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Managing Large Groups of Stakeholders

You’ve just been assigned a new project.  You’re excited to get started but then find out the customer wants to have 18 stakeholders instead of the usual six to eight.  Reaching consensus with 18 people is a little more difficult than with six people.  Try getting 18 people to agree on lunch and see what I’m talking about!

How do you handle a large group of vested stakeholders? 

  1. Push back on constraints
    Part of your job as a business analyst is to ask the tough and uncomfortable questions. Why does each of the 18 people need to be at this meeting?  Is each person a decision-maker or a provider of information?  Six providers of information were asked to provide their data in advance.  By providing information ahead of time they were no longer required at the meeting. Why are they there?
  2. Double the estimates for all work
    Reaching consensus in a meeting is one thing.  Reaching consensus on document reviews once everyone has gone back to their regular work schedule is another.  Make sure to double the expected turn-around time for all document reviews or other work requiring participation of all stakeholders.
  3. Organize the team
    Make sure each person on your team knows his/her roles and responsibilities.
    In our meetings typically I present, facilitate, and generally do the “song and dance”.  The project manager documents decisions, action items, why decisions were made, and anything else that may help.  The subsequent work of managing the project schedule, conducting analysis, and other key tasks is also clearly divided. 
  4. Expect additional work
    Additional tasks will “spring up”.  The project sponsor may request reviews, demonstrations, or other key meetings to keep abreast of all decisions and changes.  Make sure to do whatever it takes to make this person happy.  After all it’s the project sponsor who ultimately calls the shots and signs your check.

In my recent experience, a project sponsor wanted to see the “user experience”.  I created a document including a flow chart and screen shots walking through a simple purchase scenario.  We reviewed the document, demonstrated a live system and answered all of her questions.  The project sponsor was given a clear picture of the system she purchased and was able to assign additional tasks to her staff.

In summary, with a little planning and preparation, working with a large group of stakeholders can be a rewarding experience that asks you to work in new ways, to be patient and flexible,  and to improve your skills.  

Jonathan Malkin is a Business Analyst at Plateau Systems.  Jonathan provides configuration, integration, documentation, and deployment support services for a leader in Talent Management Systems.  Jonathan’s areas of support include 21 CFR Part 11 Validation, SF-182’s, EHRI compliance and customizations to COTS software for which he has won multiple awards.  His experience includes work in the federal government, telecommunications, mortgage and banking, and custom software development industries.  Plateau Systems is a leading global provider of adaptable, unified web-based talent management software, content and services to onboard, develop, manage and reward talent.

Jonathan may be reached by email at [email protected] or by visiting his LinkedIn page at