Program Stakeholder Engagement

What is a stakeholder?

A stakeholder is an individual, group, or organization that may affect, be affected by, or perceive itself to be affected by a decision, activity, or outcome of a project, program, or portfolio.

Balancing stakeholder interests is important, considering their potential impact on program benefits realization or the inherent conflicting nature of those interests.

People have a tendency to resist direct management when the relationship does not have a hierarchical affiliation.

The program manager interacts with stakeholders in the following ways:

  • Engages stakeholders by assessing their attitudes and interests toward the program and their change readiness;
  • Includes stakeholders in program activities and uses communications targeted to their needs, interests, requirements, expectations, and wants, according to their change readiness and selected organizational change management strategy speed and scale;
  • Monitors stakeholder feedback within the context and understanding of the relationship to the program; and
  • Supports training initiatives as needed within the context of the program or related organizational structure of the program component.

This two-way communication enables the program manager to deliver the benefits for the organization in accordance with the program charter.

People have the propensity to resist change whenever they have not directly requested it, have not participated in creating it, do not understand the necessity for it, or are concerned with the effect of the change on them personally.

What is a stakeholder engagement?

Stakeholder engagement is often expressed as direct and indirect communication among the stakeholder and the program’s leaders and team.

Stakeholder engagement, however, includes more than just communication. For example, stakeholders can be engaged by involving them in goal setting, quality analysis reviews, or other program activities.

The primary objective is to gain and maintain stakeholder buy-in for the program’s objectives, benefits, and outcomes.

The complexity of those environments warrants the efforts of the program manager to understand and manage the wide stakeholder base. Figure below depicts a diverse stakeholder environment that may shape the actions needed to manage those expectations.

Beyond the communications aspect, stakeholder engagement concerns negotiation of objectives, agreement on desired benefits, commitment to resources, and ongoing support throughout the program.

Program stakeholder identification

It aims to identify all key stakeholders (or stakeholder groups) in the stakeholder register.

This register lists

  • the stakeholders,
  • categorizes their relationship to the program,
  • their ability to influence the program outcome,
  • their degree of support for the program,
  • and other characteristics or attributes the program manager feels could influence the stakeholders’ perception and the program’s outcomes.

The stakeholder register:

  • should be established and maintained in such a way that members of the program team can reference it easily for use in reporting, distributing program deliverables, and providing formal and informal communications.
  • is a dynamic document, as the program evolves, new stakeholders may emerge or interests of current groups may shift.

Program stakeholder analysis

It categorizes the stakeholders (needs, expectations, or influence) in order to start analyzing them.

Key information should be obtained from stakeholders in order to better understand the organizational culture, politics, and concerns related to the program, as well as the overall impact of the program.

It allows the program team to make informed decisions about how and when to engage stakeholders, taking into account their interest, influence, involvement, inter-dependencies and support levels.

Program stakeholder engagement planning

It outlines how all program stakeholders will be engaged throughout the duration of the program.

The following aspects for each stakeholder are taken into consideration:

  • Organizational culture and acceptance of change,
  • Attitudes about the program and its sponsors,
  • Relevant phase(s) applicable to stakeholders specific engagement,
  • Expectation of program benefits delivery,
  • Degree of support or opposition to the program benefits, and
  • Ability to influence the outcome of the program.

Program stakeholder engagement

Stakeholder engagement is a continuous program activity because the list of stakeholders and their attitudes and opinions change as the program progresses and delivers benefits.

One of the primary roles of the program manager throughout the duration of the program is to ensure all stakeholders are adequately and appropriately engaged.

The stakeholder register, stakeholder map, and stakeholder engagement plan should be referenced and evaluated often, and updated as needed.

Interacting and engaging with stakeholders allows the program team to communicate program benefits and their relevance to the organization’s strategic objectives. When necessary, the program manager may utilize strong communication, negotiation, and conflict resolution skills to help defuse stakeholder opposition to the program and its stated benefits.

Large programs with diverse stakeholders may also require facilitated negotiation sessions among stakeholders or stakeholder groups when their expectations conflict.

The primary metrics for stakeholder engagement are positive contributions to the realization of the program’s objectives and benefits, stakeholder participation, and frequency or rate of communication with the program team.

The history of stakeholder participation provides important background information that could influence stakeholder perceptions and expectations.

As the program team works with the stakeholders, it collects and logs stakeholder issues and concerns and manages them to closure. Use of an issue log to document, prioritize, and track issues helps the entire program team understand the feedback received from the stakeholders.

When the list of stakeholders is small, a simple spreadsheet may be an adequate tracking tool. For programs with complex risks and issues affecting large numbers of stakeholders, a more sophisticated tracking and prioritization mechanism may be required.

Program stakeholder communications

Effective communications create a bridge between diverse stakeholders who may have different cultural and organizational backgrounds, different levels of expertise, and different perspectives and interests, all of which may impact or influence the delivery of benefits by the program.

The program manager should actively engage stakeholders throughout the life cycle of the program, with particular attention to those key stakeholders who are high in power and influence.

It is important that decision-making stakeholders are provided with adequate information to make the right decisions at the right time necessary to move the program forward.

The program manager should continually monitor changes and update stakeholder engagement activities and deliverables as needed.

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