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Multiple Stakeholders – Herding Cats?

We often hear exasperated managers talk about the activity of managing team members as ‘herding cats’, and we smile and nod, sympathetic with the cat herder trying to align the interests and the attention of their team, are there any ways of making this task easier?

All of us who lead or manage projects will be aware of the importance of ‘stakeholder mapping’ at an early stage of the project. From my own experience, I believe that skimping this stage is a high risk strategy.   I also suggest that it is not enough to just ‘map’ your stakeholders, but also consider thoughtfully the importance and level of interest each of those stakeholders – using a simple 2×2 grid to plot your stakeholders into one of 4 separate categories can be illuminating – do they have high or low levels of power and high or low levels of interest in the project?  Reflecting on where each of your stakeholders are positioned will provide you with information on which to develop your separate communications strategy for their involvement.

In many of the projects I have lead and been involved in, they have involved not just members from different parts of the organisation, but also external players across a range of sectors and seniority.  Therefore time spent thinking carefully about the personalities involved is key.

There are two most valuable lessons that I have learned in managing multiple stakeholders are:

  • spend time understanding the personal aims of each of your key stakeholders – why are they involved in the project?  What do they hope to achieve personally by their involvement?
  • the importance of clear success criteria for the project, have this clearly communicated to all the team and also carry out your own assessment of how far the success of the project is dependent on each of your stakeholders.

This doesn’t mean that there will never be conflict or disagreement, but that’s the subject of post!

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