Project Stakeholders | How to Engage the Right People on Your Project

It really goes without saying that how you go about engaging stakeholders in your project will determine project success.

Let’s take a look at why things can go so wrong with stakeholder engagement, and how to ask the right questions to ensure you’re engaging the right people in your project from the very start.

Who are your project stakeholders?

Depending on the size and nature of your project, your stakeholders will vary.

That said, there will always be two groups of stakeholders that all projects can expect to have. They are:

  1. Subject Matter Experts

Who guide the project team on the development of the product or service.

2.  A Leadership Team

To govern progress and assist with managing major risks and issues.

Aside from these people most other stakeholders are engaged on a very random basis. Project teams will typically reach out to other stakeholders because of an existing relationship or rely on others to nominate the right people. 

But what happens when you are new to the team you’ll be working with? Or if people don’t want to contribute to your project because they see the project as a threat? Or perhaps it’s not clear who else you should be speaking to? 

How do you know who you should engage in these situations?

What happens when you don’t engage the right people?

Before I address how to know who to engage, let’s look at the reasons it’s important not to engage the wrong people. 

When you don’t engage the right people in your project it can:

  • Jeopardise the value of the project
  • Slow down progress
  • Waste time
  • Create re-work
  • Present risks with achieving project sign-off
  • Create more resistance to project engagement or adoption

That said, there is also a fine line between encouraging people to participate and over-engaging. Involving too many people will always cause delays and often results in conflicting priorities. 

So how do you manage this balancing act?

Over vs Under Engaging

While the idea of over or under engaging can feel overwhelming, there is actually a very happy place in the middle. Reaching this balance can be achieved by simply considering why we engage people to begin with. 

The aim of engaging stakeholders is to ensure:

  • That the project deliverables are fit-for-purpose
  • What you deliver will support all those who will be impacted, not just the immediate stakeholder
  • Draw out unanticipated risks or issues 
  • Maximise adoption

Engage the right project stakeholders with these questions

The questions below might start you off with a large list of information. 

But it’s much better to start with more information than you need and then set boundaries to uncover what’s important, instead of running the risk of overlooking a critical consideration. 

Whether you’re familiar with your environment and stakeholders or not, it’s a much better practice to ask and have the following questions answered as though you’re new. Coming at it with fresh eyes every time you start a project will help you to avoid making assumptions and taking things for granted. 

When asking these questions, make sure you get answers from as many people involved in the project as possible. This will ensure you start off with a large pool of knowledge and resources.

Essential Questions for Determining Key Project Stakeholders

To help you draw out the key stakeholders for your project, you need to ask who:

  • Are the decision makers of the project?
  • Can impact or influence the decisions of the project?
  • Will sign off the overall project?
  • Will the project benefit (stakeholders)?
  • Needs to be involved (stakeholders & project team)?
  • Are the existing owners of the impacted area/s
  • Will be the new owners of the project’s deliverable (new chain of authority, process owner)?
  • Will be the new owners of the project’s deliverable (new chain of authority, process owner)?
  • Helps with support post project delivery?

Where should I capture stakeholder information?

The best place to capture the information you gather is within some sort of a communication plan. 

Ideally, you will have a communication document which will outline all of the key stakeholders you need to engage, when they need to be engaged, how they will be engaged, and what you need to achieve from them through your engagement. 

If you don’t already have a communication plan or don’t feel that yours is serving you in the best way for your projects, you can find the one I have used for years (which my clients now also follow) here: Communications Plan.

When should you start finding your project stakeholders?

The short answer is immediately and always! 

The sooner you start engaging and involving the right people the sooner you can get on with delivering valued projects. Always remain open to asking those questions, no matter what stage you may be on in your project. 

Sometimes the most valuable information can come only after people have had a chance to see how the intended benefits of your project will help them.

What will you do to engage the right people on your next project?

Now that you know where to start and what questions to ask, how can you get better at engaging the right stakeholders in your projects? 

Do you need a better communication plan? Do you need to revisit your stakeholder list beyond subject matter experts and leaders? Have you over-engaged and need to reset? All of the above? 

People are key to project success. And when you engage the right stakeholders, you’ll be on your way to delivering powerful projects.

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