Early on in my project management career as I was coming up to speed of the overall PM framework and process I was introduced to the whole concept of stakeholder management.  I recall during one of the very first training sessions I participated in where the facilitator was identifying the different type of stakeholders such as the executive sponsor, client, end user, and so on.  At the time it seemed as though it was a pretty straight forward process to keep track of.  However I began to realize very quickly after the training session that when it comes to stakeholders things are very rarely simple.  Most projects are not easy enough to have one user group, a clear decision maker (sponsor), or even in some cases one project manager.  In fact, most projects have a very complex stakeholder structure that is unfortunately not understood or even recognized.

This issue become amplified as part of the requirements management process.  As an example, it may be that during requirements extraction the team identified 2 primary stakeholder groups as part of the user community who will provide the input for certain functionality in a product that is being developed.  Shortly after implementation is started (and long after the requirements document has been approved) the PM team becomes aware of a new user group that will benefit from this product. The issue is not that this user group is new to the project or the organization but rather it is new to the list of identified stakeholders.  As such, the project now increases in risk and complexity as it is quite likely that this new group has different requirements from the other two.  A decision then has to be made on whether the requirements will change or remain the same.

That is one example of a stakeholder management soup that reeks havoc on the project manager and these types of challenges can surface from a variety of perspectives.  They can be initiated from the executive sponsor side where it becomes apparent for instance that a new decision maker has joined the project or they can come from customers due to a shift in resources.

Whenever the project is about to be impacted by issues related to the stakeholder management cycle, we have to quickly determine if the challenge we are dealing with is a communication challenge or a decision making one.  For example, do we find conflicting feedback from different stakeholder groups because they are having a hard time communicating and as such they don’t understand each others’ point of view?  or, do we have an issue because the various stakeholder groups understand the different points of view but they do not agree with them?

Once we’ve identified where this challenge lies, we can begin to build a plan to address how to resolve these issues.  The key is to recognize that on projects we are likely going to have overlapping and conflicting requirements that are generated from stakeholder groups that are themselves overlapping and conflicting in interest and role.