Stakeholder management ignores the fact that the business areas impact, management and sponsor are the owners and investors

Who is a Stakeholder?

A stakeholder is defined as “A person, group or organization that has interest or concern in an organization” or, in the case of projects, “interest or concern in a project.” [1]

It is common for project teams to talk of their ‘stakeholders’ and of ‘stakeholder management’. This is project-speak for “Them”.

On the surface it can make sense to think in terms of managing stakeholders – those that have interest or concern in the project – but they are not the main players.

Not Stakeholders but Impacted Owners

Included in these ‘stakeholders’ are the business areas impacted, the sponsor and steering committee, the investment committee and senior management. These parties are not ‘interested or concerned’ they are the owners and investors in the project. It is their project!

The project team may be managing the project, but it is the business’s project. These business management and staff are not just ‘interested or concerned’ but impacted. If the project fails, the project team moves on but the business areas are deprived of the expected results and benefits. If the project goes way over time and budget, the business wears the consequences for years to come.

Who Is Managing Who?

The problem here is the mindset. If ‘they’ are just stakeholders, then ‘we’ (the project team) must own the project. “It is our project and they have an interest or concern in it and therefore must be managed.”

However, if you recognize that ‘they’ are the owners and investors in the project, then ‘we’ must deliver their needs and meet their expectations. ‘We’ are now being managed by ‘them’ not the other way round.

If you were building a house you wanted to live in, would you allow the builder to ‘manage your expectations’ and tell you what you will and won’t receive?

All projects are business projects, owned and invested in by the business. Yes, there will be stakeholders on the periphery of projects that only have an ‘interest or concern’; but central to the project are the owners and investors.

Equip the Business To Be Effective Owners and Investors

So let’s build the delivery processes so that the owners and investors get what they want and they can set the expectations. This is easily done by the business defining its Value Equation for the project that specifies in clear, measurable terms exactly what owners/investors want in business outcome, benefits and value terms.

Now it is the role of the project team to deliver the owner/investor’s requirements efficiently and in full.



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Topics: Project Success, Value Equation

Further Reading



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Revision History

First published: Simms, J. (Oct 2015) as "Forget Stakeholder Management, Focus On The Project Owners"

Updated: Chapman, A. (March 2020), Revisions and Corrections