This article is dedicated to explaining the Power Interest Grid in Project Management.

In our haste to start doing what we envision to be the project work, we can forget that our path to success will include managing stakeholders, their expectations, and their involvement (or lack of) in the project.  Stakeholder involvement can either help reach the project objective, or be an obstacle to success.

Some stakeholders are more important for the project than others. Knowing this, is only half of the issue. How do we know who matters and what matters most to them? 

Project Stakeholders

Writing means nothing unless we convey things in a way to remove or at least reduce ambiguity. We must work to develop a common lexicon; it does not come naturally especially when it comes to business and technical endeavors.

What are stakeholders

To that end we start with a definition of stakeholders. According to PMI, a stakeholder is defined as:

"an individual, group, or organization, who may affect, be affected by, or perceive itself to be affected by a decision, activity, or outcome of a project". 

Everybody associated with the project and its outcome are going to be stakeholders.  We have written about the consequences of when everything is important.  It is similar for stakeholders.  Some inputs matter more than others on specific topics.

Organization Politics and Conflicting Objectives 

Part of the project managers role is to identify stakeholders of the project.  There are projects constraints, available resources and talent, money, and time to get the work accomplished.  Organizations have competing objectives, and the people working in the organizations may have objectives at odds with the project.  Even if the departments of the organization were not to have competing interests and objectives, individuals do.  Departments and individuals can have competing objectives and competing priorities, left undetected and unaccounted will come back to haunt your project. 

Like it or not, projects can have political entanglements. This is true even when the organization may not be fraught with political intrigue.  Some projects, there may be no political waters to navigate, or at least not rapids.  Other projects, for the project to be a success will require a good understanding of the politics, and conflicting priorities and developing strategies for addressing these discrepancies. 

Who are YOUR stakeholders? How do you know? 

  • Where are the stakeholders? 
  • Internal 
  • External (suppliers, customer, regulatory agencies, etc.) 
  • Who do we need to interview? 
  • Team members 
  • Sponsors 
  • Managers 
  • Executives  
  • Who are the special stakeholders, the sponsor(s) of the project? 
  • Review historical record of similar project(s) (failures and successes). 

Stakeholders Interest and Power 

There are two dimensions to manage, that is the level of interest of the stakeholder (needed and actual) and the power of the stakeholder (low to high). 

The degree of interest our stakeholder may have is not necessarily fixed. It may change or waver over time.  The amount of effort our stakeholder applies on a topic of interest may not be consistent, and perhaps we need that to be recurring with a high level of engagement. 

Maybe the stakeholder wants to be strongly involved, but if this happens, we end up with more distractions from the project objectives.  Casual interest when we need heavy engagement, and heavy engagement when we need casual interest are situations that make executing the project more difficult. 

The power of the stakeholder, their ability to affect changes to the circumstances that surround the project will be the second dimension. Having a high interest but little power to affect change is not likely to be productive.

There are many types of power:

  1. Formal Power 
  2. Reward Power 
  3. Penalty Power 
  4. Expert Power 
  5. Referent Power 

Consequences of unattended Conflicts Priorities (story?) 

Again, if you have been managing projects for any amount of time, you likely have witnessed conflicting priorities and the impacts left unidentified or unmanaged.  In fact, from experience, the longer these conflicts go undiscovered the more damage likely to the project objective. 

Stakeholders with hidden agendas can blow a project up. Having even one stakeholder who has not been clearly vetted is not good for project success. Having had a team member who was really a ‘spy’ for his manager, who was vehemently against the project.

The team member was applying no effort to assign tasks, was working behind the scenes to gather support to kill the project. This is where escalating come in to play. Sitting now with the spy’s manager I realized his position was based on being promised new equipment by a previous executive and did not want the updated used equipment from the project.  

This exercise costed the project about 3 weeks schedule. After having the manager and the sponsor talk and replacing the spy with another member of that department, the project got back up to speed. By executing some tasks concurrently, the team made up the lost time.  

The lesson is to not only vet the proposed team member as a stakeholder, but vet the ultimate stakeholder: the department manager. 

 

Power Interest Grid  

Filling out the Power Grid/Who goes where on the power grid? 

Unfortunately, stakeholders don’t walk around with labels on their foreheads. One way to start is to create a list of job titles of positions in the organization who might have interest in the project. The WBS may be helpful with creating this list. Also, list any external companies or positions that might be a stakeholder. 

Once the list is complete start putting in names and begin setting up appointments with the individuals on the list. Simple conversation to see if they are a stakeholder. If they are a stakeholder, ask about their priorities. These conversations may drive other stakeholders you may not have thought of. 

As the conversations are completed, begin filling in the Power Grid, knowing it may change over time. 

Once having ‘completed’ a Power Grid & RACI, one of the executive stakeholders left the company. The replacement executive had a slightly different agenda and larger interest. Again, escalated to Sponsor to negotiate possible changes and over project impact.  

We provide another example.  A project has been underway. There is a captive supplier (our name for a supplier that is part of the customer company). A captive supplier cannot be removed, or resourced to another supplier.  The supplier provides their key component, in this case, their component is required for the vehicle to be useful and meet government requirements.  A gate is up coming, and the captive supplier is pressuring the rest of the organization to pass the gate even though at this gate the defects in the product should be known and qualified to a specific degree. 

At this point in this project, there are scores of defects many of which are catastrophic in nature should the product make it to the final customer.  Additionally, at this point in the project all the features, or at examples of all features should exist.  It does not in this instance.  There was considerable pressure to go pass through the gate. 

The Chief Project Manager arranges for the Director of Quality to meet with the verification group under the guise of a presentation of the improved capabilities since the last similar project.  Prior to this event this key stakeholder had not been thoroughly engaged.  The Director of Quality asks specific questions about the present project state, and the verification manager describes the situation.  At the end of the meeting the Director announces there will be an audit of the pending gate. 

What do you think the response was from the captive supplier?  Care to guess?  Suddenly there was no desire from the supplier to go through gate.  The gate date was delayed.  This is an example of finding the correct stakeholder to help move the project in the appropriate direction. 

Conclusion 

Stakeholders come from many places. The key to successfully managing stakeholders is identifying as many as possible, establishing their power (power grid), and executing properly. Over the years it has become apparent that not all stakeholders are identified at the beginning of a project. It is necessary to manage the identified stakeholders and be on the look out for new ones – or not- ones that have not been identified as the project proceeds; while always utilizing the power grid.