In project management, a stakeholder management plan is a formal document outlining how stakeholders will be engaged in the project. A stakeholder is a person or group who has a vested interest in the project. By thinking through when and how stakeholders will be involved, a project team can maximize stakeholders’ positive impact on the project.
What Are Stakeholders?
Stakeholders can be internal and external to the organization. Examples of internal stakeholders include executives and business units such as accounting and information technology. Business units typically have representatives on the project team. External stakeholders can be interest groups, businesses, and civic organizations. It is rare for external stakeholders to be represented on the project team. For agencies with regulatory authority, the industries they regulate are usually the most important external stakeholder group for any project. If a stakeholder is identified by the project team, that stakeholder should be contemplated in the stakeholder management plan.
It is impractical for a project team to consist of members representing every stakeholder group. In many cases, it is impossible. However, the project team needs input and buy-in from stakeholders for the project to succeed. For example, a government organization wants to completely revamp and modernize its most widely used proprietary software program. Almost everyone in the organization uses the program in some way. Every type of user cannot be directly represented on the project team, so the team devises ways to gather input from stakeholders and decides on ways to inform stakeholders about the project’s status. These methods of gathering input and communication strategies are documented in the stakeholder management plan.
Stakeholder vs Communication Plan
There can be a significant amount of bleed-over between a project’s stakeholder management plan and communication plan. Their functions are very similar. A stakeholder management plan is broader in that it facilitates input to the project as well as outlines outputs. A stakeholder management plan is narrower in that it only addresses those with vested interests whereas a communication plan could include broader audiences.
The stakeholder management plan is typically kept by the project manager. As a project progresses, the project manager reviews the stakeholder management plan and periodically brings it back to the project team to consider updates. A project can look very different in the middle of its timeline than it did in the planning stages, so it is important to make sure a project’s guiding documents are changed if circumstances necessitate.
Here is an example of how a stakeholder management plan can change over the course of a project. A state agency embarks on a rulemaking project. As it begins, the project sponsor and project manager come up with a list of stakeholders to put into the stakeholder management plan. One of the project team’s first tasks is to flesh out the plan. After a few months, a project team member identifies a stakeholder no one thought of at the beginning of the project. The project manager adds the new stakeholder to the plan and calls a project team meeting to discuss how to engage the new stakeholder. Once the team decides what to do, the project manager will inform the project sponsor.
The stakeholder management plan is a living document. As the project changes, the stakeholder management plan can change with it to better serve the needs of the project. With a nimble stakeholder management plan, a project team can appropriately gather input and feedback from stakeholders as well as keep those stakeholders informed.