Monday, May 7, 2012

Dimensions in stakeholder engagement

In my last post, I tried to make the case for the abolition of stakeholder management. In summary, people don't like being 'managed'.

Don't misunderstand me however, neglect your stakeholders or under resource this crucial aspect of project management and you're in trouble.

There's a very good article here published in The Register in 2007. Quite apart from making some very good points about about Gartner's Magic Quadrant generally, it's got some solid points which can be applied here.

This illustration is perhaps best described as atypically typical. It embodies superficially the approaches adopted by some organisations in appraising stakeholder's importance and influence to a project or programme. 

There are shortcomings in this approach; it's a snap-shot in time, your appraisal of a stakeholder's importance might not tally with theirs, it's too coarsely graded - there are shades of grey here and, perhaps most importantly, it seeks an 'absolute' measure of stakeholders when I feel a far better approach would be a 'relative' measure.

A few amendments can mitigate some of these shortcomings.

We've now got a more finely graded system of measurement. We have (slightly) alleviated the issues of labelling a stakeholder as unimportant, we've got a relative approach via which one stakeholder can be appraised relative to another.

It's still a snap shot in time, and it doesn't incorporate as many dimensions as I personally would like.

Let's keep going.

Okay - so now we have some way of illustrating the different types of stakeholders. In the example here, stakeholder 1 could be an individual and stakeholder 2 could be an organisation and I've used the size of the marker to indicate this. I've coloured one red and one blue and this could indicate anything you want really. Say what you will, we all have the occasional 'red' stakeholder.

Where stakeholder 2 has come from and where we'd like stakeholder 1 to go is also illustrated. We could change the shape too - adding still yet more information.

You'll note too that I've added identifiers to each quadrant on the chart. This is a good way to tie up the stakeholder matrix to the communications plan enabling you to cite which communications go to which stakeholders (if you need to).

Nothing we've discussed here has encompassed the very important issue of proportionality. I do not say what you must or must not do when it comes to stakeholder engagement activities. I'll  post on this more in the future.

This question of proportionality will go along way towards informing how you proceed in terms of generating, maintaining and publishing this information. You could scratch this out on a sheet of paper with paper and pencil and often that might be wholly suited to the activity. In this instance, remain conscious of the limitations and adopt a more appropriate level of rigour if circumstances change.

At the other end of the scale, you could derive stakeholder's position relative to one another with questionnaires, plot the output via Excel, publish via SharePoint's excellent Excel Web Services and have hyper-links to stakeholder contact information and host of other information. 

Some points to finish off with. It doesn't have to be importance and influence. The following may be just a valid; impact, interest, sponsorship, tenure, location, sensitivity and probably quite a few more. Often influence and impact work just fine, but don't just 'go along' with those measures if they're not optimal.

Undoubtedly, the question of how to reposition stakeholders must be asked. That'll be the subject of another post.

Also, has anyone ever thought of sitting down with stakeholders and asking where they feel they are most appropriately placed? This resolves the potentially knotty issue of ascribing stakeholder's a standing that they do not support.

Lastly, what I've tried to do here is remain consistent with the point made in a previous post. Don't manage stakeholders, manage the relationship. Do this through engaging with stakeholders.

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