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GuidesResearch methodsThe complete guide to stakeholder mapping

The complete guide to stakeholder mapping

Last updated

7 February 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Jean Kaluza

Stakeholder mapping – is it a waste of time or a vital step toward long-term product and project success?

Whether you’re looking to launch the latest and greatest product to your catalog or want to expand your horizons to a new industry or market, proper project management and organization are essential.

Give your business (and yourself) a leg up on your competitors by starting your next project with detailed stakeholder mapping. It’s a process that will save you plenty of time, resources, and headaches.

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What is stakeholder mapping?

Stakeholder maps visually represent every person or group invested and involved in a project, product, or new idea. They can contain a few key groups of influence or hundreds of people depending on your business and project size. They are often displayed as an expanding web of boxes and lines.

Stakeholders should be properly prioritized to simplify communication. The connections between each person or group help visualize the level of influence and involvement each one has over others and the overall project.

Stakeholder mapping helps reduce confusion, increase working cohesion, and enhance efficiency when you do it in the early planning stages of your project.

In the context of this type of planning, the term “stakeholder” does not just refer to financial investors. It means any person interested in the success of the project, both inside and outside of the company.

Why stakeholder mapping is important

A detailed and well-organized stakeholder map can provide many benefits as you begin your upcoming project. As a strong foundation for communication, a good stakeholder map has the following advantages:

Provides real-time data to those involved

Your stakeholder map acts as your guide to who needs to know what (and when). It will help ensure that accurate and real-time project information is delivered to those who need to know.

When used properly, a stakeholder map can reduce communication delays while increasing the efficiency and speed of your product design or launch.

Gives project details when required

A clearly laid out flow chart of who is involved in each step of the project is beneficial during the early organization and development.

Referring to your stakeholder map allows you to be precise and intentional when sharing vital information. It stops you from scheduling unnecessary meetings and over- or under-communicating with specific groups throughout the project.

The two types of stakeholders

No matter the size of your business, every project has two primary stakeholder types: internal and external.

Because each of these groups has different responsibilities, roles, and expectations as the project moves forward, a clear stakeholder map can help set priorities and enhance communication.

Internal stakeholders

Internal stakeholders are the people your company directly employs to work on the upcoming product or project. Depending on the type of project you want to start, each internal stakeholder’s involvement will differ significantly based on their unique skills and role.

Examples of internal stakeholders to consider as you begin the mapping process include the following:

  • Top management personnel (CEO, CTO, CFO, etc.)

  • Design and development leaders

  • Product managers

  • Product team members

  • Marketing

  • Researchers, writers, and creative directors

External stakeholders

External stakeholders are not part of your immediate working team. However, they are still impacted by and interested in the outcome of the project.

In most cases, external stakeholders have less say and influence in the day-to-day prioritization and organization of work compared to internal stakeholders.

Examples of external stakeholders to add to your stakeholder map include the following:

  • Suppliers

  • Externally hired marketing agencies

  • Public and private investors and shareholders

  • Clients and customers

When stakeholder mapping is critical

Taking the time to build a detailed stakeholder map at the beginning of a new and exciting working opportunity is an essential first step to success.

A stakeholder map will act as your blueprint guide on who to go to for resources and input, which is very beneficial in the following situations:

Building a product

Whether you are adjusting one of your current products or building a new product from scratch, product development is the perfect example of when stakeholder mapping is advantageous.

Product development is often a complex and time-consuming process involving many different people and teams. So, knowing who is involved (and to what capacity) in your new product development and launch is essential for success.

Some examples of stakeholders that you may want to consider during the early stages of product development include the following:

Your target audience and users

Before starting your new product design, check in with your current clients and consumers. What do they like and dislike? Do they have any suggestions on how you could improve? Factoring in their feedback (often collected from detailed customer satisfaction surveys and user research) will help better market your new product to your target audience.

External suppliers

Depending on the type of product you are looking to create, you may require external suppliers to provide materials and logistical support. Listing your chosen suppliers (and researching backup options if needed) can help prevent supply chain headaches later on.

Shareholders and investors

Does your new product require financial support to get off the ground? Considering the influence and support of venture capital and public or private investors is essential for early project success. Knowing how many investors you have (and how much they are investing) helps ensure that you keep key financial supporters up to date where necessary.

Entering into a new market

Is your business looking to expand its horizons to a new, broader market? Clearly organizing your stakeholders can help ensure that nothing important is left out.

With targeted research and exploration readily available, an up-to-date map of stakeholders that clearly shows who is responsible for specific tasks helps reduce wasted time and improve overall efficiency.

Examples of essential stakeholders to consider as you diversify into a new market or industry include the following:

  • New vendors. Do you have a product or service that can be sold or advertised in new spaces to reach your new target audience? Taking time to consider potential future partners (who are willing to sell or speak about your product or service) is essential for successfully breaking into a new market.

  • Top-level management. Your entire company should be on the same page when reaching for new customers in a different industry. To achieve this, looping in senior management, like the CEO, CTO, and CFO can help unify your team on your mission. Large town hall meetings led by upper management can be facilitated through your stakeholder map to ensure that everyone involved in the project is up to date.

  • Sales and outreach. As you prepare to enter a new market, your sales and outreach teams need to have researched how to approach their new target audience. Adding sales to your stakeholder map can help organize the necessary next steps and encourage better communication as you start marketing your brand differently.

Starting a new project

It’s always beneficial to make a stakeholder map for larger initiatives, but there are many benefits to making a more condensed map for smaller, more internal projects.

Examples of stakeholders to consider for mapping out less extensive projects include the following:

  • Your immediate team members. Depending on the project’s size, you may only need to consider your immediate co-workers in your smaller stakeholder map. When complete, this can help improve communication and reduce delays.

  • Department heads. Your management team should be included in your stakeholder map if you need their input and permissions. This can help speed up approvals and keep everyone on the same page throughout the project.

  • Yourself (yes, you!). Don’t forget to add yourself to your stakeholder map. Drawing connections between you and your teammates to establish lines of communication and responsibility can help reduce confusion as you begin your project.

How to create a stakeholder map

Now we’ve covered the essentials, let’s look at how you can create a stakeholder map for your next project.

1. Identify stakeholders

Start by brainstorming with all potential stakeholders. Create an extensive list (you can clean this up later) by writing the names of potential partners and people of influence on a whiteboard or shared virtual workspace.

2. Analyze stakeholders

Start to organize the stakeholders based on involvement and responsibility. Some examples of categories to use during this stage of stakeholder mapping include:

  • High power, high involvement (most important)

  • High power, low involvement (medium importance)

  • Low power, high involvement (medium importance)

  • Low power, low involvement (least important)

3. Map stakeholders

It’s now time to put your stakeholders into an actual map.

Using visual planning software like Miro, you can start by creating a label for each stakeholder. Where possible, leave extra space to move things around as needed. You will probably need to reorganize your flowchart multiple times during this process.

4. Prioritize stakeholders

It’s now time to draw connections and establish the priority of each stakeholder. This is essential for creating a strong communication plan.

The final step is drawing lines between stakeholders who are responsible for working and updating each other.

Best practices for stakeholder mapping

As you get started with your next stakeholder mapping project, here are some best practices to keep in mind.

Take your time and do it right the first time

You might think it’s a waste of time to create a stakeholder map in the early stages of your project, but it can help you start off on the right foot. This minor delay in getting started offers you and your team a clear, well-organized outline of responsibilities, lines of communication, and prioritization. These are all things that will massively benefit your overall project efficiency later on.

Be inclusive

Don’t limit yourself when thinking of all of the potential stakeholders involved. Be inclusive and creative when adding people to your initial map. You can always downsize and adjust later. A more comprehensive stakeholder map will help better guide your team as you work toward completing your project.

Communicate clearly

Using your stakeholder map as a guide, you can feel confident in your ability to communicate efficiently and clearly with any stakeholder. If you are unsure of who to contact with a question, use your stakeholder map to reach out to only the most important stakeholders involved. This can help reduce overcommunication and avoid unnecessary confusion throughout the project development process.

Refer to your map often

When in doubt, refer to your map! You spent the time setting out the connections and responsibilities of everyone involved in your project, so be sure to use this tool to your advantage. You might need to update the map to better represent those involved as the project advances. This offers a great opportunity to touch base with key stakeholders and keep everything moving in the right direction.

Stakeholder mapping is key to early project success

Stakeholder mapping is essential for team success, no matter how large or small your project is.

Your stakeholder map will act like a project blueprint. It should give your team valuable information about everyone involved in the project’s outcome. This information will greatly influence communication, how you schedule meetings, and the flow and progress of the project’s overall design and implementation.

Fight the urge to jump right into a new product launch or design change without a plan. Instead, sit down with your team and create a detailed stakeholder map. This will allow you to move forward confidently with more efficient and effective communication and organization.

Happy mapping!

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