When working cross-functionally, stakeholder management is critical for any project's success.
Stakeholders can make or break a project, and their expectations play a crucial role in determining project outcomes. That’s why it’s key to get buy-in from the beginning, and be transparent throughout the process, in order to stay aligned and on target as a team.
In this blog post, we’ll share 10 tips for managing stakeholder expectations, as well as provide templates that will help you make stakeholder management easier and more transparent.
Why is it important to manage stakeholder expectations?
Stakeholder management is vital to the success of any project. That’s because stakeholders are the people or groups with a vested interest in your project's outcome, and they can significantly impact your project's success or failure.
Stakeholders can include project sponsors, clients, end-users, regulatory bodies, and internal teams — but generally, stakeholders fall into one of four main categories:
Primary stakeholders, such as employees and customers, have a direct impact on the product or project.
Meanwhile, secondary stakeholders, such as shareholders, have an indirect impact.
Tertiary stakeholders, such as industry experts, may also have a potential impact on the product or project.
And lastly, quaternary stakeholders, such as the media, may not have a direct impact, but they could certainly be interested in the product or project's success or failure.
It is essential to consider all of these stakeholders when it comes to creating a successful product or project. Managing stakeholder expectations is critical because it helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page, and that there is a shared understanding of the project's objectives, scope, and requirements.
Key challenges of stakeholder management
Stakeholder management comes with its own set of challenges, and some of the common ones include:
Identifying all project stakeholders and their interests
Understanding and managing conflicting stakeholder interests
Once you have identified your stakeholders, you need to understand their needs and expectations. This will help you tailor your approach to suit each stakeholder group.
3. Create a stakeholder analysis
A stakeholder analysis is a useful tool that helps you identify stakeholders, their interests, and their influence. It also helps you prioritize your engagement efforts.
Using the results from your brainstorming session and refinements to understand stakeholder needs and expectations, you can build a stakeholder analysis by using a template to divide stakeholders visually into one of the four quadrants (primary, secondary, tertiary, quaternary) based on their level of influence.
4. Develop a stakeholder engagement plan
A stakeholder engagement plan outlines how you will engage with your stakeholders, the type of engagement you will have, and the frequency of your engagement. This plan should be informed by your stakeholder analysis.
It's crucial to set realistic expectations with your stakeholders. This means being transparent about what you can deliver and by when. Over time, this consistency builds trust with stakeholders as you prove your reliability over time.
6. Open a channel of communication
Open communication is essential in stakeholder management. You need to create an open channel of communication that allows stakeholders to voice their concerns, ask questions, and get updates on the project's progress. Collecting regular feedback from stakeholders can help identify any blindspots you may have improve alignment with stakeholders, and lead to greater innovation.
7. Conduct regular check-ins
Regular check-ins help you keep stakeholders informed and engaged. These can be in the form of status updates, progress reports, or meetings.
8. Be consistent in the tools you use to engage with stakeholders
Consistency is essential in stakeholder engagement. You should use the same tools to communicate with your stakeholders to avoid confusion and provide a consistent experience.
Having a shared digital space like a mural, where you plan and track progress, can not only help ensure alignment on goals and outcomes, but also streamline communication by giving every stakeholder a single source of truth that evolves along with your project.
9. Follow-up after key meetings
Following up after meetings with a summary of meeting notes and action items is crucial to ensure that stakeholders understand their responsibilities and next steps.
10. Measure and report progress
Measuring and reporting progress is critical in stakeholder management. This helps to demonstrate the project's success and identify areas for improvement.
5 Templates for managing stakeholder expectations
Project North Star template
The Mural Project North Star template aligns project goals, roles, target audience, and other essential details for effective and efficient team collaboration. Use it for new projects, pitches, or client requests.
Visualize the vote template
Democratizing the decision-making process prevents any single voice or idea from taking precedence. Instead, everyone is encouraged to be judicious in order to find the favored option. One useful tool for gathering everyone's input is Visualize the Vote, which allows each person to indicate their preferences and opinions before final decisions are made.
Stakeholder mapping template
This stakeholder mapping template minimizes confusion regarding roles and responsibilities — use this template to identify stakeholders and strategize for their level of involvement in the project.
Problem tree analysis template
The Mural problem tree analysis template maps causes and effects to understand the circumstances that led to the current situation. The tree metaphor separates causes (roots) from effects (branches) of a central issue (trunk). This structured approach helps teams reveal concerns, discern causes from symptoms, and frame problem statements better.
Buy a feature template
This 'buy a feature' template simulates real-life budgeting scenarios and helps identify which features or concepts are most important. By providing a limited amount of currency for purchasing items, participants must prioritize their choices. The decision-making process can be monitored by asking questions about why certain choices were made, providing valuable insights into the design process.
The bottom line: Take stakeholder management to a new level
Managing stakeholder expectations is crucial for the success of any project. It requires a strategic approach that includes identifying and analyzing stakeholders, understanding their needs and expectations, and creating a stakeholder engagement plan. Consistent communication, regular check-ins, and setting realistic expectations are also important aspects of stakeholder management.