First, if we mean by the word stakeholder anyone - individual or group -who has an interest in the project or its outcome, then that's fine. Stakeholder has a value that can broaden our thinking about the people we should be talking with.
However, this brings with it a problem. Most projects of any significant size are going to straddle business functions, even across two or more organisations, which means breaking down traditional silos of working. The more successful of such projects we find deal with this reality by going beyond formal roles in the temporary project organisation, and engaging with these people as people.
Also by using that over-used word 'management' , we can be immediately seduced into a lie: that processing human beings with a communications plan will get the results we want. Wherever did we buy into that idea?
It comes from an extension of the historical success of Taylorian principles to production management. Frederick Taylor's ideas were undoubtedly successful in processing stuff, but when it comes to the matter of dealing with human beings with other agendas, personal histories, personalities, and power then it simply won't do.
I prefer the term 'Stakeholder Engagement'. It put us - uncomfortably perhaps - on a more equal level with our stakeholders. Among other things it demands us to have conversations with real people, conversations that take valuable time, with uncertain results.
Yet we are seeing higher performers being biased to this sort of activity, and surprisingly seems to be a central part in their getting greater performance on their projects. It seems that when we dare to speak with people things go smoother. Who would have thought it? (I'm allowing myself to be a little ironic here.)
Most people (our stakeholders) will tend to respond positively if we give them the dignity of talking with them, not communicating at them, of feeling their pain, of taking the trouble to understand their position and how we might help. As Stephen Covey says in his '7 Habits', "Seek first to understand, and then to be understood."
We feel we don't have time for this, such is the urgency of our project. Well, research shows that we can't afford not to do it. Talking with stakeholders usually saves time, removes impediments to progress, and the momentum on such projects can sometimes exceed all expectations.
I'll be sharing some our findings on this next week at the BCS PROMS-G Spring School in London, on Tuesday evening.
So try and think stakeholder engagement, prioritise your time accordingly.