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A Gentle Introduction to Project Stakeholders
By Thomas Cutting

Project success begins by identifying and understanding who your key stakeholders are. If you can’t identify the players and which side they are on, you stand little chance of satisfying their needs and landing the project without incident.

Identification. Several stakeholders jump out immediately: the sponsor, end users and your team. But a stakeholder is an individual or group that is either impacted by the development process or the end product of your project, for example:

In 1988, New York State attempted to put a low level radioactive waste dump in Allegany County. Although not involved in the construction or ultimate use of the facility, the people of the county were key stakeholders. Their “Bump The Dump” campaign successfully blocked the project and in 1992 the US Supreme Court amended the federal law that required states to store radioactive waste within their own borders.

Create a list of the people and groups impacted by your project. Include hidden ones like:

  • Current users of what you are getting rid of or replacing (system, building, facility, software, highway, forest)
  • External suppliers, users or supports. Whole communities are impacted by factory shutdowns, megastore constructions or radioactive dumps. On a much smaller scale, the company supplying data or using your information will have impacts, too.
  • Support Teams. Call center reps, operational support and disaster recovery are impacted by system changes.

Motivation. Once you have identified them, you need to understand their position. Some will be strong supporters of the project. Others my loose their jobs or need to be retrained as a result of it. For each stakeholder determine and document how the project will impact them.

What pressures are they under? Your director’s bonus may be based on you spending the entire budget. Regulatory or legal requirements may impose strict timeframes. CEO commitments to shareholders may have been made.

Recognition. Return to your list throughout the project. In addition to documenting new stakeholders, begin to put specific names beside each one. This will help you think through whom you are dealing with and begin to plan your approach to dealing with them.

Communication. From the beginning of the project you need to keep the stakeholders informed. You don’t need to have all the answers and in some cases you won’t be able to divulge all of the information, but an open line of communication will alleviate fear and uncertainty.

Unspoken and unaddressed concerns will exist for something as big as potential layoffs or as seemingly small as a new time entry logon screen. Create a forum and an atmosphere conducive to asking question and providing feedback.

The ultimate success of you project depends on you identifying the right stakeholders and satisfying their requirements while sustaining minimal damage from the opposing viewpoints. It is easy to become disoriented by the loudest stakeholder or the one holding the cash, but by identifying them and their agendas you can pull out of a dive before you crash.

Thomas Cutting, PMP is the owner of Cutting’s Edge ( and is a speaker, writer, trainer and mentor. He offers nearly random Project Management insights from a very diverse background that covers entertainment, retail, insurance, banking, healthcare and automotive verticals. He delivers real world, practical lessons learned with a twist of humor. Thomas has spoken at PMI and PSQT Conferences and is a regular contributor to several Project Management sites. He has a blog at (

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