What’s More Beneficial, AI, or Stakeholder Analysis?
Guest writer Sara Hanks continues the conversations about widely accessible artificial intelligence in this week’s blog post: “What’s More Beneficial, AI, or Stakeholder Analysis?”
The advances in artificial intelligence are creating a lot of buzz these days, with the launch of several image creation software tools and ChatGPT. It reminds me of one of my first Artificial Intelligence projects from 2017. In this project, the AI algorithm was able to read a PDF, extract important information and convert it into metadata, which is data stored in a specific and structured way. The model performed well, and the engineering team was excited to turn it on. However, when it came time to install it on the server, the IT infrastructure team denied the installation. The project was killed. We had failed to include all the stakeholders in the project communication.
Stakeholder management is a critical aspect of the success of a project. Managing people in projects that don’t work for you, or worse are your senior leaders, can be challenging. I’ve found that an interest and influence matrix is a good tool that can be used to think through the complexities of managing stakeholders. For each stakeholder, you assess the amount of interest they have in the project, as well as their influence or power over the project. Essentially there are 4 quadrants of the matrix: high interest/ high influence, high interest / low influence, low interest / high influence, and low interest / low influence.
High Interest / High Influence – Work Together
Stakeholders with high interest and high influence have a significant impact over a project’s success. These are the people that need to be engaged. If the person is a peer, then they should be on the project team. If the person is a leader, then they should be involved in the decision-making process in a project. Additionally, when issues or changes arise, it is important to inform the stakeholders. In the event there is an issue, I recommend proposing solutions to show that you’ve thought through it some.
High Interest / Low influence – Keep Informed
The stakeholders in this category may not have high decision-making power, but they are still interested in the project’s outcome. When people are interested in the success of the project, they can be evangelists of the project. It is good to keep their interest by keeping them informed.
Low Interest / High Influence – Keep Satisfied
These are the stakeholders that could be lurking in the corner, waiting to come out and throw up a roadblock. I go out of my way to keep these people satisfied by leaning into what I believe are their biggest concerns. Don’t hide anything from them and when you communicate, be sure it is concise.
Low Interest / low Influence – Monitor
The low interest and low influence stakeholders have little interest and should be communicated with sparingly. However, it is good to see if they have moved into a different quadrant. Sometimes their reality changes and they either become interested or suddenly have more power.
Once you’ve assessed the stakeholders, you can create a communication plan accordingly. A communication plan may include meetings, email updates, newsletters, and direct conversation.
Here are some best practices with meetings:
For the high interest / high influence quadrant, I hold a core team meeting on a regular basis that fits the timeline of the project. For projects that span 6 months or more, I try to meet on a bi-weekly basis. For shorter projects or software related projects, I meet more frequently. In these meetings, we review the project plan, discuss proposed solutions to issues and risks, as well as assign and follow up on tasks. With the leadership team, I hold meetings less frequently than the core team meeting. In addition to the content that comes out of the core team meeting, highlight areas that require decisions or escalations. In these sessions, it is valuable to create a standard template that can cover all the topics and use it consistently.
I invite the Low Interest / High Influence stakeholders to the core team and leadership meetings. While there is a cover your behind element to it, I believe it is best to be inclusive of this group. During the meetings, lean into the concerns this group of stakeholders may have. Not only will you drive engagement, but you’ll establish credibility as well.
For the High Interest / Low Influence stakeholders, I prefer to copy them on the meeting minutes and inform them of project status on a more informal basis. Water cooler talk, or an impromptu message through the companies chat is an effective way to keep people informed without taking too much of their time.
Assessing each of the stakeholders for their interest and influence can be useful to dissect the complexity that comes with managing different people in a project. By putting people into the 4 categories and creating a communication plan that aligns with the category, you’re sure to offset risks and alleviate challenges caused by people being surprised.