Stakeholders Aren’t Always Right: Lessons from ‘Argo’


By Zelda Jones, PMP and Tracey Bell, PMP

Texas, USA


A crucial component of any project is recognizing who the stakeholders are, their motivations, and their realm of influence.  Equally important to understand is who the ‘forgotten’ or ‘missed’ stakeholders are, the competing stakeholders, and the backroom stakeholder politics that can bring about enormous pressure on the Project Team and the Project Manager.  Questionable decisions are sometimes made due to ongoing struggles among stakeholders.  As a result, Project Managers must manage the consequences of flawed reasoning of others rather focus on the needs of the project.

Stakeholder profiling, a method that can be used to help identify stakeholders, and the benefits of profiling will be examined during this discussion.  The characters from the award winning 2012 movie ‘Argo’ will serve as the example for profiling stakeholders and their motivations.

Keywords: Stakeholder profiling, stakeholders, forgotten stakeholders, competing stakeholders, backroom stakeholders, stakeholder power, decision makers, decision authority, influence, influencing     


Stakeholder correlation in this presentation is based on characters as they were portrayed in the movie ‘Argo’.  ‘Argo’ is based on real events which were dramatized for entertainment value.  All commentary made during this presentation does not reflect on the real individuals but is used to illustrate a point.

Argo Storyline 

Based on true events, ‘Argo’ chronicles the life-or-death covert operation to rescue six Americans, which unfolded behind the scenes of the Iran hostage crisis – the truth of which was unknown by the public for decades.  When details finally came to light, the operation sounded like something out of a Hollywood movie.

On November 4, 1979, as the Iranian revolution reaches its boiling point, militants storm the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, taking 52 Americans hostage.  But, in the midst of the chaos, six Americans manage to slip away and find refuge in the home of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor.  Knowing it is only a matter of time before the six are found out and likely killed, the Canadian and American governments ask the CIA to intervene.  The CIA turns to their top “exfiltration” specialist, Tony Mendez, to come up with a plan to get the six Americans safely out of the country.  A plan so incredible, it could only happen in the movies.

Introduction to Stakeholders

What is a stakeholder?  R. Edward Freeman brought the idea of Stakeholders to the forefront in 1984 with his book:  Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach.  [In the title of Freeman’s book ‘Stakeholder’ is a play on the word ‘Stock Holder’.]  Freeman recognized the need to identify and model groups which are stock holders of a corporation.  Prior to Freeman’s writings, the traditional view of a stock holder was one whom held stock in the company, or the owner of the company.  Freeman argued that there are other parties to consider beyond stock holders including competitors.  The purpose of stakeholder management was to develop a method to manage disparate groups using a strategic approach.


To read entire paper (click here)

Editor’s note:  Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English. Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright.  This paper was originally presented at the 7th Annual UT Dallas Project Management Symposium in Richardson, Texas, USA in August 2013.  It is republished here with the permission of the author and UT Dallas.

About the Authors

pmwj16-Nov2013-jones-bell-AUTHOR IMAGE JONESflag-usaZelda Jones

Texas, USA

Zelda Jones, PMP has over 20 years of project management experience in a variety of industries including courts, research and development, telecommunications, and health. Zelda has become increasingly aware that stakeholders often base their project decisions on flawed reasoning, personal agendas, and misinformation.  Therefore, stakeholders don’t always make the right decisions for their projects.  In random conversations with fellow Project Managers she learned that the predicament is widespread due in part to the project management culture of providing exactly what the customer wants (and pays for).   She urges PMs to work with their stakeholders to promote fact-based decision making for the best outcome of the project.  A graduate of North Texas State University, Zelda earned her PMP in 2006.  She is a 7 time presenter at the UT Dallas Project Management Symposium.  She lives in North Texas and frequently travels for business which allows her to pursue her hobby, Geocaching.  She is a member of Texas Search and Rescue (TEXSAR).  Zelda can be reached at [email protected].

flag-usapmwj16-Nov2013-jones-bell-AUTHOR IMAGE BELLTracey Bell

Texas, USA

Tracey Bell, PMP is currently a Senior Product Manager for Argo Data Resource Corporation.  Prior to joining Argo, she worked as an IT Project Manager for Citibank and Product Manager for Hewlett Packard.  She has over 20 years’ experience working with and influencing stakeholders in software projects.  Tracey has a vast history of managing large, complex, multi-platform projects which typically involve disparate stakeholders from multiple, and sometimes competing, business and technology teams. Tracey’s ability to capitalize on strong communication skills has allowed her to establish and develop valuable client and vendor relationships.   Tracey is a graduate of the University of Texas at Dallas, and has been PMP Certified since 2006. She can be contacted at [email protected].