Understand how to involve your project stakeholders, communicate changes, and keep them happy from the project's beginning to end.
The most defining aspect of successful stakeholder relationships is mutual trust. To build this trust, you’ll need to make sure you understand your stakeholders’ needs and goals, have defined everyone’s roles and expectations, and agree on what your project’s success will look like in the agreed upon timeline. You’ll need to know how to talk with each other to do the job.
A stakeholder engagement plan is a great way to make sure that all of this gets done. By mapping out a plan for collaboration, including how each stakeholder wants to engage and their preferred rhythm of communication, you can make working together easier and more efficient. And that'll lead to trust.
So let’s take a closer look at what goes into an effective stakeholder engagement plan, as well as some templates you can use to create one.
What is a stakeholder engagement plan?
A stakeholder engagement plan is a document that describes, at both a high level and in specific terms, how you and your stakeholders will work together.
Stakeholder engagement plans define the level of engagement or influence each stakeholder will have, as well as who should be responsible for different aspects of a project. A detailed communication plan, including when and how much information will be shared, is often included as well.
As an important aspect of project management, these plans should be created in the earlier project phases and updated as needed.
Why should you use a stakeholder engagement plan?
Stakeholder engagement plans are a useful organizational tool that help keep your project moving forward effectively and improve decision-making. By clearly describing everyone’s roles, responsibilities, and expectations, you’ll minimize miscommunications and reduce any potential for conflict.
What’s more, taking the time to build out an engagement plan is also a good way to show you’re prioritizing stakeholder needs — which will further reinforce mutual trust.
Benefits of using a stakeholder engagement plan
Beyond simply organizing your project and helping describe your stakeholder relationship, here are some specific benefits you can get out of building an engagement plan:
- It creates accountability. Putting a plan together will allow you to create clearly defined roles and communication channels between you and your stakeholders. This will reinforce everyone’s responsibilities and keep them engaged.
- It reduces risk. Describing how stakeholders engage, whether you do it with words or by mapping out relationships, will help eliminate any potential ambiguities. In turn, this will make it less likely for potential conflicts and issues to come up.
- It increases creativity. A good engagement plan will make it easier for stakeholders and team members alike to share information, forge relationships, and come up with innovative solutions. The more collaboration there is, the better your problem-solving will be
- It improves long-term outcomes. Creating and refining a stakeholder engagement plan over the course of a project will both improve collaboration and demonstrate commitment. It'll also provide you with a framework you can use for future engagements.
What should you include in a stakeholder engagement plan?
The specifics of your stakeholder engagement plan will ultimately depend on the project you’re working on, the types of stakeholders you have (internal, external, or a mix of both), and many other factors. However, the following are some specific elements common to many successful plans:
- Roles and expectations. This includes the jobs everyone on the project team should be doing, how involved they'll be, and their level of influence.
- Communication needs. Describe how you'll send out updates, how frequently you'll meet, the information that will be shared, and anything else that will make communication more effective.
- Goals and success metrics. Clearly define what a successful project will look like, as well as intermediate goals to meet along the way.
- Agreed priorities. If there are multiple projects or competing elements, make sure to describe which are most important. Include any additional requirements or resources these high priority items require
- A project roadmap. Create a schedule for the project, including all meetings and dates for shared updates, so you and your stakeholders can monitor its progress.
How to structure a stakeholder engagement plan
How you build out your stakeholder engagement plan can be just as important as what you include. Be sure to start this process when you first begin engaging with your stakeholders, then continue adding on and iterating as you go along.
And don’t be afraid to start over if you or your stakeholders feel like things aren’t working. The process itself of creating a plan can be a great way of improving collaboration.
1. List out all the key stakeholders involved
Familiarizing yourself with who, exactly, you’re working with should be the foundation on which you build the rest of your engagement plan.
Don’t just assume your project stakeholders are limited to those you are communicating with. There might just be other (possibly even more influential) stakeholders you’ll have to answer to later. The best way of figuring this out early on is to interview your immediate contacts so that you can create a comprehensive list of all the key stakeholders you’ll be working with — either directly or indirectly.
2. Include their involvement, influence, and communication preferences
Once you have your list of stakeholders, the next step should be to populate it with as many details as you can. Most often, this will include information such as how involved each stakeholder plans to be; the level of influence they'll have over either the entire project or certain aspects of it; and how they want to communicate.
High-interest stakeholders will likely want to be notified of any changes as quickly as possible, while low-interest stakeholders may only want critical updates.
Make sure this information is visible to your entire team so that everyone knows who the right decision maker they should be talking with.
3. Add the stakeholder information to a stakeholder map
To help make your stakeholder engagement plan more, well, engaging, it can be useful to break away from the list and think up some more visually creative ways to display your information.
For example, through stakeholder mapping, you can create diagrams that make it easy to quickly understand who the key stakeholders are and how they'll be involved. Depending on your needs, you can map out stakeholders based on influence vs. involvement, or by diagramming out their roles within a given system. The goal of each should be to provide everyone with a simple way to visualize stakeholder relationships.
Check out our full guide on mapping a stakeholder analysis to learn more about its uses.
4. Define how you'll communicate status updates and lead engagements with stakeholders and clients
Nothing can sour relationships like miscommunications and infrequent updates. That’s why the next step in building your engagement plan should be to create a detailed and comprehensive communication strategy.
Include high-level information such as how often you’ll be sending out updates and when you’ll hold meetings to discuss project status. Make sure there's full alignment across stakeholders and team members here.
Then get even more specific by including information like how specific stakeholders prefer to communicate, what information they want to receive, and the level of detail they prefer. By making sure you can give everyone what they want, you’ll be able to keep your relationship running smoothly.
5. Get feedback and iterate
Finally, don’t forget to keep engaging stakeholders to give you feedback on what is and isn’t working in your plan. Projects change and relationships evolve, and so should your engagement plan.
As you accomplish goals and encounter new challenges, always try to think about how you can make it easier to communicate and collaborate with your various stakeholders. And make sure they know you welcome their advice along the way.
Stakeholder engagement plan templates
Get a head start on your stakeholder engagement plan: These templates will help you start organizing your project and streamlining collaboration so you can work and communicate together smoothly.
- Managing stakeholder expectations template: Understand and manage stakeholders' needs in order to design an effective communication plan that addresses each of their unique situations.
- Team charter template: Outline the essential elements of your team's communication and define a set of concepts and skills that focus and guide your team.
- Project planning template: Align with key stakeholders and leadership on the goals and scope of a project before kicking it off with the whole team.
Put the "engagement" back into your stakeholder engagement strategy
Earning stakeholder trust means keeping them engaged throughout the lifecycle of your project. A stakeholder engagement plan isn't just a tool to help do this, but an entire process for communicating and collaborating with stakeholder groups. By taking the time to follow this process, you'll be showing stakeholders you’re not only invested in their project’s success, but in building successful long-term relationships with them.
And Mural is here to help you at every step. Whether through our powerful feature set or our comprehensive library of templates, we can give you the capabilities to help you and your clients be successful.
Interested in diving even deeper? Check out our client collaboration cheat sheet to take your client engagements to the next level.