Putting It All on the Table

Extending stakeholder analysis to communicate a plan for action

by Sean Goffnett

This article was featured in January 2016’s Best Of Back to Basics edition.

Stakeholder analysis and communication are critical to project success. It’s essential that the right communication reach the right people at the right time. A communication plan, which documents the communication objectives for a project and the means to achieve those objectives, is a practical extension of the stakeholder analysis table because it aligns stakeholder expectations and objectives using noted actions and targeted communications.

A stakeholder analysis identifies the individuals and groups that must receive vital project-related communications. The following steps extend stakeholder analysis by developing a practical action-oriented communication plan.

1. Objective and expected outcomes— "what." Determine what must be communicated to each stakeholder. Add descriptions of what must be accomplished through targeted communications, such as reporting project status, roles and responsibilities, issues, costs, timing, decisions and announcements. Status reports, for example, are detailed accounts to keep everyone informed of the project’s progress.

Keep communication brief without losing the intent of the message, and recognize that some stakeholders will not require a significant amount of detail on a daily basis. Table 1 illustrates an extended stakeholder analysis table combined with a communication plan.

Table 1

2. Channel—"how." Specify the proper channels of communication to reach key stakeholders. Effective communication requires different methods for different purposes, so try to choose a channel that will be most effective with the least amount of effort. This can save time and frustration.

Face-to-face communication (including in-person meetings, phone calls, email, text or video messaging, surveys, extranet, intranet, internet, videoconferencing, and verbal or written reports) is best for relaying sensitive information, collaborating on complex issues and shaping behavior.

Several methods must be used to satisfy requirements of a comprehensive communication plan. The choice of the channel can depend on the intent of the message and the anticipated reaction to the message. The most appropriate channel also can depend on who is delivering the message.

3. Messenger and timing—"who" and "when." Select a knowledgeable and well-respected person to deliver the communication. This will minimize delays typically associated with building trust and rapport. Decide on when and how often to communicate. Determine frequency of communication based on the details and importance of the information needing to be conveyed.

Project leaders must balance the time and cost it takes to prepare and deliver the communication. Thus, it is important to set firm completion dates for major deliverables. It also helps to plan various ways to gain support and elicit involvement from key stakeholders. It’s likely that you will need to modify or reinforce stakeholder positions based on their reaction to the project, so be sure to note when and how positions change.

Use the extended stakeholder analysis table to capture this information and to note any progress toward acceptance of a project, and list any additional actions needing to be communicated.

When stakes are high

Put everything on the table by integrating stakeholder analysis and the communication plan. This practical combination allows you to evaluate key stakeholder attitudes and interactions to determine the best tactics to inform stakeholders and align expectations, as well as plan appropriate actions to address any risks or concerns that emerge during the project.


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Sean Goffnett is an assistant professor of marketing and logistics at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant. Goffnett received his doctor of philosophy with concentration in quality management from Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti. He is a senior member of ASQ, an ASQ-certified quality process analyst, and a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt.

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