Lack of communication or stakeholder involvement is known to be one of the major reasons behind project failures.

Communication with stakeholders is so important that research shows project managers spend about 90% of their time communicating with stakeholders. Due to the large investment in this activity, as you progress in your project management career it is essential you’re effective and efficient with your communication.

In this article we provide an easy to follow approach to help you build on your project management skills and improve your communication with your stakeholders, using the format of who, what, why and how. This format will ensure you cover common questions such as:

  • Who are my stakeholders?
  • ​What are their communication requirements?
  • Why is stakeholder communication so important?
  • How can I improve stakeholder communication?


The who: who are my stakeholders?

Step one in your stakeholder communication approach is to know who your stakeholders are. Stakeholders can be a person, a group or even an organisation that will be positively or negatively affected by the outcome of your project and can have different degrees of influence on the success of your project.

Stakeholders can be:

  • Clients;
  • Third party suppliers or contractors;
  • Team members;
  • Senior directors in your organisation; or
  • Government bodies and trade unions.

When planning for a project, take the time to create a comprehensive list of the different stakeholders and outline their requirements, influence, expectations, responsibilities, and communication needs. This list of stakeholders can be outlined in the project plan.

Remember a big part of what a project manager does on a daily basis is managing and prioritising your stakeholders. While you should treat each stakeholder with dignity and respect, remember which ones have the most influence and therefore require the most attention.

The what: what are stakeholder communication requirements?

Communication with stakeholders is important only if it offers them value and is in a mode that they will be able to understand. Therefore it’s wise to find out:

  1. What information your stakeholders require over the entire lifecycle of the project. As a phase of a project comes to an end (initiation, planning, execution etc) requirements may change, so the information you communicate should not be static. Instead stakeholders should be asked regularly if their needs are still the same.
  2. The method of communication. According to PMBOK there are three main types of communication: interactive, push and pull. Consider how your stakeholders would prefer to receive information and tailor your communication method to suit.
  3. Communicate in a clear and easy to understand way. Ensure your communication is free of industry jargon unless all stakeholders will understand the term and write in a way that will be clear to those that may not have English as their first language.
  4. Consider the medium for communication. Face to face, written agreements, video recordings, interactive dashboards and Zoom/Team meetings all have their place, however depending on the situation one medium will be more appropriate than another. For example an agreement of the terms of a project is usually best communicated through a written contract signed by both parties, where as an informal coffee or tea can be appropriate for team catch ups and one on ones.
  5. Make it easy for stakeholders to find information. Ensure you’re using project management software that provides opportunity for clear and concise communication with your stakeholders. That way stakeholders won’t have to search through streams of emails to find content that is important to them.


The why: why is stakeholder communication so important?

Once you’re aware of what information your stakeholders need, also take the time to find out why that information is so important to them.

We all know managing projects can be stressful, which is why having a strong working relationship with your team members, customers and suppliers that is built on trust is essential.

Your stakeholders are the only ones that can truly tell you the value of the information.

So before you start a project, speak to everyone from the executive team, your team members to your clients about what the value is behind the information they are seeking.

The how: how can I improve stakeholder communication?

A communication plan, which outlines what and when you will communicate, can be useful to keep on top of your communication with stakeholders. This doesn’t necessarily need to be a separate document, however can be included in your project management plan.

When you’re drafting your communication plan, consider your stakeholders’ ongoing communication needs. This could include face to face discussions with the client, daily check ins with team members and project update meetings with senior executives.

Finding out how they would like to be communicated with, what they want to be kept informed about and how often they would like updates will go a long way to ensure your stakeholder communication strategy is an effective one.

Often in spite of all your hard work, some stakeholders will not attend meetings or view project communication. If you find your project is already underway, and you’re not gaining feedback from your stakeholders, then it is best to send out a formal record of what was discussed and approved at the project meetings.

Throughout the project monitor your relationships with your stakeholders. Keep a record of what you have communicated and how the relationship is improving or degenerating. This will allow you to adapt your approach and incorporate this useful information into lessons learned. Completing a specific plan for each stakeholder or stakeholder group is advised.

Where possible invest in project management software that provides up-to-date reports and allows stakeholders to pull the information they need or you can simply schedule the information to be sent. This can save you a few hours each week.

Project stakeholder communication is as much an art as it is a practice in project management. Ensure you follow our who, what, why and how template to ensure you build strong stakeholder relationships. Be aware of the amount of time that you are allocating to project communication and ensure that what you are communicating is time, audience and subject sensitive.