Stakeholder Evaluation, Roles and Responsibilities

by on July 12, 2013
in book, design

An Excerpt taken from, The Value of The Finite

By taking the time to understand the people involved with your project, your own role and contributions, and thoughtfully engaging the right people in the right way, you can make a significant impact on the ability of your project to succeed. It also has the side benefit of helping your career as well. This is fundamental, but is often overlooked in the design discipline. It is critical to ensure you are involving the right people in the right way with intention in the design conversation. The process is really pretty straightforward, simply ask yourself who needs to be involved, how and when should each individual be involved, and what is their actual role and/or contribution?

While working through this exercise keep-in-mind that the magnitude and importance of this is corollary to the scope of the project, the size of the organization, the number of internally dependent teams, as well as any external partners. By looking at a project through the lens of all of the “other people” working on it, communicating about it, and losing sleep over it, you can gain some very useful insight as to how to appropriately involve everyone in the design conversation.

Take thirty minutes and do the following for your current project. I guarantee it will be the most useful 30 minutes you invest in your project today. You can thank me later.


1. Make a list of all the people directly or indirectly involved with your project – include people

2. Answer each of the following questions for each person:

What is their role?
What function does this person perform in the organization?
What are their expectations?

What is their responsibility?
What is their expected contribution to the project?
What do they really want to contribute?

What is their motivation?
What is their personal and/or professional interest for involvement?
What is really important to them?

What is their preference?
How do they work?
How do they want to be involved?

3. If you don’t know the answer to the questions, be direct and ask. It’s amazing how much people appreciate this.

As an example here is a stakeholder evaluation that I conducted for a primary influencer from a past project (all information has been fictionalized to protect

Stakeholder: Sally Joyce
Role: Project Manager (mid-level)
Function: Manages schedule, delivers functional requirements for the project, and also communicates project status.

Expectations: Involvement in requirements authoring, feasible timely design solutions respectfully incorporating functional requirements. Communication of blocking issues, and the completion of deliverables. Involvement in preliminary design discussions to prevent missed requirements.

Responsibility: Accountable for the delivery of the software solution on schedule.
Contributions: Requirements, feedback on designs, schedule, communication.
Actual Contributions: Are in alignment, no gaps, or conflicts of role and contribution.
Motivation: Date driven. Delivery of solution on time, without slipping, irrespective of quality.
Importance: Meeting dates is really important.
Style: Assertive face-to-face, passive written, prefers face-to-face, often doesn’t read emails.
Involvement: Needs direct involvement in reviews to meet preferences. Won’t appreciate or read written status.

As you can see, by just reading the summary above, having never even met Sally, you probably would have a pretty clear idea about how to work with her, what she expects, what makes her tick, and how she prefers to work.

The funny thing is we all have these needs in the work environment, and we so rarely communicate and talk about them. It’s as though there is some sort of social contract that says we’re just supposed to intuitively “know” all of this about each other.

It’s amazing to me what happens when you simply directly ask the right questions, instead of guessing, assuming, or pretending to understand people. When you assume this, you are simply projecting your thoughts and beliefs onto someone else, and this can have the adverse effect of alienating the people you will eventually need to rely on to deliver.

When conducting an evaluation like this, often I will just be getting to know someone related to a project, and won’t know the answers to many of these questions. So i’ll schedule a thirty minute one on one to fill in the blanks. Every time I have done this people generally open right up, are really happy to talk about what they care about, what their perception of their role and contribution is, and what is important to them. People like to talk about themselves, it’s what we know, it’s human, and people generally really appreciate it when you simply take a few minutes to understand them.

In retrospect I have spent years of my life working with people on projects having not done this. I guessed, assumed, projected, tried to reach over gaps, and made so many mistakes in the process. This simple tool employed appropriately, early in a project, can go so far in building really solid foundational working relationships on your projects.

It takes a little effort, a little practice, and a little discipline. And once you get the hang of it, not only will you earn the respect of the people you work with every day, but you will also advance your own self-awareness relative to your contributions, motivations, and preferences.

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