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Tailoring Communication for Top Stakeholders

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Given the amount of work involved, most of your project communication efforts should focus on the stakeholders crucial to the success of your project. And this requires answering two key questions: Who are the most important stakeholders, and why are they important? 

Determining who's important is usually straightforward, based on an assessment of the stakeholder's power and involvement in the project. Understanding why each "important stakeholder" is important helps you define the type of relationship you need to develop for effective communication.

Enter the mutuality matrix, a useful project communications tool that starts with two dimensions:

  • Each stakeholder needs something from the project to further his or her interests, or alternatively, needs nothing from the project. 
  • The project requires the active support (assistance or resources) of the important stakeholders, or alternatively, requires nothing from the stakeholder.

These assumptions create four quadrants for categorizing each of the important stakeholders:

  • Project needs nothing/stakeholder needs nothing: Stakeholders in this quadrant are usually protesters. In this case, you have two communication options: You may be able to defuse their opposition by providing better information, but this only works if the protesting is based on false assumptions. Otherwise, you may choose to limit communication with the stakeholder whilst keeping the communication channels open. 
  • Project needs nothing/stakeholder needs something: The stakeholders in this quadrant are the easiest to manage from a communication perspective. You are already providing their requirements as part of the project deliverables. All that's required is to provide reassurance that their needs will be fulfilled. If their requirements are outside of the project's scope, the stakeholder should initiate a change request.
  • Project needs something/stakeholder needs something: This group needs active management. Project communication must clearly link the stakeholder's support or resources to how the project fulfills his or her requirements. Take the time needed to develop robust relationships to facilitate cooperation.
  • Project needs something/stakeholder needs nothing: Stakeholders in this quadrant are a major risk. They're typically regulatory authorities, or people who have to inspect or approve the project's work as part of their business. Carefully build a proper professional relationship that respects the integrity of the stakeholder's position while at the same time ensuring your communications are received and acted upon.

Once you understand the mutuality matrix, the way you communicate with each of the important stakeholders can be adjusted to ensure both parties achieve a satisfactory outcome. For example, the time and effort saved by minimizing communication with intractable objectors can be invested in building relationships with your key suppliers.

Keep in mind that each stakeholder will also be either supportive of or opposed to the project. Important stakeholders against the project — typically competitors and objectors — usually need nothing from the project and your communication should be focused on minimizing the objections. Similarly, important stakeholders who need something from the project are usually either passive or supportive, and your communication should be focused on building robust relationships.

How do you identify and communicate with important stakeholders?

 

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1 Comment

Lynda, good article. I like the breakdown of the different stakeholders. As with most project management tools, the development of the mutuality matrix and the communication with those stakeholders requires regular, consistent attention by the PM. The tools are only as good as the worker, as they say, and this one is no different. As a generally quiet person, this is one of the things I always need to work on. I think this will serve as a reminder and a way to focus on the need to communicate, with whom, and what to tell them or ask of them. Thanks for the helpful article.

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