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Jarett Hailes
Jarett Hailes

The Lost Stakeholder Analysis Dimension: Engagement

Stakeholder Analysis is an important and often ongoing activity that Business Analysts perform as part of their duties.  Solution delivery team members need to understand who else is involved or impacted by their work effort, how they can interact with these people or groups, and what sort of tradeoffs exist in pleasing one group over another.

The BABOK highlights several important dimensions that can be collected on each stakeholder, namely:

  • The stakeholder’s attitude towards the project or solution team
  • The stakeholder’s influence on the project or solution team’s success
  • The type of stakeholder (internal/external, direct/indirect, etc.)

The body of knowledge also describes artifacts such as a RACI chart and stakeholder map to help manage the information you collect on stakeholders.

In addition to these dimensions, I believe that there is another consideration that needs to be included in stakeholder analysis: the stakeholder’s engagement level with the project or solution team.

A stakeholder’s engagement level describes the expected or actual amount of involvement a stakeholder has with the project.  Since the required level of engagement with certain stakeholders may differ over the course of a project, this level should represent the level of engagement relating to activities that could or should involve the given stakeholder.   In some cases, you may wish to separately track the expected/needed versus actual amount of engagement.

This is an important dimension to consider for several reasons:

  • The level of engagement that a stakeholder provides can greatly impact the amount of effort required to perform other Business Analysis activities, including requirements gathering/validation, solution assessment, enterprise analysis, etc.
  • If you expect to see high levels of active engagement from certain stakeholders who may not be considered high priority in the overall context of the project, you may find that the team will spend a disproportionate amount of time dealing with these stakeholders.  By identifying such potential issues up front mitigation strategies can be developed to ensure that efforts are focused on where the highest needs are.
  • Conversely, if you identify high priority stakeholders with likely or actual low levels of engagement the team can identify potential solutions to address the causes of such disengagement, escalate this issue with the sponsor as needed, or allocate sufficient time to ensure that these stakeholders’ needs are still adequately met.

The Engagement Gradient

Every stakeholder’s level of engagement can vary.  I use 4 markers as generic signposts to describe the general level of engagement each stakeholder has.

Stakeholder Engagement Gradient 

  • Proactive: these stakeholders are heavily involved in project activity. They are not only willing and able to answer questions, but they’ll ask you questions you haven’t thought about yet. They want to trial out potential solutions, volunteer for committees and the like. Generally they behave as an active team member rather than a stakeholder.
  • Responsive: these stakeholders get involved in the process, but only when prompted.  They will respond to surveys, join in interviews or workshops, and provide suggestions to outstanding items but they won’t go out of their way to let you know something or volunteer to actively work on issues.
  • Marginal: these stakeholders will participate on occasion, but not all the time. They will provide limited feedback, give short responses, not really contribute meaningfully to discussions or suggest solutions to problems.  Such stakeholders can quite often feel obligated to be involved (although if this is the case it should be documented separately in the attitude section).
  • Disengaged: these stakeholders you rarely or never hear from.  They will not respond to meeting requests, surveys, etc.  When they are present it’s virtually impossible to get them off their Blackberries or do anything beyond nod their head (either in agreement or disagreement). 

You may find that some stakeholders exhibit various markers depending on the subject or issue at hand within a project.  If appropriate you may have a matrix of engagement levels for your stakeholders with the stakeholders and the various aspects of your project representing the axes.

Leveraging Engagement in Stakeholder Analysis and Other Activities

By bringing in the engagement level dimension into your stakeholder analysis, you can now optimize your other Business Analysis activities much more efficiently.  Taking this information into consideration in conjunction with the stakeholder’s attitude and influence towards the project can help identify potential risks to the success of the project, find potential bottlenecks in upcoming project activities and look for ways to improve stakeholder communications. 

For example, let’s say that you have a stakeholder with a great attitude, is proactively engaged but of low influence to the project?  Such a stakeholder could have the potential to take up a lot of the project’s time.   Perhaps you can look to leverage their enthusiasm for the project by having them spread the word of the project, get other higher priority stakeholders on board, etc.

When a stakeholder is disengaged there could be several causes.  If the stakeholder could pose a major influence on the project I try and determine whether the main reason is lack of time or lack of interest.   If it’s the former then we can work on finding ways to involve them in more asynchronous activities or to get them involved at a higher level, if appropriate.  If it’s the latter then I know the project may have a potential problem – perhaps the apparent value of the project is not there, or more work needs to be done to ensure this stakeholder sees the value and thus will contribute more to the project.

Looking at the overall engagement of all stakeholders can also give you an idea as to how well your engagement activities are being received.  If it looks like most of your stakeholders are not very engaged with the project you may wish to review your communications plan as well as your other stakeholder activities and ask if you have had sufficient input in order to proceed.

It is important for a Business Analyst to acquire and deliver the right information from the right people and organizations within the course of their duties.  Stakeholder analysis activities can help a BA navigate the sometimes challenging waters of ensuring that everyone has their voice heard and are sufficiently involved to ensure the project or solution is a success.  Understanding the anticipated/desired and actual levels of engagement with stakeholders can help ensure that project goals are met.

Jarett Hailes
Larimar Consulting Inc.

This entry was published on Feb 18, 2010 / Jarett Hailes. Posted in Requirements Management and Communication (BABOK KA), Business Analysis. Bookmark the Permalink or E-mail it to a friend.
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Marc Thibault posted on Wednesday, March 10, 2010 10:33 AM
Engagement is certainly a vital factor when deciding how to manage the stakeholders. It's not necessarily positive. I'm reminded of the smart/stupid by energetic/lazy box and what you do in each corner.

One thing to consider is that the influential but disengaged stakeholder may just be trusting you to do your job. (Marc's law of escalation: Decisions climb the management ladder until they reach someone who doesn't care)

There's a danger here of over-analysis. In the end, what we are trying to distinguish is the pushers and blockers. What we want to know about each stakeholder is whether they're good for the long-term success of the project or an obstacle. Given that understanding, we can implement a strategy of encouraging the pushers and neutralizing the blockers.

Marc Thibault
Anonymous User posted on Friday, March 12, 2010 11:59 PM
By reading I realize that engagement is a vital factor but every one's eye not seeing same things, even feeling is not same. Don’t forget someone is like a duck. You can see calm at surface but very rapidly peddling in the water. So, I think some conformation level is needed. How can anyone conform engagement level?
Actually I am student I am not facing the real life problem what may you face, I am sorry for that but ,still you think some stack holders are good between the stack holders but not for you and me. Infect, I want that the not wrong one should be punished so I think you have to do like, someone you realize less engage, give more and more work, some praise like initial stage, try to engage, ask why you dislike project else you lost one team member. So project is already delayed. May be possible those who less engage may know the fulfillment of the project then others, in terms of weakness and strengths of your project, possibility of the completion. If you find strength then your confidence is increase and if you find weakness then you know how to correct. In fact we have to find the people like those who disengage or deprive the people for the project. These are the major defects of you project because they are not engaging and not going to let other engage.
Sorry but sometime think with the stack holders brain is very important than yours and mine.
I don’t know I am right or wrong, but, form my mind I don’t know!
Anonymous User
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