What I Learned From Creating A Stakeholder Map

It's the people who make the project. But how do you get to know them and what they care about?

Map

If you've never sat down and created a stakeholder map, it's definitely worth doing. Understanding your audience and what they care about helps you answer that eternal question: What's in it for me?

What is a stakeholder map? A detailed document describing who is important to the success of the project, why they're important, and what they care about. 

Start At A High Level

Stakeholder Map Marketing

I started with some standard HR charts to get a sense of what teams we needed to talk to within marketing and beyond. Doing this grounded the project and kept me focused on our overall audience, not just within our team (such as our metrics folks) but within the company as a whole (like sales and sales operations).

Create Internal Personas

A persona is an amalgam of a type of person you're trying to reach--whether that's a small business owner, basketball player, or busy mom--that, based on common characteristics or identifiable traits, can stand in for an individual person. 

A persona can work internally, too. From that high level map, create categories--here, infrastructure, design, content, and performance--that accurately captures what those stakeholders do. It doesn't need to be specific. Find what those teams have in common. To do that, you need to...

Talk To Every Stakeholder Team

I spoke with the leader of every team to find out:

  1. What do you do every day? What does your team do every day?
  2. How does what you do every day fit into the context of [X Organization] as a whole?
  3. What information do you need from my team to be successful in your job?
  4. What information does my team need from you  to make sure this project is successful?

For each interview, I mapped out answers on an excel spreadsheet.  I asked the same questions to everyone so  I could find trends and those categories I mentioned above. This gave me a chance to network with new colleagues and understand their perspective. This allows me to keep their interests in mind when making decisions, especially if they aren't in the room where the decisions are made.

Mind the (Communication) Gaps

Audience Mapping Stakeholders

From those trends I built the personas. I then figured out the gaps by looking at what each stakeholder needed to know and what we currently had to provide them. I could then form recommendations to fix those gaps, each one turning into smaller projects or tasks. What started as a gargantuan initiative turned into concrete, doable actions.

Understanding your audience is critical, internally and externally. Walking into a meeting knowing where other decision makers stand makes it easier to compromise. At the very least you're armed with the reasons why they might disagree with you.

Building a stakeholder map is no easy feat, but by doing so, you gain a broader perspective on the project at hand, the organization and how it works, and how best to position your tasks, activities, and projects within that organization. That way, you can best understand how your organization fits together to bring great new ideas to life.