So we are given a project and pretty soon we ask, "Who are the people affected, our stakeholders?"
If we are careful, we don't define this as people who are merely affected during the life of the project, but also affected by its outcome, the difference our project can and should make in the world after the project is over.
Even using the word 'affected' can be a little too limiting. This implies we only consider people who are impacted by what we do. How about drawing the net a little wider? How about including people who have an interest in our project and its outcome?
This comes back to the classic definition we use of a 'stakeholder': any individual or group who has an interest in the project or its outcome.
Now some project managers can find this wider net daunting and can resist this. Usually there are three reasons for this:
1. "This is more likely to involve the 'difficult' people. If I do this, I am adding risks to my project."
Yes, that there are risks here.
However, a greater risk is from overlooking some important stakeholder. This omission can be very damaging later, when that stakeholder is aggrieved that you have left them out of the loop. "You can forget important stakeholders, but they won't forget you," is one of our favourite aphorisms.
2. "This will increase my workload. It would overwhelm me. I can't communicate with all these people and groups."
No, you can't. Nor should you try. Remember, if your project is large enough to have a team, including your project sponsor and, perhaps, a project office, then you need to work with them on this engagement challenge as a team effort. Delegate out to them some of that engagement. It is likely, for example, that your project sponsor is a more suitable candidate for engaging some key people.
Also, by this more inclusive approach you will identify stakeholders that perhaps you later dismiss from engagement, either because they are very marginal or because you need to prioritise. But this is much more robust approach than being in denial about engaging with them from the outset. It may be that you do not need to engage certain stakeholders yet; but the time will come. You have thought this through. You are more prepared.
3. "My job is merely to deliver the project. The outcomes are someone else's problem."
I don't encounter this response as much in these more enlightened times. Even if you are tempted to exempt yourself from engagement by this extremely conservative view of project management, you do well to remind yourself that you ultimately you serve your customer. You are helping them achieve their business case. Yes, much of this work - the operational transition and benefits realisation - might be scoped outside of your project, but the best project managers, the ones that are most highly regarded, are those who make it their business to make sure others are ready to do this.
So make sure when identifying your stakeholders, you identify all of them. Make sure you draw your net widely enough. And don't let some of these common objections put you off.