Balancing Stakeholder Needs

Previously I blogged about a discussion with a client pertaining to project success and failure. My client considered that “balancing stakeholder needs” was another factor to be added, both to success and failure factors. His viewpoint was that of political influence on the success of a project.

He had a very valid point. Certainly being a senior “business” manager in one of the largest central government departments in the UK he saw stakeholder needs and politics as synonymous, playing a significant role in the ongoing development of projects.

In the broader context, the concept of stakeholders is complicated by different meanings and uses dependent upon both context and association. A recent Princeton University definition sums stakeholders as “any person or group that, if their support were to be withdrawn, could cause the project to fail.”

The needs of stakeholders have to be balanced because it is virtually impossible to satisfy all of them, all of the time.

On face value, this might appear to be a solution. But balancing implies that there is a compromise, a trade-off, maybe some “give and take” in order that all needs can be met. In reality, this is easier said than done.

If Stakeholder’s A, B and C all require deliverable XX and the Project agrees to supply and supplies XX, then all stakeholders are satisfied. Simple!

If Stakeholder A requires deliverable XX, Stakeholder B requires deliverable YY and Stakeholder C requires deliverable ZZ. The Project will need to undergo a period of consultation with each stakeholder to either agree to the same requirement (e.g. all accept XX), or adapt their requirement (negotiate and reach an agreement whereby the specification of XX is modified to allow all stakeholders to be satisfied) or where no agreement can be reached the Project will decline to supply until such time as agreement or compromise can be reached.

This makes for one very complex and time consuming process. Especially if there are multiple deliverables required to be delivered by the Project. Usually there are.

In my experience it is imperative for the Project team to identify and understand the drivers of the stakeholders, including their relationships and intricacies with one another. This should at least cover:

  • Stakeholder needs and expectations i.e. what they will expect in return for their contribution.
  • Stakeholder success measures i.e. what they will look for to judge performance and their Critical Success Factors.
  • Stakeholder values and drivers i.e. the principles that steer the Stakeholder in achieving their goals.
  • Business outputs i.e. the project outputs that will deliver successful outcomes for the Stakeholder.

Understand the key stakeholders, especially those that directly impact the project, and it will help balance the needs of the stakeholders and assist those who specify, design, resource, measure, review and deliver the deliverables.

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