Managing Stakeholders as Clients [Book Review]

This blog is reader-supported. When you purchase something through an affiliate link on this site, I may earn some coffee money. Thanks! Learn more.

Read our review guidelines.

Mario Henrique Trentim’s book, Managing Stakeholders as Clients, takes a sales-focused view of stakeholder engagement. Complex sales have a lot in common with projects. Stakeholders might not know what they actually want, they take a long time to buy (i.e. conclude the requirements phase and/or reach the end of the project), and there are lots of decisions involved. Whether you agree with this concept or not, there is a lot of good stakeholder management information in this book outside of the link to the sales process.

Early on the book makes the connection between scope management and stakeholder management. Trentim points out that the sponsor/stakeholder wants the deliverable, not the reports and budget spreadsheets.

Stakeholders, he says, control important resources. You can only manage your project well if you can steer through the complexities of these stakeholder groups. He offers a four ‘ship’ approach to doing this.

Trentim’s 4 ‘ships’

The four ‘ships’ are:

  • Sponsorship: Having the support of senior management
  • Partnership: His way of describing teamwork; surrounding yourself with excellent people
  • Leadership: No contemporary project management book seems to be written without a nod to this at the moment
  • Citizenship: Values, sustainability, responsibility, morals, ethics.

He says:

“If you don’t have a good sponsor to support you with authority and resources (sponsorship), if you don’t treat your stakeholders as partners (partnership), if you don’t know how to lead and protect your team (leadership), and if you don’t live by your values (citizenship), you’ll probably fail your project. Or you might be very lucky if you have any success.”

The book is not written by a native English speaker and it shows. An editor might have helped but would also have chipped away at Trentim’s affable, conversational, writing style.

The trouble with stakeholders

Today, says Trentim, project managers have to deal with more stakeholders than before. He lists the typical project stakeholders as:

  • The project manager, often, in my opinion the most important stakeholder.
  • Sponsor
  • Team
  • Clients and users
  • Contractors and suppliers
  • Government
  • Hidden stakeholders

He also talks about people he calls ‘surrogate stakeholders’. These individuals stand in for the true stakeholders or stakeholder groups.

“For example,” he writes, “a team member can be a surrogate customer, in case you do not have direct access to the customer. This is usual when developing mass products like a cell phone. Marketing acts as a surrogate of potential customers to elicit requirements of the product.”

However, he cautions that if you rely heavily on surrogates you risk missing something because however good they are they aren’t the real user.

He goes on:

“The golden lesson for project managers is that the client is not the only real stakeholder to worry about. The project should add value for all the stakeholders, considering various dimensions like environmental, social, political, economic, etc. No matter if stakeholders are primary or secondary, internal or external, you have to pay special attention to key stakeholders, the ones that have significant influence upon or importance to the project.”

Spelling out stakeholder management

Chapter 6 largely covers a step-by-step stakeholder identification analysis and recording. Trentim suggests using CRM software or a database to keep track of stakeholders for large complex projects of long duration. He seems to prefer theses tools over spreadsheets but says that spreadsheets will work for smaller initiatives.

Importantly, he stresses the need to keep the information in those systems confidential. That’s essential, and one of the main reasons I would personally opt for my head or a notebook for stakeholder notes: no one wants your client to accidentally stumble across a file with your detailed analysis of their staff, warts and all.

The book includes a number of useful tools including some generic questions to ask stakeholders. There are also various suggestions for impact/power/influence type models for categorising your stakeholders. It is good to see a book offer the reader options instead of one fixed approach. This best-tool-for-the-job mentality runs through the book, which draws equally on PRINCE2® and PMBOK® for tools and techniques as well as Lean and others.

Managing stakeholder expectations

Trentim talks at length about managing expectations and satisfaction, although perhaps not always in those terms. Chapter 7 discusses how you can uncover what is important to stakeholders, and Chapter 8 details communication techniques. Trentim points out that you can’t control internal informal communication so he recommends instead focusing on making sure that trustworthy information is flowing through those channels.

Stakeholders are not always right, and they don’t always have the right information about the project so be the source of information and clarity, he says.

One of the basic premises of the book is that you have to understand what clients (i.e. stakeholders) want because they might not. There’s a lot of stuff about requirements elicitation and change management.

Towards the end of the book there’s a lot of detailed information about team management, presented in a very pragmatic way. Within the space of a chapter or two you’ve got team building, motivational theory, leadership techniques and conflict management. It’s like there was so much to say he had to stuff the end of the book but he still manages to be comprehensive.

I really enjoyed it, probably because Trentim has similar views to me about the role of the project manager. It’s also a good, practical primer for anyone looking to ‘do’ stakeholder engagement with a lot of tools discussed. You may not find all the answers, but you’ll certainly get a starting point to enable you to go off and research the ones you want to use in more detail.