The Stakeholder Problem

Andy Jordan is President of Roffensian Consulting S.A., a Roatan, Honduras-based management consulting firm with a comprehensive project management practice. Andy always appreciates feedback and discussion on the issues raised in his articles and can be reached at andy.jordan@roffensian.com. Andy's new book Risk Management for Project Driven Organizations is now available.

Ask an experienced project manager what one of the key factors is in determining a project’s success, and there’s a good chance they will say something about stakeholders.

You don’t need to have been a PM for very long to know that there is a lot of focus on ensuring that stakeholders are engaged in the project; that is one of the key success factors. I’m not going to argue that point, but I am going to say that there is one thing that can be far worse than disengaged stakeholders—and that’s stakeholders who are too engaged.

That might sound like an odd statement, so let’s explore the role of stakeholders a little more. It’s a term that is very broad—anyone who is involved with the project is a stakeholder, but we are usually thinking of core stakeholders when we talk about engagement. That will include the sponsor, the customer or customer representative, and resource owners who are providing people to work on the project. There may be one or two other individuals depending on the specifics of the project, but their characteristics will be similar for the purposes of this article.

Stakeholders impact the ability of projects to succeed in many ways—sponsors define the constraints, customers guide (and sometimes dictate) the requirements, and resource owners have a major say in who is assigned to complete the …

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"One man alone can be pretty dumb sometimes, but for real bona fide stupidity there ain't nothing can beat teamwork."

- Mark Twain

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