One of the most important things when you are managing a project is making sure that you include everyone on your stakeholder register, and I mean everyone. There are always more people affected by a project than you first think.

Doing the stakeholder identification exercise is relatively straightforward. You can read our article about types of stakeholders to learn more. Sit down with your team and work out who is going to be affected by the project. It can take a bit of time, and a lot of thought, but it isn’t a difficult job to do. Most people do this as part of their work in the early stages of a project, so that a version of the stakeholder register can be included in the project charter or other project documentation that sets the scene for the project.

Getting a comprehensive list is one thing, but how do you go about prioritising that list so that you can work effectively with all the relevant people? After all, you don’t want to spend too much time on low priority stakeholders at the expense of stakeholders who would be really valuable to engage thoroughly.

Here are four types of stakeholders, and this framework will give you an idea about how to prioritise your different stakeholder groups.

High power, interested people

This is the most important group of stakeholders. These people have high power in the project, that either comes from their operational role or their role on the project, for example the sponsor and your manager. You want to manage this group closely and ensure that they stay interested in the project as it progresses.

The more interested these people are, the better, as they are likely to have a significant ability to impact the way the project unfolds. This is the group that you should try to keep satisfied: they are your main stakeholders when it comes to this project. Face-to-face conversations are a good way to work with them, as is meeting them individually. They are likely to want more information and more detail than you can include in your status reports or on a project intranet site.

High power, not very interested people

This is your next priority group, which might seem strange as people who fall into this category have already expressed their lack of interest in your project. The reason you want to work with this group is that they are powerful people in their own right. They have the opportunity (potentially) to cancel your project or to block its progress. Equally, if you keep them on side, they could help you move the project forward.

Working with this group is a fine line – you want to give them enough information to ensure that they have all the data and background that they need, but you recognise that they don’t really care so you don’t want to make a nuisance of yourself by sending too much information. Newsletters and other forms of one-way communication can be useful with this group, so that they feel they have the information if they need it but they can read it at their leisure.

Low power, interested people

Your project co-ordinator falls into this category, and perhaps other people on the very outskirts of the project. They are people who can’t really shape the future evolution of the project, but they are very interested in the outcome.

The strategy with this group is to keep them informed of what is going on. You could do this through a project newsletter, an intranet site, regular information sharing, Town Hall-style conference calls or meetings or any other method that works for you. Ideally, you want to spend enough time with them to ensure that they don’t have any major issues to raise (or that they have spotted something that you haven’t) but not so much time that it drains your ability to actively engage the high power stakeholders.

Low power, not very interested people

This is the group that you will spend the least time working with. However, that is not to say that you won’t spend any time engaging this stakeholder group. They may want less information than the third group above, but you can’t ignore them. Don’t bombard this group with lots of information or expect them to read your newsletters. However, you do want to monitor their involvement to check that their position hasn’t changed. That’s because one day someone in this group may find themselves in a position of power – say, you suddenly need access to a particular resource managed by one of them – and they are far more likely to help if they have some idea of what the project is all about.

People can move between different categories as well. Someone who starts off as not very interested may find themselves suddenly very interested if their personal priorities or their role in the company changes. That’s why you have to work with all groups and constantly keep your stakeholder register up to date and reflective of movement in any of these groups.

How do you record your stakeholders and prioritise your time working with them? Let us know in the comments.