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Project Stakeholders

Project Stakeholders

Author: Jeff Carroll

Distinguish between the roles of project stakeholders.

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Source: Image of space suit, male project sponsor, female project manager, Creative Commons, Kelly Eddington.

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Hi, I'm Jeff. And in this lesson, we'll discuss project stakeholders. For the simplest of projects, a person would know exactly what they need and how to ask for it, a check would be written, work would be done, and everyone would be happy. But projects are often more complex than this. Many people will have opinions about what needs to be done, what needs to be spent, and how the work should proceed. These people are called stakeholders, because they have an interest in the deliverables. And their opinions and their approvals determine whether a project is successful or not.

It will be the responsibility of the project manager to identify these stakeholders and document their needs. The stakeholders will help define the deliverables of a project, and ultimately, determine the success of a project. So this part of the process is critical. But how do we find these stakeholders? For example, what if your group is tasked to create a new type of suit that will be used by astronauts on space walks? Who would be a stakeholder on this project?

Here's a list a project manager should use to decide if someone is a stakeholder. They have an interest in the project, perhaps a high level executive who initiated the process to create a new suit. They are affected by what the project delivers, either directly, such as the organization that must manufacture the suit, or indirectly, such as the organization that made tools for the older version of the suit and must now decide how to support the newest version. Or their opinion of the deliverables can impact the projects results, such as the next person who must wear the suit to repair the space station.

Don't count on the support of every stakeholder when the project starts though. Going back to our sample project, it might be the end users who support the creation of a more flexible suit. And perhaps, the engineers want a suit that's easy to maintain-- but there might also be members of a budget committee that don't approve of the additional expense-- or an executive that believes rovers should be used instead of astronauts. In those cases, one of the projects earliest goals might include addressing those concerns. That's why it's important to communicate often and clearly with stakeholders about project progress, and ultimately, its outcomes.

Now let's talk about different stakeholder types. The initial project stakeholder will likely be the project sponsor. They will have oversight and budget authority over the project. As the sponsor, they may also have initiated the project, such as the groups we discussed earlier who wanted a space suit that was easier to maintain. It's critical to communicate well with project sponsors since they often act as evangelists for what the project is producing.

The project manager will naturally be a stakeholder, but if the project impacts other projects, then the managers of those projects might need to be stakeholders also. A suit used for space walks, for example, must work with monitoring equipment. And the project manager for those deliverables might be stakeholders.

Look at your own project team. Experienced individuals, especially those who've worked on similar projects, might help define deliverables. And they can act as stakeholders. Customers or users, who benefit or directly interact with deliverables created by the project, can be stakeholders. There's only a small set of users who will use the suit in space, but, in some cases, the user population could be very large. In that case, target users can be defined to serve as representatives.

Key decision makers-- in our sample project, there could be a large chain of people that need to approve our project at each stage. Those who are involved in budget, schedule, and resource negotiations might be stakeholders. And if your project is building a space suit or involves public money in any way, then there might be political decision makers too.

Who else should be a stakeholder? Well, remember our checklist. If a person or a group is interested in the project or has the ability to affect the scope of the project with their needs or their decisions, they are likely a stakeholder. OK, that was nicely done. Now let's review what we've learned about project stakeholders. We learned the criteria for being a stakeholder. And we learned the different stakeholder types. Good job. Now you're ready to move on to further lessons.

Terms to Know
Project Sponsor

The individual who is responsible for project oversight and has budget authority.

Project Stakeholders

Individuals inside or outside an organization that have an interest in a project or its deliverables.