3 steps to increase user adoption and ROI: #2 Know your stakeholders

Step #2: Know your stakeholders

User Adoption - Know your stakeholders

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Sun Tzu, The Art of War (c. 500 BCE)

Wow! That was written over 2,500 years ago, and it is still as applicable today as the day it was written.

Look. I’m not saying that projects are battles and stakeholders are the enemy, although perhaps there are days it may feel like that. My modern interpretation of Sun Tzu’s words is that for projects to be successful, you must understand the strengths and weaknesses of yourself and your team, AND you must know and understand your stakeholders.

Knowing yourself is a bit (okay, more than a bit) beyond the scope of this post as is knowing your team.  Although with regard to knowing your team, I will say that spending time with your team on a more personal level and working with them over a period of time are certainly key ingredients to knowing them, but perhaps the best way to truly understand your team is to work with them through a particularly difficult challenge – perhaps this is analogous to going into battle with them.

If you don’t know your stakeholders, your ability to achieve high user adoption will be significantly diminished.

Understanding your stakeholders, however, is right in line with the focus of this series of posts. As we did in the prior post devoted to using simple terms, let’s look back at the formula from the introductory post of this series on user adoption and ROI.

Problem + Solution + User Adoption = Return on Investment (ROI)
[The solution, coupled with solid user adoption, DOES result in a return on the investment you made to create that solution.]

This formula makes the point that user adoption is critical to achieving ROI. How do you help ensure solid user adoption?

Answer: Engaged Stakeholders

For all this to come together, you need to know your stakeholders, and you must have a method to categorize them, so you can most effectively engage them.

How do you get to know your stakeholders?

1. Spend time with them.

2. Observe them.

3. Listen to others’ thoughts about them, but form your own experience-based opinions.

4. Network. See how they operate in their own environment, one on one, and under stress. Yes, this takes time and effort, but the dividends are huge.

You have to know peoples’ interests and objectives, so you can try to determine their level of interest in your project. You also need to know how powerful they are – influential, political, and (perhaps) ruthless.

Ultimately, you cannot know everyone; therefore, you will be forced to make judgement calls based on the best information that you and your network can uncover.

How do you use this knowledge of your stakeholders to categorize them (as it relates to your project)?

The figure below is a Power-Interest Matrix. I use this as a tool to help categorize (and to ultimately guide the engagement of) my stakeholders.

Power-Interest Matrix - a tool to increase user adoption and ROI

Let’s look at each axis.

Power is the amount of formal, personal influence, or control someone has.

Interest is the degree to which someone wants to be involved with or kept aware of the activities of the project.

Now that we have a tool (the Power-Interest Matrix). Let’s look at how we use it.

Identify your stakeholders

First, list out your project’s stakeholders – all of them. Think through who they are, write down their names, reflect, come back to it, get input from others. You get the idea. You want this list to be complete.

In some cases, stakeholders will be individuals and in others they will be groups of people (e.g., East Region Sales Team or IT Support Team). If someone is part of a group but has unique power-interest characteristics, it is okay to list the homogeneous group as a stakeholder AND the person as a separate stakeholder. For example, the East Region Sales Team may be a stakeholder, but you may also want to call out the the regional sales manager and a particularly influential (read: powerful) sales person as separate stakeholders.

Categorize your stakeholders

Next, place each stakeholder on the Power-Interest Matrix based on their unique power-interest characteristics. Use each of the four quadrants fully. By that I mean put those with higher power toward the top of their respective quadrant and those with lower power toward the bottom.

Let’s look at each quadrant in detail. We’ll start in the lower-right-hand quadrant and work clockwise.

Keep Informed: These stakeholders are interested in the project but are not very powerful. Normal channels of communication will tend to suffice here. This may include status reports and regularly scheduled meetings. Those at the top of this quadrant (read: with moderate power) might require a bit more attention, but, beyond that, not much more is required.

Monitor: This quadrant contains stakeholders who represent the least risk to your project achieving solid user adoption and ROI. They are neither interested in your project nor powerful, but they are still stakeholders per your analysis, so we can simply ensure they are receiving minimal updates for awareness purposes, and we probably don’t need to do much more.

Now things get interesting…

Keep Satisfied: While the neighboring,  upper-right-hand quadrant (the Manage Closely quadrant discussed below) is often referred to as the magic quadrant, this quadrant (the Keep Satisfied quadrant) is actually the one that I find that brings the most risk to your project’s user adoption efforts. Why? These stakeholders can be overlooked since they do not have much interest in your project. However, I refer to this quadrant as the “watch your backside quadrant” for good reason: these stakeholders are powerful (and often political), and they need to be kept satisfied even though the project does not really impact them. In many cases, this means you will have to keep these stakeholders informed, play to egos on occasion, and be mindful and responsive to any politics. Don’t overlook these stakeholders, or they may very well disrupt your project for their own political gains or just to wield their power to satiate their egos.

Manage Closely: Finally, we have the magic quadrant. These stakeholders are both powerful and interested in your project. They have similar attributes to their neighbors to the left and need to be … manged closely. This goes beyond just keeping them informed through normal channels of status. You much actively mange them through things such as special briefings, one-on-one check-ins, and lunch meetings. Make sure they know they are important, and listen and respond to their needs.

Once you are done placing each stakeholder on your Power-Interest Matrix, step back and reflect. Have you captured all your stakeholders? Does your placement of each stakeholder feel right to you? If you have a truly trusted ally, you may want to run your analysis by him or her in whole or in part (read: asking about a specific stakeholder).

While I suggest you do this analysis at the beginning of your project, I also suggest that you revisit it again later (at least once) to true it up based on new information and insights that you may have gained thus far during the project.

In the final post in this series, we’ll explore how to use the Power-Interest Matrix to effectively engage your stakeholders, so you can  drive user adoption and achieve your ROI goals.

Oh wait…one final thing: given the sensitive nature of this information, the Power-Interest Matrix should be kept private. This is not something that belongs out somewhere where others can see it – especially those “watch your backside” quadrant people. 🙂


Check out the posts in this four-part series on user adoption and ROI.

3 steps to increase user adoption and ROI: Introduction (my dog Gus teaches me a valuable lesson about user adoption)

3 steps to increase user adoption and ROI: #1 Use Simple Terms (using the problem-impact-solution-benefit approach)

3 steps to increase user adoption and ROI: #2 Know your stakeholders (this post on the Power-Interest Matrix and the importance of knowing your stakeholders)

3 steps to increase user adoption and ROI: #3 (coming soon)


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