Stakeholder Management

Stakeholder management is important for librarians, especially given the current budget concerns and focus on outreach. In the library literature, I don’t see much on the subject beyond the idea that stakeholder management is important. So how to go about it ends up being a lot of guess work. Luckily this is a very established part of project management and there are some great tips and tricks out there for doing so.

The first step of stakeholder management is the identification of stakeholders. This can be trickier than you’d think. At its most basic, a stakeholder is any person who could impact or be impacted by your project. Unfortunately, that doesn’t help much as it can easily become a situation where everyone is stakeholder. The easiest way to narrow this down (which will also be useful later) is to think in degrees of impact. You might not be able to catch everyone but if you start with the most impactful and work your way down you will get a good initial list. As a first step, I create a new spreadsheet and just start listing names. When I start to struggle to come up with the next name (you can also think in terms of groups) I stop and review the list. This usually generates a few additions to round out the list. Next I find someone else who understands the project and what it is seeking to accomplish to review. If you can find multiple people, all the better. The more points of view you can apply to the list the better it will be.

For smaller projects or ones with a small stakeholder base, the list itself could be sufficient for knowing who is invloved. Normally, you need to add some additional information to round out the list and help group stakeholders together. There are many ways you can do this but I’ll present the most common two: Red/Green/Yellow and Power/Interest.

The Red/Green/Yellow method is a great starting point if you’ve never tackled this kind of thing before. It’s very straight forward and easy to get started. Simply review your list of stakeholders and assign each one a value, either Red, Green, or Yellow. Green means the person is a supporter of your project and could be counted upon to lend resources, support, or influence on behalf of your project. Simply put, these are your go to people. Red means the person does not support your project and might actually be working against it. These are the people you need to win over and will have to spend much more time trying to influence. Yellow means the person is either on the fence about the project or you are not yet able to determine where they stand. The main goal in dealing with these people will be to figure out how to move them to Green or to ensure they don’t become Red. Once you’ve made it through your list, you should now have a clear idea of your supporters and detractors are.

The Power/Interest method comes at this from a different perspective. Each stakeholder is assigned a Power (the amount of influence they have in organization and on the project) and Interest (how involved or how much attention they will pay to the project) value ranging from low to high. You can then create a grid with Power and Interest as the axis and plot the stakeholders accordingly. Splitting each in half you should end up with four quadrants. The conventional wisdom on handling the groups is as follows:

  • High Power/High Interest: Manage them closely. These will be your key stakeholders. They hold the power to influence your project and it is certainly on their radar. If you can turn them into supporters they will make powerful allies.
  • High Power/Low Interest: Keep them satisfied. These stakeholders have the potential to really support or sink your project but it is just not on their radar. Figure out how best to keep them satisfied. Often this can be as simple as figuring out the preferred communication method and level of detail to keep them informed.
  • Low Power/Low Interest: Monitor this group. You can’t be all things to all people and if there is a group to ignore (or pay less attention to) it’s this one. They aren’t concerned about your project and even if they were there isn’t much they can do about it. The main thing here is to make sure that situation doesn’t change.
  • Low Power/High Interest: Keep this group informed. They might not be able to make a massive impact but it’s good to know those people that are highly engaged in your project. There might come a time where you need support and this is a great group to get it from.

power/interest grid

Whichever method you choose, you should end up with a list of your stakeholders and a way of grouping them together. This can then inform your communication plan (which I’ll talk about later) as well as the management of your project has a whole. You can successfully complete a project without doing a stakeholder analysis but you open yourself up to many potential pitfalls by not.

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