How To Define Projects and Get Your Stakeholders On The Same Page

Published Categorized as Stakeholders
define projects
define projects

How do you define projects? Who is responsible for what? Who has authority? What are our goals? How do we communicate? In most organizations, these questions were answered long ago; the unique nature of projects, however, means that all of these questions have to be addressed each time a project begins. How they are answered will constitute the rules of the game, and everyone involved in the project—all the stakeholders—have to agree on these project rules.

The rules define projects, and this structure of rules then provides the foundation for the next two stages of the project: planning and control. Below we take a look at the roles played by the various stakeholders and the steps necessary to bring all of them to agreement on how to define projects and set their direction.

Define Projects, Identifying Stakeholders

At times, it seems as if technology does all the heavy lifting in our economy. A closer look, however, reveals that it is always people who make the technology produce. On projects, we call these movers and shakers stakeholders, because they have a stake in the project. The first task of a project manager is to identify these stakeholders. Customers, decision makers, vendors, and employees obviously belong in this group, but, in a larger sense, anyone who participates in the project or is impacted by its result is a stakeholder.

Identifying stakeholders is a primary task because all the important decisions during the definition and planning stages of the project are made by these stakeholders. These are the people who, under the guidance of the project manager, establish agreements on the goals and constraints of the project, construct the strategies and schedules, and approve the budget.

This identification is an ongoing task. Throughout the initial stages of the project, the project manager must continue to clarify who the stakeholders are and what roles they will play. This series describes the roles of the five primary stakeholders— project manager, project team, functional management, sponsor, and customer—and the impact each has on the success of the project. It’s important to keep in mind that these are all roles. They can, therefore, be filled by one or more people, and an individual can play more than one role.

Stakeholders Are the Heart of A Successful Project

The customer may always be right, but project managers have a different mantra: “Satisfy stakeholders!” It’s not enough to deliver on the customer’s demands; successful projects have to meet all stakeholder expectations.

Remember that the first project success factor states that the project team, customer, and management must all agree on the goals of the project. Satisfying all stakeholders is a tough target, particularly if they pop up later in the project with new demands and requirements (this will happen!). This is why it’s critical for project managers to know from the start exactly who the stakeholders are and what they want. Only then can they fulfill their primary task of satisfying the stakeholders.

Project managers may have to satisfy each stakeholder, but they will also receive valuable contributions from each one. All parties involved in a project have a vital interest in the project’s success—and each has an essential contribution to make. Whether it’s authority, funding, or expertise in product requirements, all contributions are needed to ensure success. Projects that lack one of the key stakeholders are likely to come to an abrupt halt or drift off course.

How to Identify Stakeholders

Sometimes identifying stakeholders is easy; other times you have to go out and find them. When searching for stakeholders, rather than asking, Who is the customer? or Who is the project team? ask, Who will make a contribution?

We have split the article into several sections because we feel that too much of a good thing is still too much. Easier to read, focused subject, all that good stuff. Below the links in order:

  1. Stakeholder Roles: Project Manager and Team
  2. Stakeholder Roles: Management
  3. Stakeholder Roles: Project Sponsor
  4. Stakeholder Roles: Customer

Lead the Stakeholders

This article started by emphasizing the importance of defining the stakeholders, because not only is project success judged by stakeholder satisfaction, but every stakeholder makes an essential contribution to the project. As the project manager, you not only need to know who your stakeholders are, you also need to exercise leadership with this diverse group.

Since no one knows more about your project than you, it is up to you to lead the project in the right direction. Here are a couple of ways of exercising this leadership:

Control who becomes a stakeholder. As noted, among functional managers and customers there are always plenty of people anxious to influence your project. When you define projects, if you feel that certain people don’t have the right to this influence, you need to push back. You can get the support of your sponsor or other stakeholders in this endeavor, but you need to use whatever persuasive skills you have to control who is allowed to influence the project.

Manage upward. Many of the stakeholders, including your sponsor, functional managers, and some your customers, Will have more formal authority than you do as the project manager. But they need you to lead them. They need you to ask the hard questions, provide reasonable alternatives, confront them with facts, and continually motivate them toward action by your own persistence and enthusiasm.


Because they include everyone with a vital interest in a project, stakeholders are the heart of a successful project —and the heart of successful project management involves satisfying the expectations of these stakeholders. The first step in this process is gaining agreement:

  1. The project manager, the project team, functional management, the sponsor, and the customer must all agree on the goals of the project.
  2. The project manager must then coordinate all these stakeholders in the process of guiding the project through its various stages. This includes not just leading the project team, but also managing upward, that is, using your expertise and knowledge of the project to guide the functional managers, sponsor, and customer.

By Alex Puscasu

I am a Project Management practitioner with more than 5 years experience in hardware and software implementation projects. Also a bit of a geek and a great WordPress enthusiast. I hope you enjoy the content, and I encourage you to share your knowledge with the world.