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There are no "stakeholders"

Faizan Patankar on 21 October 2018

In business, in any project, you begin by stating the stakeholders. On LinkedIn, there is even a skill "stakeholder management". But there are no stakeholders.

There are enablers, blockers, observers, supporters, investors, and customers.

Stakeholder as a term is as old as the dinosaurs. It has rather lost its meaning. 

Employees in large corporates use the term stakeholder to add a layer of vagueness that hides accountability and reduces pace.

Who are the stakeholders in large corporates? People who invest in them. And guess what, you don't call an investor a stakeholder - you call her an investor.

Who else is a stakeholder for a large corporate? People who buy from them. And what do we call them? customers.

Another "stakeholder" in large corporates are those who enable the corporate to do business. What do we call them? You guessed it right, not stakeholders! They are employees.

In all of the three cases above, it would be easy to use the word stakeholder.

But we don't.

For the sake of clarity, accountability, and meeting the expectation, you distribute them under either investors, customers, or employees.

So why do we not do that on projects?

Why call them stakeholders? For the sake of clarity, I prefer to find out in any project what role is one playing and the only roles available are:

  • Enabler
  • Blocker
  • Observer
  • Supporter
  • Investor
  • or Customer...

There isn't anything wrong in being in either of the 6 roles. But it adds to clarity for me.

An investor's role is to fund the project and have a holistic view of the delivery and an investor is NOT a customer.

A customer, on the other hand, need not worry about the funding. How I allocate my funding shouldn't really bother the customer.

Enablers are those who will move things on - ideally, project members who work at the same pace as rest of the projects.

Blockers are those, who can derail the pace of the project. NOT the project itself.

Observer role is for someone who can watch, hear, learn, experience, and is generally an FYI - nothing for the observer is at stake.

A supporter is someone who can unlock doors when you get stuck. This is not your manager. Assign this role carefully!

Breaking a team into these roles makes things go faster. It's a mixture of Agile and waterfall method of project management.

It's better to bring clarity by assigning clear roles.

"Stakeholders" is a vague term. It hides accountability. And slows things down.

I dislike the term "stakeholder".