Stakeholder Identification – Observations

When I started out in Process Improvement, it seemed rational to think that project sponsors could succeed in identifying the key stakeholders and from there our key stakeholder team would be able to identify all potential stakeholders. (A classic hierarchy model) Stakeholders being: “any group or individual who can affect the achievement or is affected by the achievement of the organizations objectives”. However a few problems continue to repeat using this model.

  • Some key stakeholders don’t prioritize the project and thus are dormant from the beginning.
    • Communicating information to potential stakeholders for self-identification now is difficult.
  • Adhering to principles such as fairness, transparency, and adequate notice are time consuming.
  • Providing broader opportunities for stakeholder self-identification requires solid means of information dissemination.
  • Even when information is disseminated, it’s unknowable what percent was consumed and at what level it was comprehended.

These issues usually take the form of simple comments such as:
“I didn’t know decision X was made.”
“I wasn’t given a chance to participate.”
“Our department can’t keep pace with the project plan.”

The stakeholder salience model groups stakeholders into the following major categories of: Power, Legitimacy, and Urgency. I won’t go into this model here but my annotations below highlight what I commonly see as the largest missing piece from the outer stakeholder groups.

Addressing the issues

I’ve used a variety of stakeholder analysis methods and techniques. None of them are magic bullets in avoiding the problems I’ve described when it comes to attaining fairness, transparency, and adequate notification with your process improvement effort. Tools are not the problem here. The variety of human characteristics across learning, communicating, and behavior are more likely the reasons for stakeholder shortcomings. And now what are you going to do? Fix people? Not likely…

Even with regular stakeholder meetings, detailed meeting minutes and online resources; knowing at what level the material was comprehended at is difficult. Stakeholders at any level may fail to understand the improvement techniques, technical information, capabilities of others, and these can lead to unfair outcomes. Are you now going to proceed at the pace of the slowest learner or hold a test at each meeting? Not likely…

My general leanings are that some issues will be unavoidable but by encouraging that all participants, self-identified or not, realize that their actions and behavior have impacts upon one another from the beginning may be the best solution. Dormant stakeholders who have power but no urgency will likely frustrate the demanding stakeholder who has a problem but no power. Which will impact the discretionary stakeholder who has ability to influence the project but no power or urgency. Calling these out explicitly as they arise or mapping them as was done in this report while continually reminding the stakeholders that the success of the improvement resides not within a process improvement department but within themselves may be the only antidote we have.

Additional Links:

BLM – Collaborative Stakeholder Engagement

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