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Rolling Back from the Power/interest Matrix:  A New Approach for Role Based Stakeholder Engagement in Projects

SERIES ARTICLE

By Lou Horton and Ann Pilkington

UK
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It is widely acknowledged that a successful project needs well managed and effective stakeholder relationships, but sitting down with a blank sheet of paper and attempting to understand the stakeholder landscape is a daunting task.  Turning that piece of paper into a tangible and sustainable relationship that benefits the project, and the organization, is harder still.

Many projects and programmes adopt the power-interest matrix in an attempt to codify and order the process for identifying stakeholders; yet this approach privileges a certain type of stakeholder at the expense of many others who are needed to make the project successful.

This paper argues that it is not the combination of power and influence that should determine a stakeholder’s worth to a project, but rather that person’s role in the organisation. Engaging stakeholders in this way provides increased opportunities for sustainable change and benefits realisation.

The value of effective project stakeholder engagement has been recognised since Pinto and Slevin’s influential identification of the ten critical success factors for projects.  Rated at 4 and 9 client (i.e. stakeholders) consultation and timely communication were deemed to be essential for a project’s success. Yet research into the failure of projects repeatedly refers to inadequate stakeholder engagement.  How can this be when stakeholder theory and tools are built into project methodology? Do we need to think differently about how we approach stakeholder engagement?

Characteristics of the power/interest model

Focus on hierarchy

The power-influence model is probably the prominent project stakeholder tool. It is drawn from the management literature and has been taken up by public relations in order to guide PR strategy with links to PR reputation and issues management.  In a project context, use of the model is based on the premise that if a stakeholder is positive about a project they are less likely to cause problems thus avoiding issues and crises for the project team.  Moving powerful, interested stakeholders to a positive position is thought to link strongly to project success. However, this approach drives effort towards a coterie of powerful, interested individuals in an organization, who may have the strategic vision but may lack vital practical knowledge – knowledge which can make all the difference to a project.

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About the Authors

Style: "Neutral"flag-ukAnn Pilkington

Ann Pilkington is the author of Communicating Projects published by Gower.  She is a founding director of PR Academy which provides qualifications, training and consultancy in all aspects of communication including change project communication and project management.

Information about Ann’s latest book, Communicating Projects, An End-to-End Guide to Planning, Implementing and Evaluating Effective Communication, can be found here and at http://www.gowerpublishing.com/isbn/9781409453192.

Lou Horton is a business change manager working in UK government. She is writing here in a personal capacity.