The ultimate guide to stakeholder management

By Aumarie Benipayo

As marketers, our projects are rarely confined to just our own teams. We work with the product team to promote new features, design to provide graphics for our blog posts, or the web team to make sure that our landing pages actually work. So, to be a good marketer, you also need to be a master of stakeholder management.

Stakeholder management is the ability to anticipate who needs to be informed about and involved in different pieces of a project, and when. This is done with the use of status updates, standup meetings, and frequent communication.

But, as we all know, managing dozens of people for a project, making sure everyone is up to date, and keeping track of feedback is well, really hard. Especially when you also have to worry about getting your own work done.

To make the process a little easier, here are some ways we handle stakeholder management at Atlassian – with no unexpected hangups.

Great marketing projects begin and end with Confluence

Great marketing projects begin and end with Confluence

Avatars of a diverse team

Manage stakeholders' roles and responsibilities

As you prepare to launch a project involving other people, conduct a stakeholder analysis and determine roles and responsibilities early.

Practically, this looks like a good old-fashioned brainstorm where you consider and assess who this project’s outcomes are going to directly impact:

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Whose workflows will be affected

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Whose approval you’ll need to complete the project

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Whose end product will change

The people identified in these questions are your stakeholders.

Conduct a stakeholder analysis

Create a grid with potential stakeholders on the left axis of the page and potential project outcomes across the top of the page. Fill in what those project outcomes would mean for your stakeholders. Use this information to help you decide which stakeholders you’re inviting directly into the project.

Stakeholder analysis sample

Document roles and responsibilities

Defining roles will help give stakeholders clarity about what skills, insight, and time they need to bring into a project. This will also minimize the amount of “empty space” that a stakeholder might perceive in the project’s process. Use documentation to solidify those roles and keep them top of mind throughout your project.

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Struggling with managed dependencies or role confusion? Use the roles and responsibilities play to clarify who is doing what.

At Atlassian, we put a 2x4 table at the top of every project-related document in Confluence so that everyone always knows where they stand. Using the DACI framework, we assign:

  • A driver: who is in charge of managing stakeholders and making sure decisions are made on time.
  • An approver: who has the final say in decision-making.
  • Contributors: who can offer expert opinions for consideration or are directly involved in the project.
  • Informed stakeholders: who are notified of decisions.
2x4 table of Driver, Approver, Contributors, and Stakeholders

Getting the kick-off right

Setting roles and responsibilities only works if everyone understands how those roles support your project's desired outcome.

Setup a kickoff meeting to ensure buy-in, set stakeholder expectations, determine a check-in cadence, and communicate how decisions will be made. Build your meeting around feedback and keep your talk-time to a minimum. Give an overview of the project in the beginning, but let this be the opportunity to let stakeholders poke holes in your plan and your management strategy.

Use the project plan template in Confluence to outline your project and review in your kickoff meeting.

Project plan template

With a great kickoff meeting, you can make sure all of your stakeholders are on the same page before a project begins, and facilitate good relationships across the various teams.

Transparency means you trust your team

Laying out all of the relevant information for stakeholders communicates trust and eliminates unnecessary questions and meetings. It also empowers them to make decisions quickly and offer quality problem solving faster.

At Atlassian we make Confluence spaces dedicated to an individual project, especially if it’s cross-functional. This offers easy access to information, and a neutral and centralized place for documenting everything related to a project.

In our space we showcase:

  • An overview of the project
  • Goals, scope, and milestones for the project
  • A list of team members and a description of who’s responsible for what
  • Recently updated pages relating to the project
  • Links to any and all relevant information related to the project
Sample space template

Set stakeholder expectations early

Anticipating what stakeholders want to know based on their roles and communicating ahead of time can go a long way in alleviating anxiety, and demonstrates you’re on top of things as a project manager. It also allows stakeholders to plan for how long the project will take and can curb unnecessary scrutiny that might end up slowing things down.

Stakeholders who aren’t directly involved in the work of the project, but still need to be updated on the project’s progress (the I’s in the DACI mentioned above), will likely offer unsolicited opinions on what’s happening if you let them. Keep these stakeholders heavily informed early and clarify that they’re being informed now so that they don’t start inserting opinions late into a project.

Establish a communication strategy

With roles defined, expectations set, the kickoff meeting completed, and a culture of transparency established, all that’s left is your communication strategy.

Without a plan for how you’re going to communicate with stakeholders, you’ll find yourself checking in “as you think of it,” which is exactly what you want to avoid. Setting dates, determining methods, and documenting your check-ins is a must for effective stakeholder management.

Set a regular check-in cadence with the tools that are appropriate for your team (stand-up meetings, Confluence pages, Slack messages, 1-on-1 meetings, etc.). The right check-in cadence will vary from stakeholder to stakeholder.

Stakeholder management is all about collaboration

Ultimately, stakeholder management is about empowering people and teams to function at their best while minimizing hang-ups along the way. Doing the hard work up front to give stakeholders clarity will start you off with a strong foundation as a project manager. This practice, along with giving stakeholders easy access to information, results in better functioning projects.

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