Dear PM Advisor. Oct 7, 2013

Dear PM Advisor,

I feel dumb asking this question but I've never heard a satisfactory answer. What is a stakeholder?

Ignorant in California

Dear Ignorant,

I can't resist answering your question with the one carrot top style joke I use in my project management class. With a broad Australian accent, I hold this up and say:

"Stakeholder. Australian for fork."

I know it's corny but it gets a laugh and keeps my students interested.

But let me give you a serious answer. I'll start with the official PMI definition and then I'll tell you what it really mean.

Stakeholder: Person or organization that is actively involved in the project, or whose interests may be positively or negatively affected by execution or completion of the project. A stakeholder may also exert influence over the project and its deliverables. (PMBOK 4th edition)

Not very useful. The fifth edition doesn't make it much clearer:

An individual, group or organization who may affect, be affected by or perceive itself to be affected by a decision, activity or outcome of a project. (PMBOK 5th edition)

Here is what I teach in my class:

Stakeholders are people who care about your project. They come from five different groups. Four are easy to determine, the fifth is what makes your life difficult.

  • Project Manager
  • Team Members
  • Customer
  • Sponsor
  • Functional Management 

One of your more difficult jobs will be to determine which of the many functional managers, directors, vice presidents etc. care about your project and are going to actively involve themselves in its success or failure. (Yes, some may lobby to have your project fail. Think about projects where the goal is to transfer production from one facility to a cheaper one or the shutdown of a facility.)

Your sponsor is the first place to start when identifying all your stakeholders. He/she can tell you the political climate surrounding your project and who cares about it, what power they wield and how to satisfy them.

Add to this list the managers of each of your team members and ask them who they know who might be concerned about the project.

Those combined lists become your list of identified stakeholders, the only thing other than creating a project charter that you need to do during Project Initiation.

Next week I'll talk about how to deal with this group.

Good luck,

Dear PM Advisor.

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