Successful IT management relies on bringing together people, processes, technology, and strategy in a perfect balance. Get it wrong, and you run the risk of scope creep, misalignment, or delivering something that’s not fit for purpose. Get it right, and you’ll create powerful new capabilities and a strong foundation for future IT and business success.

Much of what you do in IT is clearly defined, but there’s one major area that’s a lot more ambiguous — the people. Because everyone you interact with has their own needs, objectives, areas of focus, approaches, and more.

And it’s why effective stakeholder management is so vital to your IT success. With the issues further compounded as your business diversifies, moves to the cloud, needs greater speed-to-market, and searches for every competitive advantage it can leverage.

In this article, I’ll dig into what stakeholder management is and provide a simple, five-step framework to help manage your stakeholders more effectively.

Step #1 — Understand What a Stakeholder Is

There are two main types of stakeholder, including individuals, teams, areas, or organizations who:

  • Will be impacted in some way by what you’re doing in IT, whether it’s projects, operations, or something else.
  • Can have a positive or negative impact on the outcomes of your IT initiatives.

Plus, some stakeholders can fall into both groups, and they can be both inside and outside the IT department, or even outside your organization.

Step #2 — Create a Way to Categorize Stakeholders

You’ll probably need to communicate with different types of stakeholders in different ways and thus there’s a need to categorize your stakeholders.

One of the most effective, and proven, ways to define, understand, and engage with stakeholders is through the RACI method — where RACI stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed.

  • Responsible — Works on and Delivers the IT Initiative. Responsible stakeholders are those who are most directly involved with delivering the project, initiative, or change. They’re often the IT employees and team members who do the work to achieve the task.
  • Accountable — Has Authority Over the Initiative and Approves Results. Accountable stakeholders are those who have the highest-level “say” about a piece of work. They’re often the budget holders, senior managers, executives, or drivers of change within the business.
  • Consulted — Has Insight and Suggestions About the IT Initiative. Consulted stakeholders will have ideas and input into the project. They’ll often be tangentially involved with the outcome of the piece of work, and their thoughts/opinions will need to be considered.
  • Informed — Needs to Know About the Outcome of the Initiative. Informed stakeholders generally only need to know what’s happening and what the outcome will be. They don’t need to have input into the IT initiative, but they do need to be communicated with, because the outcome will impact them.

Step #3 — Decide Who Your Stakeholders Are

Now that you have a way of categorizing stakeholders, it’s time to think about exactly who will be impacted by your initiative, or who could positively or negatively affect the outcome. Meet with your team, which could be a project team or an operational team, and to collectively identify all the individuals, teams, and other areas that may have an interest in your change. This could include:

  • IT employees like DevOps engineers involved in delivering, managing, or supporting the change.
  • Critical IT functions like security, service delivery, and maintenance.
  • Executive suite members and senior managers who will be accountable or impacted.
  • Other business areas including HR, training, operations, customer service, marketing, and sales.
  • Vendors, suppliers, and managed service providers.
  • Business analysts and application owners.
  • Shareholders and business customers.
  • End users in your business.
  • Governance, compliance, and auditing areas.

Plus, remember that as your project evolves, your stakeholders, and how they’re categorized, may change.

Step #4 — Sort Your Stakeholders into Categories

When you’ve identified your stakeholders, assign them to one of the RACI buckets. This will help to define how you’re going to communicate with them.

Step #5 — Create Appropriate Communications and Engagement Plans

If there’s one thing you can do to manage stakeholders better, it’s this: communicate the right information, in the right way, at the right time.

Good stakeholder management relies on excellent communications planning and messaging, with the types of communications you provide dependent on three main factors:

  1. The type of stakeholder you’re communicating with (i.e., using the RACI method).
  2. Individuals and groups in each of the categories and their communication preferences.
  3. The information you need to share and the interactions you need as a result.

The bottom line is that you’ll need to tailor communications plans and channels for stakeholders because sadly there’s no “one size fits all.” Some high-level guidance is provided below.

Managing Different Types of Stakeholders:

  • Accountable stakeholders are probably best addressed directly, in face-to-face meetings, one-to-ones, or phone calls.
  • Responsible stakeholders are probably best addressed in team, and other, meetings, since actions supporting the IT initiative will be part of their job description.
  • Consulted stakeholders can be addressed by their own preferred channels.
  • Informed stakeholders are best addressed through widespread, blanket communications across several different channels.

Getting Support and Buy-In:

  • Clearly show how the IT initiative aligns with the strategic goals of the business, and the objectives of the affected executives, managers, and employees.
  • Think about the entire project lifecycle, as you’ll need to provide different communications as the project, or change, gets closer to delivery, goes into production, and beyond.

Providing Updates:

  • Communicate on a regular basis, so that stakeholders know what to expect. You could arrange for weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly updates, depending on the level of stakeholder you’re dealing with.
  • Communicate clearly, avoid technical terms, and focus the messaging around business, area, team, and individual goals.
  • If you need people to take action as a result of the communication, then state that clearly.

Using the Right Communications Channels:

There are plenty of communication channels you can choose — email, instant messaging, video, all-hands briefings, workshops, meetings, one-to-ones, reports, intranet, and more. It’s important to tailor the message to the right channel so that you can get the widest distribution and engagement.

In Conclusion

Although every business is different, great communication can make a huge difference to engaging with the right stakeholders and ensuring that your IT initiative is a success. As you start your stakeholder management process, remember to document what you’re doing so that you can learn what works and what doesn’t. Then tweak your stakeholder management activities where it makes sense and you’ll be able to provide the right level of governance and influence to maximize the positive impact of IT change on your business.

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Senior Web Strategist at BMC Software

Stephen Watts is an IT marketing professional based in Birmingham, Alabama. He works at BMC Software and focuses on creating best-in-class web content.

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