Creating an effective stakeholder communication plan

Set your project up for success by engaging stakeholders from the start with an effective plan.

When kicking off big digital projects, you need to ensure you get buy-in from the key stakeholders and keep them engaged. A stakeholder is someone who can influence a project’s outcome. We recommend taking the time to create a stakeholder communications plan, to get you thinking in advance about how to achieve this and set up the project for success.

Identifying your stakeholders

In large, complex organisations, you should study your org chart to identify all business functions that have a stake in your project. Their relationship to your work might not be immediately obvious, but anybody who will be directly or indirectly impacted by your project should be kept in the loop. This is especially true if you need resource or expertise from their team to contribute to your content.

However, you also need to be mindful of avoiding ‘design by committee’. Conflicting feedback from different departments with different needs causes dilution of ideas and ultimately leads to poor project outcomes.

To avoid this, you should establish a clear project vision from the outset. This should clearly and concisely define what the project aims to achieve and be approved by all of your stakeholders. This will give you a guiding mission that will help you stay on track, keep stakeholders on the same page, and help to focus everyone’s mind on the guiding principles of what you’re trying to achieve

Engaging your stakeholders

We’re used to working with large organisations with a complex web of stakeholders, such as the Lloyd’s Register Foundation (the UK’s largest charity), the Electoral Commission, and the University of London. Our decades of experience have led us to develop four principles of effective stakeholder engagement.

  1. Get the right people in the room/zoom. You want to ensure all relevant colleagues and departments are represented. If you leave some out, you risk them suddenly becoming involved at a later stage and introducing change requests.
  2. Always lead with the data. When explaining to stakeholders why you made a certain decision, always lead with the data that explains why you made that call. A stakeholder can’t argue with solid numbers. For example, if you explain that you changed the information architecture because testing showed that user journey completion rates increased from 65% to 85% with the new design, then the stakeholders have valuable context on why decisions have been made.
  3. Always share your work-in-progress. You should avoid the ‘ta-da’ moment when you suddenly reveal the finished project. Instead, you want to share progress throughout the process via show and tells and demos of the website to keep your stakeholders engaged and up-to-date.
  4. Leverage existing internal comms processes. It’s smart to tap into the organisation’s existing processes for keeping employees across departments engaged, rather than creating parallel new processes. For example, is there an all-hands event every fortnight or month where teams get together to share insights? If so, get involved with that to share updates on the project, rather than creating a separate fortnightly meeting that you may struggle to get stakeholders to attend.

Why create a stakeholder comms plan?

Creating a stakeholder communication plan lets you save time and resource in the long run. For example, you can avoid receiving late feedback, which can delay a project’s delivery schedule. You can also win over sceptics earlier in the process, as this can derail a project if they only get involved in the final stages of a project.

What makes an effective stakeholder comms plan?

To make an effective stakeholder communication plan, think about the long term and keep communication channels open to keep everyone engaged. Often, we see projects have lots of engagement and communication at kick off, and then go quiet until key milestones.

Aim for weekly or fortnightly updates to keep everyone on the same page, and make sure this is documented somewhere if someone is away and needs to catch up. For our projects, we run a weekly status report that summarises the key activities and decisions made that week. It’s a useful resource for anyone joining the project to get up to speed.

You also want to use the right tools for your stakeholder comms. Don’t just rely on emails. People miss things and it gets buried, then they’re left wondering why a decision was made. We use Basecamp as a repository for all key decisions. This is useful for creating a central, single source of truth that can be referred to.

Putting it into practice

You can now make your own stakeholder communication plan! You just need to map out the following:

  • Your vision statement
  • Your list of stakeholders list
  • Your communication methods (weekly meetings, Basecamp, monthly show and tell, etc.).

Assign frequencies and decide who’s responsible for organising each method. Then, you can start successfully getting stakeholders bought in and set your project up for success.

User research sits behind all the best digital projects. We distil the best insights from our years of running user research projects to explain how to get started with doing user research for your website.