Stakeholder engagement starts from the very beginning of any project. When that call or email comes in from a prospective client and you carry out your initial research, you are setting up the foundations for stakeholder engagement moving forward.
Gaining an understanding of the geography of your client, be that their sector, their different types of stakeholders or what their stakeholders expect from them for example, allows you to react to these findings as you set out your process for the project.
Audience geography research means you can understand your audience (stakeholders) better. You can identify types of target stakeholders and their behaviour and how/ when you’ll need them to engage throughout your project. This means you have a greater understanding of the stakeholders you’ll be engaging with from the start.
And keeping stakeholder engagement at a high level and always taking on board their points of view is imperative because their decisions can impact a project massively – and most importantly, positively.
Stakeholders can provide substantial effects on a project, including but not limited to:
- Providing expertisee.g. Historical/ background information that may not be known to the masses
- Reducing or uncovering risks
e.g. They may bring up issues or concerns regarding meeting specific requirements not yet identified
- Increasing project success
e.g. Maintaining a productive working relationship means expectations can be set
- Granting project acceptance
e.g. The more regularly you engage with stakeholders, the more aware they are of expectations & deadlines – therefore, you’re more likely to have a positive project conclusion
So what is a Stakeholder?
The term ‘Stakeholder’ is widely used to refer to individuals or groups who have an interest or role in a particular project, or are impacted by that project.
Stakeholders are very important because they can have a positive or negative influence on the project with their decisions . They could be big supporters of your projects, or they could block them, so you have to identify who your stakeholders are and win them over as soon as possible.
Further to this, you may also have critical or key stakeholders, whose support is crucial for the project to exist. So you can see why building meaningful relationships with stakeholders is vital to a project’s success and why most businesses implement a stakeholder engagement plan to ensure this success.
Internal vs. External Stakeholders
There isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ label for stakeholders, though. Stakeholders can typically exist both internally and outside the organisation that is facilitating the project – and they can be of varying seniority levels too. But both of them are equally responsible for the project resolution.
Internal stakeholders are exactly what they say on the tin. They are individuals within your organisation who are directly involved in the operations and strategy of your organisation, and who will be directly impacted by the project in question. They are employed by your organisation and can include employees, board members and project managers.
External stakeholders, however, are people outside of the organisation but who will be indirectly impacted by your project. They are not employees of the organisation but can include government officials, customers, competitors or the general public. External stakeholders will always be affected somehow by the actions and outcomes of the project.
Why is it important to take on board a Stakeholder’s point of view?
Firstly, by taking on board someone else’s point of view, this opens up a collaborative environment between contributors within the project. Taking a collaborative approach to the project brings people together and opens up new channels for communication.
Collaboration also helps people learn from each other. Taking on board the point of view of various stakeholders allows greater learning from their shared experience and perspectives.
Tapping into the knowledge of stakeholders to gain as much information as possible is vital to the project process. Working with people who bring different skill sets and backgrounds to the table not only gives you the opportunity to learn from their experiences, but you also get the chance to hear their side of things: their pain points, priorities, even the way they think.
All of this can be extremely valuable to your project.
Finally, you have a shared vision with your stakeholders. They also want the project to be a triumph. You all have a clear and common intention of working towards and fulfilling a desired goal. Therefore, their views will be invaluable to achieving that objective. It’s also important to note that you must be seen to be considering the needs and interests of everyone involved, so taking the time and putting the effort into listening to everyone’s opinions and insights keeps morale high across the project and keeps everyone on the same path towards that shared vision.
How do we work with Stakeholders?
Having identified our target stakeholders and what they wish to gain from us throughout the project, we must be reactive to their views and contribution.
It is a common view – and one that we at designdough take on board – that the following five-step model is essential to keeping stakeholder engagement elevated during a project:
- Get to know them
- Bring them along the way
- Know that not all stakeholders are the same
- Don’t be afraid to (over) communicate
- Small agreements can lead to a big agreement
The more we design with stakeholders in mind, the better the process and bigger chance of the project ambitions being achieved.
Each project is unique. All stakeholders are unique to that project. Therefore, the people we are working alongside will always change. However, our process here at designdough does not change – and the way we engage with stakeholders always remains the same.
We engage with stakeholders at every stage of the project, and just some of the examples can be seen below:
Discovery Stage (The ULTIMATE ‘getting to know you’ phase)
- Questionnaires – To gather more in-depth information about stakeholder needs, what they would like to see, like to change etc.
- Workshops – We encourage active participation from stakeholders to garner information about why they need our services, what their requirements are, the technology that will be needed amongst many other things.
- User Testing:
User Journeys – We take each user’s needs into account and integrate them into our designs
Personas – Identifying who the stakeholders are and what we need to do for them.
Design Stage (Bringing them along the way)
- Pitching – Pitching designs, giving explanations for certain choices and decisions to stakeholders is imperative to being aware of and sensitive to their opinions on the development of the project moving forward.
A/B testing – We present two design directions to a client (A and B) – it tests which direction the stakeholders think is more fitting to the overall aims of the project.
Every Stage (Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!)
- Regular meetings and updates – Communication is key throughout. Stakeholders must feel that they have been kept informed of every step and decision along the way, and have had an opportunity to be involved at every step. As I said before, you can never have too much communication!
So why is Stakeholder Engagement so important?
With a thorough understanding of our clients and their stakeholders, we are able to offer a better service which is more focussed and specific to the needs of the stakeholders. As mentioned earlier, the more we design with stakeholders in mind, the bigger the chance of the project ambitions being achieved. With the knowledge stakeholders offer up, we are also in a better position to ensure there are no conflicts or issues that could potentially harm the process of the project.
For us, the collaboration element of stakeholder engagement is key. After all, the right stakeholder could unlock an insight that had never been thought of or known which catapults the project towards the success we’re aiming for!