How To Make a Stakeholder Map for Better Project Relationships

Discover how to employ stakeholder maps efficiently to maintain relationships and address the complexities within your projects.

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As a project manager, building strong relationships with stakeholders is crucial to ensure a successful project outcome. But with so many individuals involved, keeping track of everyone's priorities and perspectives can be challenging.

Enter the stakeholder map—a powerful tool for relationship management that helps you stay organized and informed.

In this article, we'll show you how to create a stakeholder map and explore the benefits it brings to your project. Say goodbye to confusion and hello to effective stakeholder management.

Let's get started!

What is a stakeholder map?

A stakeholder map is a powerful visual tool that provides a comprehensive view of the essential players involved in a project and how they relate to each other. It's like an old-fashioned Rolodex but with much more depth than contact information.

A good stakeholder map goes beyond that and includes essential details about each person, such as their level of interest in the project, degree of influence over project outcomes, and priorities for project execution.

This valuable information helps project managers tailor their communication and engagement with each stakeholder to manage the relationship more effectively.

Example of a stakeholder map

Stakeholder maps can take many forms, from analog tools like a Rolodex or Post-It notes to digital formats like tables, spreadsheets, or databases. This format has the critical advantage of being searchable.

Stakeholder map in spreadsheet format
Stakeholder map in spreadsheet format.

But I prefer a mind map—or network diagram—because it shows how each stakeholder is connected to the other stakeholders in the project network.

This visual representation makes it easier to understand the complex web of relationships between stakeholders and how they impact the project outcomes.

Stakeholder map in a mind map format
Stakeholder map in a mind map format.

Why do you need stakeholder mapping?

Stakeholder mapping offers several benefits:

  • Improves your ability to manage relationships. Stakeholder mapping is a valuable exercise to help you keep track of who’s who on your project—essential documentation as you increase the size of your project portfolio (or, you know, should you ever want to delegate your duties in the event you take a day off.)
  • Helps you assess the level of influence and interest of each stakeholder. When you’re kicking off a new project, memorizing a slew of names can feel overwhelming. A stakeholder map is a way to catalog who has the power to derail your effort and who couldn’t care less. This helps you tailor your communications accordingly.
  • Prioritizes stakeholder engagement and communication. One of program managers’ essential functions is relationship management. Documenting important details about each stakeholder, such as their preferred mode of communication, helps you curate your interactions with them so they can feel special. Plus, paying attention to the little details enables you to carry favor when you eventually need to call one in.

Four steps to effective stakeholder mapping

Here's how to get started with creating a stakeholder map:

1. Set up the framework

The first step to effective stakeholder mapping is to gather a list of central stakeholders from the previous project manager or your project sponsor. Once you have a list, you need to determine the type of information you want to include in your stakeholder map.

Some of the essential details you might consider include name, preferred name, title, team or department, role on the project, contact information, preferred mode of communication, level of influence, level of interest, and pain points. Knowing what outputs you'd like to collect will help you target the right questions to ask during the data-gathering phase.

2. Gather data

Set up meetings with key stakeholders, preferably before the project kickoff. You should speak to many folks, including current and former project managers, team members, customers, and leaders.

The goal of these sessions is to learn what makes each person tick. Structure the conversation to collect information across each category identified in your framework. Try to make the meeting informal, perhaps over a coffee, to create an environment that fosters comfort and authenticity.

It's vital to get honest input from internal stakeholders—they tend to have a pulse on project issues that may not be documented anywhere else.

3. Review the information you collect

While reviewing the information you've gathered, pay attention to the tone of voice or offhand comments, as they can sometimes be telling.

Organize the information into the categories you've chosen, keeping potential sensitivities in mind. Consider using a code name or set of initials to differentiate across stakeholder groups.

4. Map relationships

Once you've gathered all the necessary information, it's time to create the stakeholder map. Identify the relationships between each stakeholder and plot them on a chart or diagram.

For instance, if you discover that the CEO has a high level of interest and influence in the project, you may want to plot them at the top of your chart with arrows pointing down to the project team and other stakeholders.

You could also use a (RACI) matrix to assign roles and responsibilities to each stakeholder. For example, you might determine that the project manager is responsible for project outcomes while the marketing team is consulted for their input on advertising campaigns.



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Using a stakeholder map the right way

To make the most of stakeholder maps, project managers should keep them up-to-date with accurate and current information. It's essential to review and refresh them regularly, ideally every quarter. To avoid missing critical changes, including a reminder in your project schedule can be helpful.

Sharing stakeholder maps organization-wide can also be beneficial. Having a centralized repository of client information can streamline the process of initiating a new project or preparing a response to a proposal. Project managers can collaborate with other teams, such as business development or sales, to determine how best to use this information to meet their needs.

By using stakeholder maps effectively, project managers can stay on top of relationships and skillfully navigate the complexities of their projects.