Stakeholder engagement and management is one of the essential Project Management disciplines. But it is often taught in a simplistic manner. The standard ‘four-box’ approach to deriving stakeholder engagement strategies can easily leave newer project managers believing there are just four basic strategies they can use.
But this is far from the truth. In fact, there are many stakeholder engagement strategies you can choose from. And you can apply each of these with a wide range of tactics and approaches to suit your situation.
But, if you don’t know the full range of strategies, you’ll find yourself responding in too coarse-grained a way. So in this article, we’ll delve deeply into the full range of Stakeholder Engagement Strategies.
There are two things we need to cover before we look at our set of stakeholder engagement strategies. These will catch up less-experienced project managemers, who are not as familiar with the subject as others.
If you read the opening paragraphs and were not completely sure what we meant by:
…then read on. If you know what these two mean, then do jump to the next big heading.
‘… and what is the difference?’ we could ask, too.
Let’s start with a short video.
In the video, I show a simple diagram of the five-step stakeholder engagement process. To make it easier for you to review it, here it is again.
As this video, says, Stakeholder Engagement is a more respectful – and more modern – term for what we used to call Stakeholder Management. And the PMI is following along too. It has partially adopted the term in its latest version, the 6th Edition, of its Project Management Body of Knowledge: the PMBoK.
But, if a I have a criticism, it is that it has still retained the label Project Stakeholder Management for the overall Knowledge Area. And, I cannot help thinking that there is a simple (and foolish) reason for this. Every other knowledge area is titled as Project ‘this’ Management or Project ‘that’ Management. So, it feels to me like they put the pattern above good sense. But that’s just my opinion.
Now we’ve reviewed the meaning of stakeholder engagement and stakeholder management, let’s take a look at the other thing I mentioned in my opening paragraph…
There are lots of variants on this, but the standard approach to charting stakeholders plots them on two axes:
Rating each of these as either ‘high’ or ‘low’ yields the most commonly used stakeholder analysis chart.
A you can see, this analysis yields four stakeholder engagement strategies:
…but the effect is still the same. A poverty of strategies.
And the reason why these charts give us so few strategic options is because they should never be used as your only stakeholder analysis tool. They are solely designed as a triage process – a quick sorting to give you prioritization and an early indication of the ‘kind of strategy’ you’ll need.
For small projects, I’ll agree that this might be enough. But otherwise, you’ll need to go further. And that’s why I want to introduce you to a far larger set of strategies. This will really power-up your project stakeholder engagement.
The secret to a good strategy – in any context – is to ask the right questions.
And the first question to ask, when you want to choose your stakeholder engagement strategy, is:
What is the appropriate posture? From:
- asserting our preferences,
- accommodating theirs
Let’s take a look at what this looks like.
The supportive end of this spectrum of stakeholder engagement strategies will focus on the stakeholder’s own needs and preferences. I’ll illustrate with three gradations, starting with the most accommodating of their needs.
This is an even-handed strategy where you balance your needs against those of your stakeholder.
At this end of the spectrum, we have stakeholder engagement strategies that favor your project. I’ll illustrate these with three examples that move from a gentle pushing forward of your preferred position, to the most adversarial advocacy and asserting of your preferences.
The second question you need to ask, to determine your stakeholder engagement strategy is:
To what extent do we wish to engage with this stakeholder? From
- Active avoidance
- Active engagement
We can illustrate the spectrum here with these seven levels:
If we put the two dimensions of strategic posture and strategic engagement together, we get the full set of stakeholder engagement strategies. The diagram illustrates this with simple labels for each level. However, you are best focusing on this as two spectra, and designing your strategic approach from an understanding where you it on each.
As always, we’d love to hear from you. Please share your experiences, your ideas, and your questions. Put your comments below and we’ll respond to any contributions you make.
Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 13 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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