So your next initiative has been greenlit, you’ve created all of the product documentation, and you're ready to hand things off to the engineering team.
Hold up! You could be missing a critical piece of planning that could make or break the success of your work: a stakeholder management plan.
In order for any project to be successful, there need to be clear definitions for who is responsible for what, who owns the channels of communication, and how much influence each involved team member, or “stakeholder,” should have at each product development stage. So how do you make a stakeholder management plan, and what does a good one look like?
Keep reading to see how easy it is to make one for your next product initiative.
What Is A Stakeholder Management Plan?
Team members that are involved in your project are also referred to as “stakeholders,” since they have a “stake” or interest in seeing the project go forward and succeed.
Their hands-on involvement in the project itself depends on a lot of factors, like their position in your company, what their specific role is, etc. Understanding these differences and documenting them as a team is a key planning activity that should be done prior to kicking off any major product initiative.
Stakeholder management plans are formal documents that should be shared with and created alongside your entire project team, and they contain information on who each stakeholder is and how exactly they will be involved in the execution of your project.
Common project stakeholder types on product development teams can include:
- Product managers
- Project managers
- Engineers or web developers
- UX or visual designers
- Managers, Directors, or a Project Sponsor
- Data analysts
What stakeholders are listed in your stakeholder management plan will vary depending on the type of initiative you are planning.
For instance, launching a new homepage design would require extensive design resources, whereas a backend feature like a new database storage system may not require any stakeholders from UX design at all. Make your list of stakeholders specific to your project.
Some projects will also require external stakeholders to be listed as well.
For instance, maybe you are working on a product partnership with an external company that will be featured on your website. You will want to ensure that you identify stakeholders from any external group that has an interest in your project so that you can communicate with them effectively.
What Goes Into A Stakeholder Management Plan?
Your stakeholder management plan needs a few different pieces of information to be successful at driving your project forward.
Key components of a stakeholder management plan include:
- List of project stakeholders: These should be individual names of all of the team members who will be involved in each stage of the product’s development, from planning to launch. Try to list each stakeholder individually if possible, instead of just including a broad group, like “marketing team.”
- Roles and responsibilities: A list of what is expected of each stakeholder in order for the project to be completed in a timely manner. Be as specific as possible.
- Level of interest: Every stakeholder will have a different level of interest in the project, based on their business role and their other priorities. You should identify the level of interest for each stakeholder, from “low” to “high.”
- Communication frequency and method: Some stakeholders will need to be in constant communication with you in order for the project to be successful, while others will only require a weekly or even monthly update on the project’s status. Also identify how you will be communicating with each stakeholder, and what information you will be sharing with them.
When Do I Make One?
Creating the stakeholder management plan as a team before product development begins can be a great way to ensure that everyone agrees on their level of responsibility for the project, and that each person has a clear understanding of what is expected of them throughout the development process.
Ideally, your stakeholder management and communication plan should be created as a group at a kickoff meeting, where any conflicts or concerns can be addressed in an open forum. This creates team transparency and a sense of ownership within your team.
How To Create A Stakeholder Management Plan
1. Identify your stakeholders
Conduct a stakeholder analysis and identify each of the individual people who will make your product launch possible. Write each of their names and role in your management plan. You will also want to make sure you include any stakeholder that is not a part of the team you work with on a daily basis.
For instance, you may not always work with your company’s email marketing team, but maybe this product release requires an email marketing campaign as part of its launch. Be sure to engage with these cross-functional stakeholders as early as you can, since they may already have other priorities that they are working on with other teams.
2. Document their roles and responsibilities
Here is where you write down what each key stakeholder will be responsible for executing within the project. Be as specific as possible, and be sure to document each deliverable for each person. Include links to project documentation if you think this would be helpful for each stakeholder, and include both daily responsibilities, such as checking in with you at standups, and bigger deliverables, such as launching the feature on production.
What you document here also depends on how the roles and responsibilities at your company are defined. Products being developed in the public sector might have a more rigid set of stakeholders, while at private companies, the list might not be so defined.
Larger companies are more likely to have clearly defined business functions, such as project management, product management, and data analytics, while these roles may be combined in some way at smaller companies or startups. It may be that one person “wears many hats” and will be responsible for multiple deliverables.
3. Apply level of interest
Include a level of interest for each stakeholder, ranging from “low” to “medium” to “high.” This will help you prioritize how often to communicate with them, how much detail they need, and how looped into the project’s status they should be.
Your manager for example may have a high interest in the project, but may not need to be included in daily communications, and may rather just be informed weekly or even monthly of how the project is going.
4. Document communication frequency and method
Ongoing stakeholder engagement will vary depending on the person’s role and other responsibilities. For each key stakeholder, document how often you will be communicating with them, what channel you will be using (slack, email, a stakeholder management software, etc.) and what the communications will contain.
For example, will you be giving them just a high level summary of the project status, or will you be sharing a breakdown of tickets that the engineering team has completed each sprint? This can vary by stakeholder and their job function. Developing a communication plan that everyone is comfortable with is critical to your project’s success.
The level of influence each stakeholder has in the project is important to keep in mind here. You will want to ensure that any involved directors or project sponsors have insight into the project’s progress and have ample opportunities to provide feedback and be involved in any top level decision-making that needs to be done.
Influential stakeholders may not need to be involved in every daily conversation about the project, but they need to be informed of the project’s milestones regularly. Finding a balance here is key.
5. Publish and share the plan
A stakeholder management plan can be documented in many forms, from a simple excel or google sheet, to a more robust graph or chart. Keep it simple and easy to read, so that each key stakeholder can easily access and follow it.
Be sure to publish the completed stakeholder management plan template in a place where every team member can access it and refer to it as needed, such as in a larger product brief or project documentation. This ensures transparency across the team and will ensure nothing gets overlooked.
6. Ask for feedback
Change management is a key component of a successful stakeholder management strategy, and it may be that your plan needs to be tweaked as your project progresses.
Maybe certain stakeholders want to be informed more or less often, or maybe someone needs to take on additional responsibilities in order for the project to be completed on time. Be sure to solicit feedback from all stakeholders regularly on what is working and what needs to be changed.
You can get feedback in the form of a specific written survey that you distribute, or you can make it a regular item to check in on at your daily or regular standups. Do whatever works best for your team and what will encourage the highest level of stakeholder engagement in your project.
7. Prepare for conflict
Projects both large and small, no matter how important they may be to you personally, may not be as important to someone on another team that you may depend on to meet your deadline. Identify these conflicting priorities ahead of time if you can, in order to prevent this taking you by surprise later on in the development cycle.
You may also run into a situation where multiple team members think they should be responsible for the same deliverable, or maybe someone doesn't think their role should be responsible for what they have been assigned.
Having a kickoff meeting at the beginning of the project planning process where these kinds of questions can be addressed should resolve these conflicts before they even start, and will help you develop a more effective stakeholder management and communication plan.
Get Our Stakeholder Management Plan Template
Looking for a stakeholder management plan template that you can start leveraging for your upcoming projects? Access our free stakeholder management template here.
In this example, we’ve created a simple management plan in a google sheet for a project that involves launching a new design on a website’s homepage. It lists the key stakeholders involved, their roles and responsibilities, level of interest, communication frequency, and communication method. Feel free to tailor this to fit the needs of your product team.
To copy and modify the template for your own use in Google Sheets, just select File and Make A Copy to save a version in your Google Drive. Or, to download a copy for use in Excel, select File and Download before selecting your preferred format.
Why Stakeholder Management Plans Matter
There are several benefits to creating a cohesive stakeholder management plan. Not only does this document help you limit and reduce risk to your project timelines, it also helps improve communication between all stakeholders involved.
Knowing what each team member is responsible for at the outset of a project can only help in ensuring that no detail slips through the cracks, and you are left with a highly engaged and motivated team.
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