How to identify Stakeholders

“Our Policy: Rule 1 – The customer is always right! Rule 2 – If the customer is ever wrong, reread rule 1” – Stew Leonard.



ow much is important identifying and analyzing our stakeholders?

The feeling that can give us a possible answer is included in the PMBOK 5th Edition; Project Stakeholder Management has become a new KA (Knowledge Area) and this could be a measure of how much is important.

In this article I’m trying to give some guidelines on how to identify stakeholders, leaving the planning, managing and controlling ones to other future pieces.

Stakeholder Identification

The PMBOK gives this definition to the above activity:

“The process of identifying the people, groups, or organizations that could impact or be impacted by a decision, activity, or outcome of the project; and analyzing and documenting relevant information regarding their interests, involvement, interdependencies, influence, and potential impact on project success.”

To better understand what to do, probably we’d have to understand what’s the objective of this practice.

What do stakeholders look like?

There isn’t, unluckily, a stakeholder guide, marking out the distinguishing features of the different species; let’s check out the diagram below that can give us some idea of the varieties to be found.

Stakeholders category

Stakeholders category


How many stakeholders will there be?

This question has no answer; it will vary throughout the project. Aside from the several key stakeholders who will normally work with us till the end, there will be numerous others at different levels of importance who will migrate in and out. If our project were controversial, we’d find that any number of stakeholders would appear from nowhere.

Why have we to identify stakeholders?

Organizations, authorities, people have different goals and interests and they react in favor or against our initiative basing on them.

It is of fundamental importance to analyze these interests and expectations both early on in the planning process and later again during the implementation of the project or program to avoid problems or to gather opportunities.

A nice and simple technique

The procedure described below is usually carried out in a workshop setting, with representatives of key participants and could give us a good way to carry on our identification activity.

‘Role playing’ may sometimes be employed as a way to better understand the positions of the various groups during the planning process.

The procedure we usually follow is composed by the following steps.

Write down all names

We write down all the names of interest groups, institutions, individuals, organizations and authorities, who are:

  • Concerned in any way with the initiative
  • Located in the region
  • Hold an influential position
  • May be affected by the problems addressed by the initiative


Group the parties

We group the parties involved into type of organization; i.e., individual, organizations, government, etc. to facilitate discussion and analysis.


Take a closer look

We take a closer look at some of the groups and select the most important; i.e., those expected to have particularly strong influence over the initiative and cannot be ignored.

We analyze these groups according to:

a) Characteristics: social (members, social background, religion, cultural aspects), status of the group (formal, informal, other) and structure (organization, leaders, etc.).

b) The main problems affecting or facing the group (economic, ecological, cultural, etc.).

c) The main needs and wishes, interests (openly expressed, hidden, vested), goals (hopes, expectations, fears), and attitudes (friendly/neutral/hostile towards implementation agencies and others) as seen from the group’s point of view.

d) The potential in terms of both strengths (resources) and weaknesses of the group, and what could the group contribute or withhold from the project.

e) The linkages indicating main conflicts of interests, patterns of cooperation or dependency with other groups.


Hint: it may be advantageous to define three categories: active, beneficiaries, and those affected.

Prioritize our Stakeholders

We may now have a long list of people and organizations that are affected by our work.

Some of these may have the power either to block or advance. Some may be interested in what we are doing, others may not care.

We map out our stakeholders on a Power/Interest Grid (let’s use the free template provided below), and classify them by their power over our work and by their interest in our work.

PowerGrid Template

PowerGrid Template

For example, the sponsor is likely to have high power and influence over our projects and high interest.

Someone’s position on the grid shows us the actions we have to take with them:

High power, interested people: these are the people we must fully engage and make the greatest efforts to satisfy.

High power, less interested people: let’s put enough work in with these people to keep them satisfied, but not so much that they become bored with our message.

Low power, interested people: let’s keep these people adequately informed, and talk to them to ensure that no major issues are arising. These people can often be very helpful with the detail of our project.

Low power, less interested people: again, let’s monitor these people, but do not bore them with excessive communication.


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