This paper by R. Max Wideman was first published as part of Chapter 17 in A Field Guide to Project Management, 2nd Edition, edited by David I. Cleland and published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. New Jersey, 2004.
The original paper has received minor updates and is published here August 2015.

Introduction | Who Are the Stakeholders? | Internal Projects
Hidden Stakeholders | Keeping Internal Stakeholders on Your Side
External Projects | How to Identify Public Stakeholders

Internal Projects

Many organizations undertake projects entirely in-house for their own benefit. Typical projects include information systems and technology changes, organizational changes, or even the addition to physical plant. Whatever the project, it is vital to ensure that the project's stakeholders are all identified and brought into the network of contacts. If the project is to be successful, all must be fully committed and behind the project for its duration, even at the expense of some disruption to their own on-going work.

The project manager is obviously an important stakeholder and from his or her perspective the most important stakeholders are the project's owner or sponsor, possibly a departmental or division head. These are the project manager's clients. Note, however, that the owner and the sponsor of a project are not necessarily the same people. The first may provide the money while the second provides the overall direction usually in the interests of the users. Hopefully, both have the same goals in mind.

Nevertheless, the project owner is the ultimate beneficiary of the fruits of the project. The project owner is the one who will pay the bill, though the money to support it may be borrowed from someone else. Therefore, the project manager must ensure that:

  • Project objectives are clearly spelled out
  • Project concepts are effectively developed and planned
  • The project itself is efficiently executed and
  • The project is properly transferred back to care, custody and control of the owner on completion

The problem with this scenario is that a group, rather than one individual, represents many project "owners". That is, the project owner may be an executive committee, company board, or even the company's shareholders and this does not make for the easy and rapid communication that the project manager needs to run a project efficiently. That is why the position of project sponsor, or project director, is an invaluable one holding, as it should, a more focused, liaison position. Indeed, if the project does not have a specific sponsor, it is a good idea for the project manager to lobby to have one as soon as possible. This is true no matter how brief or small the project is. The project manager should ask, "Who is my direct contact person?" and the answer to that question is the de facto project sponsor.

From the corporate perspective, project sponsor or director is the individual employee who holds the authority and responsibility to act for the corporation on the project. At first glance, it may appear that a project sponsor duplicates the efforts of the project manager but even on a small, short project, a well-briefed project sponsor can improve communication without any overlap of responsibilities. That is because the project sponsor's job is to:

  • Participate in senior management's overall project prioritization and resource allocation
  • Establish the project's level of priority and maintain that level of management's interest in the project
  • Alert the project manager if circumstances, economics or the environment changes and, if necessary, arrange to either accelerate, slow down, redirect or even abort the project
  • Have oversight responsibility for the project's progress, control, and successful delivery
  • Report progress to upper management

This is a vital role and one that can greatly relieve the burden on the project manager, whose primary responsibility is to manage the work of the project.

Who are the Stakeholders?  Who Are the Stakeholders?

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