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Spotting potential advocates early on

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Mapping stakeholders has long been a subjective task, but the most widely used power/influence grid has taken precedence for at least two decades, often pigeonholing stakeholders as high priority or low priority for an extended period, regardless of context.

Theres still a lot to be said for using this method as a starting point, but just as project management needs to be flexible and adapt to changing circumstances, so does our understanding of stakeholder mapping. Currently at the Marine Management Organisation, were looking at risk too, to ensure were not just working with national stakeholders, but also understanding how smaller organisations and interested individuals can help shape our work. Social media is ideal for this, as concerns around costly engagement at a very local level are less valid when we can talk to a wide range of groups big and small on a daily basis.

So by mapping risk, we can ask who can really make a project succeed or fail?. Who needs to know about any changes were making, and how will they respond if we dont communicate effectively?

Other organisations we work with conduct a vulnerability audit, a very similar idea which attempts to map risk of conflict, confusion, loss of support and predicted hostility. Essentially, its about not just the ability, but the desire, to make these views known publicly.

Spotting our potential advocates early on (ie the ones who can help a project succeed) has helped us work with them throughout the project, and adapt to feedback early on in the process to avoid problems further down the line. In a recent example, the groups and individuals we identified spread the word via their networks, offered very honest feedback throughout the process and were then more than willing to talk about the project publicly as it reached its conclusion.

Urgency is also essential here how soon will a stakeholders actions impact on the project? As an agile project management practitioner, I can use weekly sprints to enable us to change direction or focus as and when needed. Views change fast, so we need to be able to match that speed and meet it with new solutions.


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  1. Patrick Weaver
    Patrick Weaver 26 July 2014, 11:05 AM

    The relationship between risk and stakeholders has long been recognised by leaders in this field such as Dr. David Hillson (The Risk Doctor) and Dr. Lynda Bourne. Their view is the vast majority of risks (opportunities and threats) are directly associated with people (ie, stakeholders). But using risk processes to identify and understand stakeholders is putting the cart before the horse! Rachel is 100% correct in her assessment that the power/influence grid is suboptimal at best, dangerous at worst,  but there are better assessment processes, they just need more effort.  Unfortunately most projects seem to prefer easy and simple over effective. Thats why the vast majority of projects are managed using bar charts in preference to CPM schedules. Bar charts are easy to draw and look pretty; CPM requires understanding and discipline to generate a rigorous analysis.  Most project mangers go for quick and easy, and most project fail. The power/influence grid is easy takes a few minutes to assess dozens of stakeholders and makes it look like an analysis of the stakeholder community has been undertaken. But as Rachel suggests, the information is not very useful. More rigorous methodologies such as the Stakeholder Circle require more work, ask more questions and provide a far better basis for designing your communication strategy, as well as providing a very useful input to risk idntification and reassessment, but are rarely used. More work is needed to rate stakeholders against four dimensions to asses their priority, and then consider their optimum and actual attitude towards the project so you plan how to communicate with important stakeholders to shift their attitudes (and if they dont change identify the risks) but the information is vastly superior and can be really useful. For more on the methodology see: I suppose as with most things in life, what you get out is derived from what you put in. The APM objective of a world in which no projects fail will never be achieved whilst most project opt for easy over useful.