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8 top tips for stakeholder management in digital transformation

Monday, October 3rd, 2022

Business women engaged in stakeholder management, overseeing post-it notes on board with colleagues

Stakeholder management is about staying on top of all your stakeholders’ wants and needs while also pushing forth your own agenda. With so many competing voices and end goals in your organisation, your ability to manage stakeholders effectively could make or break your transformation project. 

Stakeholder management in digital transformation is a delicate operation requiring skilled managers with technical knowledge balanced with the soft skills for digital transformation. Leadership abilities combined with the ability to influence and negotiate for business change will also be invaluable. 

Below we provide some top tips for stakeholder management when leading digital transformation, but first we answer an important question. 

What is stakeholder management? 

The term stakeholder is defined as ‘a group or individual who can affect or is affected by the achievement of the organisation’s objective.” 

Everyone involved in your business objectives is considered a stakeholder, including directors, shareholders, employees, customers, creditors, regulators and the government.  

Stakeholder management is the business of developing and maintaining these relationships so that your organisation can meet its end goals and win stakeholder approval. 

Stakeholder management in digital transformation 

Managing stakeholders effectively is a skill that can be honed with industry practice and academic learning. To hone your skills in stakeholder management, you can put yourself forward to lead a project at work or undertake further studies to gain a valued qualification alongside work experience. 

The MSc Business in Tech at Ulster University is aims to build the skills to manage clients and stakeholders in times of transformation, with our students learning advanced principles and practices of effective stakeholder and client management, to implement sustainable change and deliver sustainable outcomes. 

Read on to receive our top tips for effective stakeholder management in digital transformation and how to develop the skills for success. 

1. Carry out a stakeholder analysis

The process of stakeholder analysis is designed to ensure managers can identify all stakeholders and the level of their interest and influence. 

With better awareness of the colleagues most involved in a project and an accurate estimation of the involvement each stakeholder has, managers can then organise their teams effectively and ensure they communicate key information to all involved parties at every stage of the project. 

A broad process, stakeholder analysis (a.k.a stakeholder mapping) encompasses the following: 

  • Identifying all stakeholders involved 
  • Understanding their motivations 
  • Determining the level of involvement each stakeholder should have 
  • Planning effective communications 
  • Managing and engaging stakeholders 
  • Increasing stakeholder interest 
  • Working with stakeholders to plan time, money and resources for a project 

2. Develop a Power/Interest Matrix

As part of the stakeholder analysis process, it is helpful to map the positions of stakeholders in a Power/Interest Matrix to better identify your priority stakeholders (both internal and external) and manage them accordingly. 

The Power/Interest Matrix, first developed by Mendelow (1991), helps achieve this by grouping stakeholders according to their power and interest in a project to determine their expectations and keep all groups satisfied. 

Stakeholders with high power and high interest will be managed more closely and engaged with more fully than those with low power and low interest.  

After mapping stakeholders against this matrix through brainstorming and collaboration with the project team and key representatives, you can create a communications plan accordingly. 

The diagram below visualises this process. (Source: TheProjectManagementBlueprint.com)

Tips for stakeholder management - diagram of the Power/Interest matrix

Stakeholder analysis is a key part of the Complex Project Management module on the Business in Tech MSc, applying Mendelow’s Power/Interest Matrix to primary and secondary stakeholders. On this module, you’ll develop your ability to initiate, plan and execute complex projects to achieve specific goals within a specified timeframe and in compliance with the client’s objectives. 

3. Identify preferred methods of communication

Once you have identified which stakeholders require the most engagement, the next step is to consider how best to keep them updated. 

Stakeholders with high interest may wish to receive daily or weekly communications, while parties with lower interest may prefer monthly updates. Contact your stakeholders in the initial stages of your project to get a sense of their desired approach to communication.  

Taking the chance to speak to your stakeholders in person when possible is a good idea as written communication has the potential to be wrongly interpreted. If meeting in person is not an option, take extra time to craft important emails and correspondence, re-reading your drafts before sending them. 

The MSc Business in Tech is a fully online, part-time programme offering you the chance to build advanced skills in communication and leadership. Throughout the course, you’ll be encouraged to interact with professional peers from around the globe, engage in discussion groups and interactive sessions, share your ideas and learn from others. 

4. Accurately define expectations

Clearly defining success measurements before a project kicks off is critical to meeting client and stakeholder expectations.  

Some stakeholders will define success differently from others. However, your job as a transformation manager is to determine what success looks like for everyone and work towards a mutually satisfying agreement on what quality completion looks like. 

As part of the project plan and initiation process, you should conduct stakeholder meetings and together consider how quality and acceptance criteria will be documented and measured. 

At this point, you should also agree upon quality assurance processes and what is expected of stakeholders in testing, bug reporting and feedback.  

Once the project starts, transparency is important in managing stakeholder expectations. If a problem does arise, however, be sure to time your message well and measure the significance of the issue before sounding the alarm. 

5. Engage stakeholders at all stages of the process

Stakeholder input may not be necessary for the successful completion of your project, but by engaging them in the decision-making process, you are allowing them to feel involved and that their voices are heard. 

Priority stakeholders (as determined via the Power/Interest Matrix) will receive more regular and in-depth engagements than those with less influence over the project, but nevertheless, it is important to engage stakeholders from beginning to end. 

Relinquishing some control to stakeholders in the initial stages of the project will pay dividends when getting your end product signed off. Stakeholders who feel their thoughts have been listened to and considered throughout the project will be less likely to cause problems and delays later. 

Bear this in mind when developing a timeframe for your project, allowing added time for stakeholder feedback and amendments. 

6. Pay attention to the stakeholder mood

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  – Carl W. Buehner 

Mood can be an important consideration for project managers when dealing with stakeholders. Remaining positive and courteous in all communications with stakeholders is crucial to maintaining good relationships throughout the project and beyond. Good humour and honesty also go a long way. 

To ensure stakeholders feel positive about your lead on a project, carefully craft your communications with them and work hard to develop an amiable relationship you both can feel good about.  

7. Identify the troublemakers 

Some stakeholders will be a breeze to work with and others will not. Knowing which of your stakeholders may be resistant to change will allow you to better nurture fragile relationships by providing additional information and allotting extra time for these people in the initial stages. 

By foreseeing who may cause delays to your schedule in advance, with late replies or extensive feedback, you will be better able to schedule your time around them and ensure final deadlines are not impacted. 

Dealing with difficult stakeholders is a key aspect of stakeholder and client management. As a student on the online MSc Business in Tech at Ulster, you’ll have the chance to build these skills upon two project-based learning modules and a final project. These three modules (out of 11 modules total) focus on delivering practical insights and skills in stakeholder and client management planning, alongside business analysis and investigation, reporting, benefits realisation, consulting and more. 

8. Try ‘customer empathy mapping’ your stakeholders

Customer empathy mapping is a technique used to gain insight into the motivations and perspectives of customers and all stakeholders involved in a project. Empathy mapping differs from customer journey mapping by focusing less on tracking actions and more on creating a mental model or ‘persona’, which then can be used to understand stakeholder behaviour and predict what will please them. 

Although we may already be aware of our stakeholders’ end goals or performance indicators, we may not fully understand how our stakeholders operate or why they make certain decisions. Through customer empathy mapping, organisations can make user-centred decisions and satisfy stakeholders more thoroughly. In tech-led businesses, this is vital to ensure transformation efforts are in line with stakeholders’ true needs. 

Study transformation leadership at Ulster 

The online Business in Tech MSc was designed using insights from industry to meet the demands and requirements of the tech sector. 

The Stakeholder and Client Management module on the Business in Tech MSc will build your understanding of the stakeholder management process, incorporating stakeholder analysis, stakeholder mapping, stakeholder engagement strategies and stakeholder context analysis.  

On this module, you will also gain knowledge in identifying and evaluating client needs, based on communicating and reporting, customer journey mapping and defining requirements. For client management, students will also focus on change control, negotiating and influencing, holding client meetings and contracts. 

Later in the programme, you will have the chance to put your learnings into practice upon project-based learning modules and a live final project. With this mix of theoretical and practical, industry-led modules, the MSc Business in Tech prepares tech professionals for success in management roles. 

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