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Stakeholder Management: The Key to Application Development Project Success

Author: Sambit Ghosh | 8 min read | April 21, 2021

Stakeholder management is critical to the success of any application development project. Your team can produce an outstanding application, but if the people who have a vested interest in the application aren’t supportive, it’s just wasted effort.

Why You Need to Manage Stakeholders

A stakeholder is anyone who is affected by or can have an effect on an AppDev project. But, it’s important to note that the term stakeholder management is just an easy way to talk about working with stakeholders. In practice, stakeholder management has less to do with managing, and more to do with promoting involvement, communicating, identifying requirements, uncovering and addressing concerns, and coaching.

You need to pay attention to stakeholder management because you’ll receive a number of benefits:

  • You’ll reduce risk:You may have been involved in or heard about an AppDev project that was scuttled at the last minute because of the actions of one of the stakeholders. Correctly identifying all the stakeholders and making sure that they and the project team are on the same page will reduce conflict and increase the chances of success.
  • Your stakeholders will understand their role:You’ll be able to define the role for each type of stakeholder and they will be able to focus on how they can participate most effectively.
  • Your stakeholders will be more involved:Stakeholders can find it difficult to carve time out of their schedules to participate in an AppDev project. With effective stakeholder management, your stakeholders will understand the benefits they’ll receive from participating. This will help them stay engaged and focused on ensuring the project’s success.

How to Design a Stakeholder Management Plan

The process used to manage stakeholders isn’t complicated, but getting it right is essential. There are four steps to follow.

  1. Identify

    Start by identifying a project’s stakeholders. If you’re using the Agile methodology, start by talking to the Product Owner to explore all the people who may be affected by the project.

    Internal stakeholders can reside in departments outside of the one you’re working with. Explore how the application you’re developing for one department may affect others. For example, find out if another department provides input that may need to change. Or, if the output from your application will go to another department, you’ll need a stakeholder from that department on your team to ensure a smooth flow of data.

    External stakeholders are those people who don’t work for your company, but who still need to be considered. That group can include customers or people in your supply chain, for example.


  3. Assign Roles

    Review the list of stakeholders you’ve identified and determine what role they will play in the project. Use the information you gathered during the Identification step, and wherever possible, interview each stakeholder to confirm their level of influence and interest.


  5. Prioritize

    Not all stakeholders will have the same level of involvement with the finished application, or influence on your project. It’s important to prioritize your list of stakeholders to assign logical roles that give you the participation that you need while meeting the needs of the individuals. These categories will help with the prioritization.

    • Group 1 – High influence and high interest: These are the key stakeholders such as Product Owners, project sponsors, or business leaders.
    • Group 2 – High influence and low interest: These stakeholders may not be directly affected by the project, but they can influence its result.
    • Group 3 – Low influence and high interest: This group can consist of lower-level employees who will be directly affected by the project, but don’t have direct influence. These individuals can make the difference between an enthusiastic work group or an unsupportive one.
    • Group 4 – Low influence and low interest: These stakeholders may work in other departments not affected by the project, but they have an interest in how the project is progressing.

  7. Define Participation/Communication

    The last step is to define how each group you’ve prioritized will participate in the project. Some stakeholders will only participate by reviewing project communications, while others will have highly active roles in the project itself.

    For example, all stakeholders should receive regular communications from the project team. For those in Group 4, that may be all they’ll need to help them monitor progress. People in Group 2 may need a more active role in terms of providing input into planning sessions and attending sprint demos. People in Groups 1 and 3 will be extremely involved in the project and should participate as much as possible.

Best Practices for Engaging Stakeholders

It’s one thing to define roles for stakeholders and to get their agreement to participate in those roles. It’s another thing for them to follow through. Each stakeholder in an AppDev project has a busy schedule, and it’s easy for them to prioritize the project below their regular activities. These tips can help to provide the motivation stakeholders need to focus on an AppDev project.

  1. Reinforce the benefits

    It’s human nature for people to pay attention to something that benefits them. Stakeholders in an AppDev project need to be reminded of the benefit the final product will offer, as well as the benefit to them of participating in the project.

    You can use both formal and informal communication to reinforce those two types of benefits. For some stakeholders, the project may offer business growth opportunities and their participation may help them steer the project to meet business goals. For other stakeholders, the product may benefit them by making their work easier and their participation will ensure that the system addresses their needs.

    Work to understand the stakeholders’ motivations and help them to see how the product and their participation offers them personal and professional benefits.


  3. Get them involved early and often

    For those stakeholders where direct involvement is important, make sure they get involved in the early stages of the project. For example, if you’re using Agile methods, invite the right stakeholders to story mapping sessions to get them involved with the development team. You can also invite stakeholders to sprint demos so that they can see the results of their efforts and you can get their feedback.


  5. Establish trust

    Stakeholders will need to go the extra mile to participate in the project. You’ll need to establish a culture of trust within the entire team to motivate stakeholders to put in the effort that’s required. You can build trust with stakeholders by being transparent and telling the truth, even when it’s not popular.

    Don’t underestimate the trust issue. It can have the power to make your project a failure or increase the cost and difficulty of completing it.

Final Thoughts

Paying close attention to managing stakeholders will have a significant positive effect on the success of any project, including an AppDev project. If the project team gets too involved in the technical aspects of a project, they will lose sight of the fact that they’re building the application for the stakeholders. Without the support and participation of the stakeholders, the project becomes just a coding exercise.

This situation is only one of the things that can cause an application development project to fail. Our recent whitepaper entitled “4 Reasons Why Application Development Projects Fail” is designed to help you understand the most common reasons why projects fail, and it describes solutions that will help you ensure your project’s success.

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