Think Stakeholder, Think Stakeholding
One of the things which makes being a BA rewarding and frustrating in equal measures are our stakeholders.
Barely a day goes by where we don’t spend time speaking with them, facilitating collaborative workshops with them, or even taking them for coffee. We talk a lot about ‘stakeholder engagement’ on projects, and we spend a lot of time understanding their needs and trying to achieve the ever-elusive ‘buy-in’. We carry out stakeholder identification, categorization and communication planning. We have a broad analysis toolkit, but all of our efforts will amount to nothing if we aren’t able to get the appropriate amount of stakeholder insight and support at the appropriate times. It is people that are at the center of successful change, so it is no wonder we spend a lot of our day seeking to understand and work with them.
Yet in this whirlwind of workshops and caramel macchiato coffee-shop conversations, it’s easy to forget what we actually mean by ‘stakeholder’. Whilst we intuitively know this, it is always worth taking the occasional moment to stop back and reflect. There are many definitions of ‘stakeholder’ out there, but one I particularly like comes from IIBA®’s Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK®) Guide:
“A group or individual with a relationship to the change, the need or the solution” (IIBA, 2015)
This definition is deliberately broad, and encompasses people that are inside and outside of the organization. There may well be stakeholders who have no power to influence the situation at all—but this doesn’t stop them being relevant. In fact, stakeholders who are highly interested or affected, but have low power or influence are often crucial for us to understand—and there’s a risk that these voices get marginalized.
We have probably all seen stakeholder analysis tools such as the ‘influence/impact’ grid. These useful approaches encourage us to consider the relative positioning of those with an interest, and can be helpful in developing engagement and communication strategies. Yet whilst we talk a lot about stakeholders how often do we talk about stakeholding?
Knowing Why They Care
One of the reasons that we are interested in seeking collaboration and participation with our stakeholders is that they hold a stake in the situation. It is easy to get caught in the trap of thinking about this purely from our perspective. We might think “What is it that they know about the situation that they can tell us?” or “How can they contribute towards the project?”. These are interesting questions to ask—but how often do we seek to understand their stake? How often do we seek to understand why they are a stakeholder in the first place?
If we probe beyond the surface we might find they have a personal as well as an organizational stakeholding. Understanding their professional, as well as personal interests helps us to better empathize with them and understand their perspective. Here is an example:
Organizational /Project Stakeholding
“Why I care professionally”
“Why I care personally”
Manager & Domain Subject Matter Expert
· Her team are currently directly affected by the problems
· Her team will be affected by any changes
· She will have ongoing budgetary responsibility for the ongoing solution costs
· Initiated a “pet project” which was stopped, feels that her project would have been better
· Has to personally deliver ‘bad news’ if any staff are made redundant or if roles are changed
· Management bonuses are tied to timely project delivery (determined only by ‘on time’ delivery) and operational efficiency
Here we can see that Natasha is a key stakeholder and she’s tried to initiate her own ‘pet project’ previously, which might well affect her perspective on this project. The way that management bonuses are paid might well also affect her view. The fact that she personally has to deliver the news of any organizational restructure may well give her a useful and different perspective too. Many of these things would have been easy to overlook, but might lead us to conclude that Natasha has a much higher level of interest than we initially thought. It can help us to better plan our engagement and participatory approaches, ensuring we are mindful of our stakeholders’ needs.
Thinking about stakeholding doesn’t have to be a formal activity, it can be as simple as ensuring we think to ourselves “Why do they care? What is their organizational and personal stake here?”. This can lead to us better understanding and empathizing with our stakeholders, and better understanding conflict when it arises. This is time well spent!