It’s every project manager’s worst nightmare: a stakeholder magically appears at the end of the project, and makes your life miserable.

Here are a few examples:

  • The project stalls at production because the IT team won’t install software that doesn’t meet their security requirements on their servers.
  • The great new product is not being used, because the end-users feel it is to complicated and they don’t need it anyway.
  • At delivery, the client refuses the product because it doesn’t meet an industry standard they forgot to inform you about.

Is any of this familiar? In any project, you’ll have the visible stakeholders and the hidden stakeholders.

Visible stakeholders are easy to manage: they are vocal and they will make their opinions known on their own. Even if they are opposed to your project, they can be monitored and, in time, convinced that your project is good.

Hidden stakeholders, however, are very dangerous. They won’t speak up. Sometimes, they are simply forgotten by the project team. As Murphy will have it, these stakeholder will appear in your project at the worst moment.

So, how can we find these stakeholders?

Hidden stakeholders need to be found. Here are a few questions that will help you uncover them:

  • Who will use it? End users can make or break your product. It doesn’t matter how wonderful your new time sheet system is, if the end users don’t like it, it doesn’t stand a chance to last. Make sure they feel involved and have them try out your product early one, when the cost of changing something big is not so high.
  • Who will make it? This is your project team, or the production team in a manufacture environment. They can give you invaluable tips to speed up production, increase quality, and approach problems in a different angle.
  • Who will implement it? These are the people who can make the introduction of your product at the client site smooth and easy. It’s important to know these people’s requirements early on. They are the guys who are concerned with standards, policies, security, and the like. If you don’t know these things from the start, your project is a disaster waiting to happen.
  • Who will maintain it? If only to ensure they have the information required to do their job well, it’s essential to include the product maintenance team during the project.
  • Who stands to lose? These are more political stakeholders, but they can still do a lot of damage if they go unchecked. If the project succeeds, will is impact someone’s work significantly?
  • Who never speaks up? People who will not speak in meetings then speak a lot in more informal settings. It’s important to seek them out and get their opinions in a setting where they are comfortable.

Practice makes perfect

Believe me, you only forget to ask your IT team wether they have Apache or Windows servers once 😉