase, as it allows you to identify and manage risks before they arise.
While developing a comprehensive communication strategy may not be needed in the case of smaller projects with limited impact on the outside world, it’s still important to ensure internal stakeholders, mainly the project sponsor and project team, are on board and engaged with the project.
Large-scale projects or projects with considerable influence over their environment, like construction projects, cannot afford to neglect stakeholder engagement. They must think of ways and strategies to consult with diverse groups regularly and ensure they have won their support to avoid derailing the project.
How to write a stakeholder engagement plan
1. Identify the stakeholders
The first step to stakeholder management is to establish a stakeholder list. The challenge is to not overlook important stakeholders and be as comprehensive as possible. To do so, think of dividing the list into different stakeholder groups. It will help you think more deeply and will be useful for the next steps.
There are many ways to break down the list of stakeholders: you could use a dual classification, such as supporters/opponents, or sort them into 3 spheres as follows:
- Leaders: these are people whose influence is so strong that it will determine large parts of project development. They include internal stakeholders such as the project sponsor, as well as important external players if applicable, such as the government.
- Contributors: these stakeholders are essential to project success. They could be important suppliers, team members or officials in charge of delivering permits.
- Bystanders: they are people likely to become engaged for or against the project later on, such as the media or associations.
💡 Using techniques such as stakeholder mapping can help you when identifying stakeholders and all along the process of defining your engagement strategy.
2. Place the stakeholders on the Power/Interest grid
Once the list of stakeholders is complete, you should focus on determining their rough stance with regard to the project. This is the first step of stakeholder analysis and its results will be the basis for your communication plan.
Place stakeholder groups or individuals on the Power/Interest matrix to sort them based on:
- Their level of power over the project: how strong could their impact be on the project?
- Their level of interest for the project: how involved with the project are they likely to be?
Doing so will allow you to use this mind map to visualize the interest groups at play, and possibly guess how they might align with each other.
3. Define the motives of your stakeholders
Once you have defined the strengths of each stakeholder, dive deeper into their motivations. You should strive to get a clear picture of why and how they would engage with the project. Ask yourself questions such as:
- How do their interests align/clash with those of your project?
- Why could they decide to get involved? What would be their objective?
- Where does their interest in your project stem from?
- To what extent would they be willing to support/oppose your project?
4. Precise the influence of the stakeholders
This step works hand in hand with the previous one, as it is also aimed at transforming the visual representation given by the Power/Interest matrix into actionable insight. You should identify the levers of influence available to each stakeholder by answering the following questions:
- What is their area of influence? What project phases could they impact?
- Where does their influence come from? Can it be held in check?
- Could you counter their power? Would it be feasible in terms of ROI, or would it be too costly or risky?
5. Build your engagement strategy
From the stakeholder analysis derived from the stakeholder map, you should be able to devise an effective engagement strategy. Your engagement plan should provide a clear outline of when and how to communicate with stakeholders.
The goal of this communication strategy is to provide relevant information to stakeholders, at the most appropriate time, to maximize stakeholder engagement and guide change. To help you find the best approach for each stakeholder group, you may model your plan after the 5 levels of stakeholder engagement.
Using the Power/Interest matrix and in the light of the stakeholder analysis, you can easily sort your stakeholders into one of the following 5 categories:
- Partnership: these stakeholders are both influential and powerful; in other words, it would be best to keep them on your side. To maximise their engagement, include them in the development of your project by inviting them to the decision-making process at each stage of the project.
- Participation: their influence cannot be ignored, yet they aren’t likely to see the project as significant. Find the area of your project that they would like to watch more closely, and entrust them with specific tasks or responsibilities.
- Consultation: though they show interest in the project, they aren’t essential to project success. Hold frequent consultations with them to ensure they remain supportive and to collect feedback that could help your activity.
- Push communications: send out information to the stakeholders that may engage with your project later or are required by law to be kept informed through reports sent via emails or other communication channels.
- Pull communications: these stakeholders are unlikely to show interest or wield any influence over project development. Avoid wasting time by making the information available on your website or other public platforms, without making an active effort to engage them.
Stakeholder engagement plan template
You now have all the keys to write an efficient communication strategy and keep the relevant stakeholders engaged. To streamline the process and allow you to focus on the execution phase right away, feel free to use our free stakeholder engagement plan template to write down your ideas and share them with the team more easily.
Project management rhymes with engagement
Engaging stakeholders effectively can make or break the success of your projects. Be sure to build a stakeholder engagement plan beforehand, and you’ll do yourself a favour!
Collaboration and teamwork shouldn’t be limited to the project team itself, it goes beyond the borders of your company, especially if your project has a global outreach and broad objectives.
Happy and engaged stakeholders can go a long way! Feel free to share stories of when their support helped you achieve your goals, or when you regretted not having thought of communication strategies to win them over!