As per the PMBoK (13.1), "Project stakeholders are individuals, groups, or organizations who may affect, be affected by, or perceive themselves to be affected by a decision, activity or outcome of a project
Further, it says, "They are comprised of persons and organizations such as customers, sponsors, the performing organization, and the public who are actively involved in the project, or whose interests may be positively or negatively affected by the execution or completion of the project"
One of the most common ways of identifying stakeholders is that we look within the organization, and plan to enhance the involvement of persons who can help the project's positive outcome, and manage the persons who we think do not need to be involved at the same level.
This viewpoint, although very common, now requires a relook. There is a need for the Project Manager to look not only within the organization but also outside the organization.
An example where the external stakeholders were not given the kind of attention but influenced the decisions anyway, are the Nano project, as it was originally mooted to be located at Singur in the state of West Bengal. While the political factors behind the movement are beyond the scope of this article, what strikes out of this episode is the enormous cost of relocation, delay in the project and the efforts of the company that were spent to relocate and commence the project from almost scratch.
The TATAs, known for their commitment to the social causes, were in a quandary. On the one hand, their low cost Car project was intended to bring the comforts of car travel to the masses without compromising on the safety and pollution standards. This being the main focus, the inconvenience to and opposition of the farmers in Singur was not properly weighed. While the Indian community at large were the stakeholders who stood to be benefitted by the project, the farmers in Singur were the stakeholders who were adversely affected by the project. These stakeholders (the farmers) were fewer as compared to the Indian community at large, but they were identifiable and perhaps more manageable.
Though we cannot say that TATAs ignored the stakeholders, what is evident was the resistance by the farmers was more than originally estimated and more than what could be managed.
The Govt. of West Bengal, with whom the agreement for the land was signed, was also a stakeholder, could not be involved beyond a point. This eventually reduced its influence in the project and forced the TATAs to take a decision to relocate to Gujarat.
We now see three stakeholders the Indian public, the West Bengal Govt. and the Singur land owners/farmers. Each had a stake in the project and their influence on the project was understood and estimated to be at one level but it either changed halfway or was wrongly understood at the initial stage.
As we consider ways to see how this could have been avoided, one suggestion that crops up is through Risk monitoring. This does involve additional cost and effort, but when this is done, the probability of a risk becoming influential (as in the case of farmers) or less (as in the case of the Govt.), becomes evident earlier than otherwise. A higher level of observation of the stakeholders' interpretation of the project's outcome will better help the Project Manager to manage the stakeholders for a positive outcome.
The TATAs, being a huge company, and being committed to the social cause, were able to not only relocate the project to Gujarat but also keep their promise of delivering a car under Rs. 100000, without trampling on the rights of the farmers. While this should be appreciated, the same would not be possible for other smaller companies.
Which is why it pays to have a continuous dialogue and engagement with the stakeholders, not only those we think are important but also those who are on their way to get there.