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Stakeholder management:
the sociodynamic approach


Paul Walley
Project Management Office, Planning and Monitoring Department,
King Faisal Hospital and Research Centre, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia


Purpose The purpose of this paper is to investigate whether or not traditional methods of
sociodynamic profiling are useful as an analytical management approach to manage stakeholders in
projects that are likely to experience high degrees of resistance to change.
Design/methodology/approach As part of an action research project, three case studies
are reported; 80 people involved in the projects were given semi-structured interviews as part of the
Findings The approach identified the stakeholder mechanisms that caused one project to fail. It also
showed how and why the two other projects succeeded after adapting their approaches.
Research limitations/implications The work is restricted to one economic sector: healthcare.
There are methodological issues with the measurement of levels of support and resistance for projects.
Practical implications The method helped refine stakeholder identification, linked stakeholder
requirements and project scope, identified likely project failures, improved stakeholder communication
methods and created a better understanding of resistance to change.
Originality/value The approach has not previously been validated and shows great promise
where it is used to analyse complex situations. It also highlights the dynamic nature of the stakeholder
management task for project managers, as the challenges can be seen to change over time. The paper
also provides a different insight into resistance to change in a project context.
Keywords Project management, Stakeholders, Change management, Health care, Resistance, Influence
Paper type Research paper

1. Introduction
There is ever-increasing attention paid to develop the soft skills aspects of project
management. Lidow (1999) asserted that project management practice often has too
much focus on the hard elements of project management and project managers must
be able to motivate and communicate with their teams. This was further reinforced by
Hayden and Fellow (2004) who claimed that projects largely fail for non-technical
reasons such as issues of negotiation, team capabilities and communication.
Andersen et al. (2006) suggested that project success is directly influenced by the
project managers ability to develop strong project commitment, partly through
early stakeholder influence and stakeholder endorsement of project plans. Legris and
Collerette (2006) found a need to focus much more on the change management elements
of project management, of which stakeholder management is a key part.
Authors have highlighted the importance of stakeholder management as a key
project critical success factor. Bourne and Walker (2004) stated:
The author acknowledges the help of Ruth Glassborow, NHS Scotland, in providing direction for
some of the literature review.

International Journal of Managing

Projects in Business
Vol. 6 No. 3, 2013
pp. 485-504
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/IJMPB-10-2011-0066



Without attention to the needs and expectations of a diverse range of project stakeholders,
a project will probably not be regarded as successful even if the project manager was able to
deliver it within the original (or agreed) time, budget and scope (Bourne and Walker, 2004, p. 227).

They go on to suggest that many projects fail where the hidden and conflicting agendas
of stakeholders are not managed (Bourne and Walker, 2005). Case evidence is provided
by Sutterfield et al. (2006) who evaluate the failure of a US Department of Defense project,
concluding that poor stakeholder management caused problems with project
sponsorship, planning, scope, technical specifications and conflict management. They
found that resistance to change occurred where not was expected because of the failures
in the project processes. Achterkamp and Vos (2008) described a situation where a
project was badly delayed by the oversight in stakeholder identification, using this type
of experience to call for refinements in the identification process.
Many stakeholder management methods have been developed but are sector
specific, in the construction sector (Jergeas et al., 2000; Leung et al., 2004; Newcombe,
2003; Walker et al., 2008), information technology (Legris and Collerette, 2006; Tan et al.,
2005) and research and development (Elias et al., 2002; Vos and Achterkamp, 2006).
Stakeholder management as a managerial task is highly context specific ( Jones and
Wicks, 1999; Bourne and Walker, 2005) and hence the tools and methods employed
should reflect this context.
This paper considers stakeholder management in behaviourally challenging
situations. As healthcare change agents, working mostly on large-scale process
redesign activities, we work in an environment where behaviour change is a required
project outcome. Change occurs in highly politicised, complex work environments.
Programmatic change in this context is widely known to suffer from high rates of failure
(Beer et al., 1990). Such change management projects usually involve large numbers of
involuntary stakeholders (Clarkson, 1994) and potentially many powerful stakeholders
who do not wish the project to succeed. There is a risk that conventional approaches to
stakeholder management, developed in the harder contexts such as construction, will be
less effective in projects where the focus is largely on human behaviour change.
The main objective of this paper is to provide and independent evaluation of the
sociodynamic approach, originally used by DHerbemont and Cesar (1998), to assess
stakeholders and to apply methods of effecting change in sensitive project
environments. This offers a different approach to stakeholder categorisation and also
potentially provides a different insight into the methods that project managers can use to
influence and manage stakeholders that would otherwise be difficult to reach. First, we
review the existing literature on stakeholder management, to provide definitions and to
acknowledge existing methods of stakeholder analysis. We pay particular attention to
theories concerning project manager influence and resistance to change, to ensure that a
contemporary view of these topics is established. Second, we describe the approach to
socio-dynamic stakeholder assessment provided by DHerbemont and Cesar. Third, we
present and analyse three case studies of organisations with politicised or sensitive
change projects, to evaluate the use of the approach. All of these carefully selected cases
involved complex, multi-site change programmes that required high levels of
behavioural change. They all are based around healthcare organisation settings. The
cases are used to assess the value that this method of analysis brings to stakeholder
evaluation and the insight it provides for managing project-based change. Last, we draw
conclusions and recommendations about the use of the approach in similar situations.

2. Origins and definitions of stakeholder management

The conceptualisation of stakeholder theory is credited to Freeman and Reed (1983)
who devised a stakeholder approach to strategic management. Since that time the
notion of who, or what, constitutes a stakeholder has occupied much time in debate.
Mitchell et al. (1997) traced this development from as far back as 1963 through to the
time of their paper. What is noticeable is that early definitions of stakeholder were very
broad. For example, they quoted Freeman and Reed (1983) who described a stakeholder
as someone that:



[. . .] can affect the achievement of an organisations objectives or is affected by the achievement

of an organisations objectives (Freeman and Reed, 1983, p. 91).

Perhaps dissatisfied with the breadth and lack of discernment of this definition,
which may include almost everyone in a practical situation, Mitchell et al. (1997)
then refined this concept to work towards an understanding of who or what
really counts. They produced the widely accepted framework, shown in Figure 1, of
qualitative classes of stakeholder based around the three factors of power, legitimacy
and urgency.
Their theory is that the salience of the stakeholders depends very much on the
strength and combination of these factors in each stakeholder group. Hence stakeholders
with only one of these characteristics may not be as influential as those with
combinations of two or all three. Importantly, the framework also recognises that
different types of stakeholder might play different roles in a given situation, dependent
upon their perspective.

Source: Mitchell et al. (1997)

Figure 1.
Stakeholder types based
on power, legitimacy
and urgency



Within the project management environment there has perhaps been an attempt to
further refine the scope of the stakeholder definition. Karlsen (2002) evaluated the
different approaches and definitions in the project management context. For example,
he quotes the PMBOK definition of:
[. . .] individuals and organisations who are actively involved in the project, or whose interests
may be positively or negatively affected as a result of the project execution or successful
project completion (PMI, 1996).

Hence there is a tendency to restrict the attention towards those within the task
environment (Dill, 1958). In a high proportion of situations stakeholders are classified
in just the two dimensions of power and interest and the classic power/interest matrix
(Newcombe, 2003; Johnson and Scholes, 1993). The basic principle is that those who
have power and are motivated are the key players who need to be actively managed.
However, there have been some concerns that this focus on key players is too narrow
and there is need to return to a broader perspective of stakeholders in projects. All
project stakeholder management methods have suggested stakeholder identification as
a key first step, but some place greater emphasis on the breadth of the search. Survey
work (Jergeas et al., 2000) showed that, in practice, management of stakeholders was
largely limited to those directly affected and that stakeholder communication could be
improved. Bourne and Walker (2006) urged managers to find hidden stakeholders
that would otherwise be overlooked. Vos and Achterkamp (2006) suggested that
(especially in R&D) the situation can be fuzzy at the start, requiring a creative
approach. Walker et al. (2008) stated their pluralist perspective that a wide range of
stakeholders have valid claims in project situations.
3. Existing approaches to stakeholder management
A number of papers show similar sequences of activities or steps in the process of
stakeholder management. These sequences are highlighted in Table I.
The common early stage within all the approaches is identification of the relevant
stakeholders. Vos and Achterkamp (2006) break down this stage into four further steps:

Tan et al. (2005)

1. Identify stakeholders
2. Recognise different
3. Cater to the different

Table I.
Steps in stakeholder

Literature source
Bourne and Walker (2006) Sutterfield et al. (2006)
1. Identify stakeholders
2. Prioritise stakeholders
3. Develop stakeholder
engagement strategy

1. Vision and mission

2. Project SWOT analysis
3. Identify stakeholders
and their goals
4. Selection criteria and
alternative SM
5. Select strategy for each
6. Acquire resources
7. Implement SM strategy
8. Evaluate
9. Feedback

Karlsen (2002)
1. Plan
2. Identify
3. Analyse
4. Communicate
5. Act
6. Follow-up


definition of the project objectives;

individual brainstorm of those involved;
group brainstorm to identify those involved based on project roles; and
group brainstorm phasing the involvement.

Beyond this stage of identification there are a number of tools proposed in the literature
to help define stakeholders, categorise them and engage and manage them. These
The Stakeholder Circle (Bourne and Walker, 2005).
The Organisational Zoo (Bourne, 2008).
Stakeholder management matrix (Karlsen, 2002).
The Power/Interest Matrix (many sources after Freeman, 1984).
If these approaches have processes in common it is to ensure that there is consistency
between the importance of the stakeholder, the level of attention they are given and the
ways in which these stakeholders are managed and engaged. If there are common
criticisms to be laid at the existing tools, we would suggest two observations:
(1) Sufficient agreement amongst stakeholders cannot be guaranteed. The language
used in much of the commentary appears to assume that levels of compromise
can be ultimately reached where stakeholder needs are properly identified.
Although it is accepted that not all stakeholders needs may be completely met,
the lack of full agreement is not seen as a barrier to project completion. For
example, Jergeas et al. (2000) propose the following options when dealing with
educate the stakeholders;
communicate with the stakeholders;
mitigate or change the project; and
compensate stakeholders.
We would argue that in politicised project environments there are considerable
limitations to the scope for agreement amongst often diametrically opposed
views. Parties may never agree on a course of action, even if a compromise is
offered. In some cases there will be clear winners and losers, where the losing
parties resist the change throughout the process and will not be won over at the
end. If we compensate most stakeholders who lose out during a change, the risk is
that compensation becomes a norm and is expected as a mode of behaviour in
future projects. Complex mitigation or scope change can be equally risky
strategies, threatening scope creep. This view may be supported by Newcombe
(2003) who observed the conflicts in meeting stakeholder needs and questioned
whether stakeholders can be repositioned.
(2) The temporal dimension to stakeholder management. The stakeholder management
scenario has been observed to change over time (Newcombe, 2003; Olander, 2007),
perhaps in a similar way to that of project risk. Different stakeholders may
have different levels of power or influence dependent upon the stage of a project.





Vos and Achterkamp (2006) concurred with the idea of stakeholder dynamics and
observed that tools do not seem to have addressed this issue. In fact, we could argue
that a change management project should deliberately set out to reposition some
stakeholders and, hence, the monitoring of stakeholder positions over time is a
necessary part of the project planning and control system.
Influencing change
The literature treats the task of influencing behaviour as a key part of the project
managers remit. At the level of the individual it has been observed that the project
manager has a number of influencing strategies (Bohlen et al., 1988; Lee and Bohlen,
1997; Lee and Sweeney, 2001). Table II summarises these.
The general view is that the chosen methods of influence are highly contingent and
will vary because of a range of factors associated with the project and the environment.
The use of reasoning and consultation seem to be generally regarded as positive,
relatively risk-free methods, whereas assertiveness and sanctions are seen as risky and
possibly to be avoided. There is support for the development of a dominant coalition
to achieve change (Bourne and Walker (2005) after Boddy and Buchanan, 1999),
whereby a powerful consensus is achieved through careful collaboration and the
building of support across influential groups.
It should be clear that stakeholders should take a positive view of benefits of the
project they are working on (Kriener, 1995). Collective positive attitudes have been
referred to as project affinity (Dainty et al., 2005) or project commitment (Leung et al.,
2004). Projects will make better progress if the stakeholders are motivated towards
the ultimate goal, rather than simply looking at the functional tasks involved in the
completion (Andersen et al., 2006). Dainty et al. (2005) illustrate the idea with
the example of the construction project that promoted the benefits to patients of the
hospital they were building. Reduced team motivation leads to problems such as lack
of external support and increased personal conflict (Schmid and Adams, 2008).
Dainty et al. (2005) warn not to blame cultural factors where team commitment (or
chemistry) is the cause of failure (Nicolini, 2002).
Understanding resistance to change
Lewins (1951) original work viewed resistance to change as simply a force that
restrains change and placed no deliberately negative slant on the term. Over time the

Table II.
Methods of influence



Rational reasoning
Management support

The logical arguments of the change are promoted

Agreement is reached through involvement
The manager relies on attitude and the desire to maintain a relationship
A motivational approach to acceptance of change
The change becomes supported by an influential majority
The change is mandated, or lack of support seen as misbehaviour
The change is made part of a deal or contract
The need to change is imposed
There are negative outcomes of not accepting a change

Source: Bohlen et al. (1988)

term has been used to represent the situation where employees do not embrace
management-driven change (Dent and Goldberg, 1999). It has become shorthand for
poor attitudes to change or counter-productive behaviour (Wadell and Sohal, 1998).
It has even been suggested that the term response to change be used instead to
remove this negative connotation (Piderit, 2000). This negative view is reflected to
some extent in both the stakeholder and project literatures where behaviour is seen as
self-interested (Jones and Wicks, 1999) and people often have hidden agendas
(Bourne and Walker, 2004).
The change management literature now takes a different perspective of resistance to
change. It is suggested that we often make a fundamental attribution error when we
interpret resistance. We place more emphasis on personal or dispositional factors and
less emphasis on situational or environmental factors for this resistance (Gross, 2001).
We blame people for resistance rather than understand the often quite rational thoughts
behind resistance. Stakeholders who resist may have valid claims (Walker et al., 2008).
Managers may alienate people by seeing them as obstacles (Ford and Ford, 2010). These
authors see that resistance has value. Within the general literature, the following
advantages of resistance can be seen:
resistance can be useful in stopping ill-thought out change from progressing;
it draws attention to areas of the change package that need refining;
it shows people care; and
it is part of adapting to change.
Where change is resisted, the situational and environmental factors emerge as primary
causes including:
stakeholders are not dissatisfied with the status quo;
stakeholders believe there are better ways to do things;
stakeholders do not have the ability to make changes; and
stakeholders do not like the leadership approach.
Consequently, when we manage sensitive projects not only should we expect resistance
to change, but we also have to learn how to use this to the advantage of the project. We
must learn to identify positive resistance and understand how this enhances the
change process. Of course, there will be some self-interest as part of the politics and
organisation situation, but we must not place all resistance in this category.
The sociodynamic approach
Sociodynamics involves the quantification of human behaviour and the examination of
the social interaction. In this context, DHerbemont and Cesar (1998) have provided an
interpretation of the quantification of attitudes to projects and project objectives, with
the understanding that negative attitudes may be held perfectly rationally. A key point
is that people or groups are not simply ranked as for or against. Instead, degrees of
both positive and negative attitude (synergy and antagonism) to a given situation are
assessed, on the basis that people experience both types of emotion simultaneously.
These attitudes interact, and it is the nature of the interaction that creates behaviours
and roles. Attitudes are categorised in Table III.




Positive energy (synergy)

Score Corresponding behaviour

Table III.
Grading synergy
and antagonism


Cannot see anything positive

Mild positive attitude but no proactive
Considerable positive response with
willingness to contribute
Positive response and self-motivated to

Negative energy (antagonism)

Score Corresponding behaviour

Cannot see anything negative

Mild negative response


Would need to be coerced into accepting the

change as proposed
Cannot tolerate the change under any


Source: Based on DHerbemont and Cesar (1998)

These grades of synergy and antagonism interact, to create eight identifiable

stakeholder clusters. The clusters are shown in Figure 2.
The diagram shows eight specific categories of stakeholder, each of which has
distinctive characteristics. An important observation is that many project managers
and technical support staff often have low levels of antagonism, to the point where they
become zealots. To other people, they lack a critical perspective that diminishes their
credibility when trying to justify actions taken. Those stakeholders whose cooperation
is required (waverers, moaners and passives) are more readily reached by stakeholders
who broadly support the initiative, but whose credibility is enhanced by their
awareness of the negative consequences of the changes proposed: these key individuals
we have labelled influencers because of their valuable influencing role. In many

Figure 2.
Stakeholder clusters
based on antagonism
and synergy

Source: D'Herbemont and Cesar (1998)

situations, the project managers role becomes one of finding people who can influence,
rather than a direct influencing role for themselves. The most important source of
resistance comes from opponents who have strong negative attitudes (possibly for
good reason) and who may, numerically, be a quite significant group. Table IV
summarises the characteristics of each group in the diagram.
In this particular model, the project managers challenge is to achieve support from
those stakeholder groups who are difficult to reach (the passives, moaners and waverers)
through the use of influencers, whose ability to present the positive arguments for
supporting the project in a relatively balanced manner can influence stakeholders more
effectively than the uncritical enthusiasm shown by the zealots. In many projects it is
likely that the project manager is seen to be a zealot by other stakeholders and therefore
can lack influencing ability for some groups.



4. Research method
Interpretive data is provided by three action research case studies of projects within
healthcare settings. The cases have been deliberately chosen to offer a variety of
situations in terms of the type of projects being undertaken and their scale, timescale
and complexity. The three case projects are:
(1) A large IT development project in a teaching hospital. The project involved
developing and implementing a completely new IT system for the organisation,
affecting about 3,000 employees. The project took place over three years. The
author formally reviewed and researched this project in the later stages.
Although it achieved some technical objectives it was not regarded a success by
the client.
(2) A local, whole system service redesign project involving a wide variety of
healthcare, local government and voluntary organisations. This project took
18 months to produce a radical service redesign proposal that would require
significant changes to the provision and funding of local health and other service
provision. The author reviewed this project at its final scoping stage prior to sign-off
and implementation. The project was seen as successful by the stakeholders.


Project role


Uncompromising, proactive supporter


Independent supporter and critical friend


Has rational opposition to the project

Reflect the doubts and concerns of many
Difficult to engage


Provide vociferous but ineffective critique

Back office worker, no value as negotiator

or influencer
Huge potential to influence others and
willing to work with the project manager
Will use abilities to resist the change
Provide useful feedback on how to address
One of the main groups that need to be
indirectly reached
Can be used to anticipate the behaviour of
Potentially harmful behaviour if allowed

Schismatic Rare group with unpredictable behaviour

Mutineer Rare psychopathic behaviour
Source: Based on DHerbemont and Cesar (1998)

Table IV.
stakeholder clusters



(3) A national level service redesign project (in England) that affected 200 hospitals.
The redesign project took three years to implement and was managed in a pilot
phase followed by other six implementation phases. The author was a technical
advisor to this project. The project was regarded as a considerable success in its
technical achievements at a national level. Not all 200 sites achieved the same
levels of success.
Semi-structured interviews with stakeholders were conducted using an interview
schedule that consisted of a series of questions with pick-up questions to follow these.
In each of these cases stakeholders were questioned about their involvement in the
project and the conduct and role of other stakeholders. They were assessed for their
synergy and antagonism by the researcher and feedback obtained on these assessments.
Specifically, interviewees were asked about:
their views of the overall benefits and problems generated by the project;
the way in which the project personally benefitted and disadvantaged them;
the identity of other stakeholders and their perception of attitudes and behaviours;
their understanding of the scope of the project; and
the effectiveness of the implementation process.
For example, interviewees were asked what they saw as the root cause of problems.
They were asked to state who had provided visible support for the project and who had
not. The pick-up question to follow would be to enquire why they thought some
people had/not provided visible support. The stakeholder analysis started with key
questions based on those posed by Obeng (1995), including:
Is there anyone betting on success/failure?
Who benefits from the changes made?
Is there anyone harmed by the changes made?
Who is essential to make the change happen?
Who is not essential to make the change happen?
In total, over 80 interviews took place, but due to the scale of project 3, this case
represents more than half of the interviews undertaken. Table V shows the stakeholder
groups represented.
5. Case results and commentary
Case 1
The sociodynamic mapping at case site 1 yielded the greatest levels of insight into the
state of the project and the effectiveness of the project management. Table VI shows
the characteristics of the stakeholders who were relevant to this analysis at the start of
the research period.
The project had been championed by the IT director, whose focus was on the
technical aspects of the implementation rather than project outcomes and benefits. He
also took responsibility for high-level communication with senior managers and senior
clinicians. Consequently, as a zealot, he failed utterly to persuade the vast majority of
senior personnel of the merits of the project and failed to gain senior support. The one

Case 1

Case 2

Case 3

Chief executive
Finance director
Head of OD
IT director
Clinical directors
Senior clinicians
Ward staff
Call centre manager
Support services staff
Ward managers
Project manager
Project team
Outpatient clinic staff
IT dept. staff
Junior doctors

Project manager
Project sponsor
Primary care trust manager
Local clinical lead
GP provider
Local GPs
Council managers
Service providers (voluntary sector)
Patient representative
Secondary care consultant
Operations manager
Nursing representative
Allied health
Professional representative

Programme director
Programme manager
National clinical lead
Phase leads
Technical advisors
Local site project manager
Local facilitators
Local department managers
Local clinical leads
Senior nursing staff
Senior clinicians




Table V.
Key stakeholders
in research sites

Synergy Antagonism Comments



IT director


Finance director
Senior clinicians



Project team


Call centre staff


Ward managers


IT dept. staff



Secretarial staff


Junior doctors and



The main objective was seen as cost savings as a

result of increased IT usage (with job losses). Not
completely convinced on the other benefits
The director wanted up-to-date hardware and
software but paid no attention to functionality.
Personally very committed
Cost reduction through job losses a single objective
Consistently against the system as it forced them into
schedules they did not like and conditioned some
aspects of their behaviour. The system had the
potential to generate personal performance data
Initially enthusiastic seen as an opportunity to
progress. Could see many implementation difficulties
Could see the potential for a good system, highlighted
risks but were ignored
Not involved in the development and not trained to
use the system in the pilot study
Not involved/informed
Isolated from the rest of the organisation (off site
Could see some tasks made easier but fearful of job
losses and centralisation of services
Not engaged in the implementation

stakeholder group firmly labelled as influencers were the outpatient clinic staff. They
were direct beneficiaries of some of the potential changes and could recognise
the benefits in the system that would help others. For example, they could present a
very good case for change on the basis of information accuracy and patient safety.

Table VI.
Initial stakeholder
characteristics at site 1



Figure 3.
Stakeholders at case site 1

These were the precise arguments that could persuade many of the wavering clinicians.
However, this group lacked power in the organisation and struggled to reach many
clinicians. They could be easily dismissed by key opponents. Clinicians did not behave
as a homogeneous group. Attitudes varied by clinical specialty and individual person,
but included a high number of opponents. In this case, the few opponents held
considerable power and had been very effective in blocking progress by stifling debate.
Because of their seemingly untouchable status, some opponents were remarkably open
about their personal reasons for deliberately opposing the project using relatively
Machiavellian behaviour. There were numerous requests for personalisation of the IT
system. One doctor refused to cooperate as a new booking system forced him to commit
to clinics in advance, preventing him from taking last minute holidays. Another doctor
delayed cooperation waiting for the system to be made compatible with 20-year old
technology. Figure 3 shows selected stakeholders mapped onto the diagram.
The diagram shows that there were numerically significant groups in the waverer
and moaner categories that the project had simply failed to reach. A problem was that
the existing influencers, such as the call centre staff, were not in the right locations and
did not have the right power to reach these people. The ward managers had been put in a
position, through lack of engagement and communication, where they could not easily
support what was being proposed and had not been given the opportunity to contribute
to improvements to the specification that would have alleviated difficulties. The key
difficulty, and potentially the show-stopper in this case, is the irreconcilability of the
senior management and (powerful) senior clinician stakeholder needs.

Perhaps the most illuminating aspect of the value of the framework came from its use
over time to track the changing attitude of the project team members. Part way
through the review, the hospital site was forced to merge with another hospital,
creating a surplus of department managers. Those managers seconded to this project
became the more vulnerable for redundancy, as they were already taken from their
normal line positions. These stakeholders moved from their influencer location,
suddenly to that of waverer, and in one case schismatic. It became clear that the project
was in trouble when the stakeholder analysis showed a reduction is support from these



Case 2
In this case the project manager had worked hard to engage all the stakeholders in the
project process right from the start. By the time the interviews were conducted the
project had been signed off and the implementation plan was in action. Table VII
reflects the stakeholder situation at this time.
The interviews highlighted the contrast in the perceptions and reality of consensus
on the scope and aims of the project. There had been many consensus-building meetings
and workshops, as well as a large number of one-to-one meetings with key stakeholders.
There was visible sponsorship for the project from one senior manager, who was able to
help with senior support across the community. Although the project team had all

Synergy Antagonism Comments

PCT director (sponsor)

Secondary care



PCT purchaser


GP clinical lead


Local GP provider


Council manager


Patient rep.


Operations manager




Local GPs


Good champion but not involved in the detail

Personally very committed. It gave him all the
resources he needed to fulfil his role. Isolated from
the complexities elsewhere
Total focus on the cost implications. Happy that
costs were being transferred to other organisations.
No special interest in the quality of the service
Great understanding of the lack of support from
colleagues and the difficulties of communication. Not
initially seen by others as a supporter of the project
Stood to personally gain but also had some issues
about impact of work hours, etc.
Had very clear vision about the project scope.
Frustrated with non-cooperative stakeholders but
understood the need to limit the scope to keep
everyone on board
Initially seen as trouble and a source of delay.
Considerably improved the project vision and scope
once involved. Quality of outcome his single
Supported the scope but worried about the
implementation process. Had to accept a partial loss
of funding
Some of the key people in terms of behavioural
change. Worried by uncertainties
Potentially cynical about change. The project
appeared to limit their professional discretion

Table VII.
Case 2: stakeholder
analysis summary



signed up to the scoping statement, the interviews revealed the diversity of the sources
of synergy on the project. Different stakeholders suggested a range of aims including
resource availability, unit cost reduction, workload reduction, patient benefits, etc. as
their take on what the project was achieving. Amongst the active stakeholders, the
project had achieved collaboration amongst people with very different agendas who had
been brought together in a coalition. This highlighted the complexities of the project.
Further insight came from assessing the likely sources of clinical leadership. The
most senior clinician was the biggest potential beneficiary from the project, as it
addressed some serious issues about resources and workload. Consequently, he was
placed firmly in the zealot category and it soon became clear that he was not in a
good position to justify the changes to other doctors who would not benefit in the same
way. By contrast, another doctor, who had been previously labelled as challenging
by the project manager, could immediately be identified as an influencer because he
understood the difficulties that colleagues were facing. Not only was he able to
articulate these concerns, he could also provide insights into how to address the
concerns and communicate with the vast majority of GPs who were moaners and
passives. The first interview with this person was videoed (with permission) and the
detail of the conversation could be analysed for some very detailed, helpful advice that
had not previously been understood. A third stakeholder, who was expected to
champion some of the changes, was unexpectedly interpreted as a waverer, revealing
some problems for the implementation phase.
The overall profile shows a healthy number of people signed up to delivering the
project and many people who can influence others. It also reveals the future challenge
of reaching the powerful but disengaged group of local GPs and the need to
communicate more actively with other stakeholder groups.
Case 3
The largest project, case 3, involved ten geographically separate pilot and first wave
sites and then six implementation phases where each phase implemented process
redesign at approximately 30 additional locations, making the project responsible for
change at nearly 200 sites in total. The project strategy centred around the
development of robust project work packages that could be disseminated at large
learning workshops. At the same time, there was support for project managers at
each of the sites, where local issues could be addressed. Stakeholder management was
a central theme of the entire project and a clear communication strategy was devised.
The project was sensitive as it challenged existing ways of working and involved
changes that were counter-intuitive for most stakeholders. At first, the strategy was to
manage carefully the messages issued at the workshop events, with a carefully
scheduled set of training sessions. It was recognised during the first wave that the
most effective site managers were the ones that appeared to be least on message.
These managers regularly forced presenters into very public debate, often at what
appeared to be inconvenient moments. However, this debate had the opposite effect of
that expected. The credibility of the site managers noticeably increased when they
publicly challenged ideas and, if the debate was addressed sufficiently, it even
enhanced the credibility of the central team. In effect, the successful site managers
established themselves as influencers and also managed to move some of the central
team members out of the zealot category. Two major changes to the project strategy

were made as a consequence. First, the learning style of conference presentations could
be deliberately changed to encourage debate. In the later workshops, some training
sessions were even presented in a traditional debating model, with speakers for and
against change. Second, the nature of the work packages was softened, so that they
became more flexible to allow for greater local customisation (to enhance the
ownership of the ideas).


6. Discussion: the value of the concept as a project management approach
The cases revealed five ways in which the approach can be used to help implement a
sensitive project:
(1) The discipline of identifying and assessing stakeholders. Although this approach
is no better than any other in the literature at purely identifying which
stakeholders are relevant to a project, it does provide a clear framework and a
discipline for the assessment of stakeholders and their role in a sensitive project.
In addition to the matrix, we found that the Obeng (1995) stakeholder questions,
mentioned in the interview methodology, were a useful starting point for
discussion. The literature suggests that project managers can focus too much
on the stakeholders within the project team and project supply network. The
approach helped consider the wider stakeholder pool, especially those that
might be overlooked (passives) or avoided (opponents). It is the relative
quietness or invisibility of these types of stakeholder that increases the risks of
them being overlooked, but often they are numerically significant and can
condition a large part of the project communication strategy.
(2) Understanding of the project scope. The process of determining the levels of
antagonism and synergy always required an understanding of what
stakeholders wanted from the project in benefits and outcomes. Not only could
these requirements be compared with the original scope of the project, the
suggested requirements could be understood in the context of the stakeholders
overall attitude. For example, requests to enhance the project scope from a
moaner could be interpreted as a bargaining position more than an essential
requirement. There are many situations where a project manager might be told
we need more resources to do this, but the relative position of the stakeholder
might put into context the background of this request.
In two of the cases, the diversity of project requirements became an issue that
needed to be understood. It showed how original aims needed to be reinforced and
any unplanned changes in scope monitored. It also highlighted how loosely
connected the coalition of supporters were throughout the project.
(3) Diagnosing likelihood of success. Analysis of case 1 made it clear that the project
was destined for failure in its existing format. There were two issues that the
stakeholder problems presented. First, there was no realistic chance of agreement
of scope amongst the most powerful stakeholder groups. Second, the monitoring of
stakeholder attitudes over time showed that some members of the project team
were unable to continue with their roles as influencers, through the loss of support.
The project also became almost impossible as there were no powerful influencers
able to provide visible support in its later stages. Hence the matrix provided a
useful snapshot at given times in the project lifecycle and showed whether or not



the project was progressing as desired. The matrix provided a snapshot of the
current state of stakeholder reconciliation/collaboration which proved to be a
valuable diagnostic tool.
(4) Developing the communication strategy. The approach also provided a clear set of
recommendations concerning how to address communication issues. Perhaps the
most useful aspect for the project managers involved at the case sites was the
understanding that communication had to be two-way, and that an approach of
simply sending advice was not going to work. In particular, it proved very useful to
understand the concerns of moaners, as these clearly reflected the reasons why
opponents would be trying to block the project. Although the project managers
understood that people other than themselves could be better placed to influence key
stakeholder groups, the framework also helped to identify those individuals who
could help influence behaviour. In particular, the public debate and negative
comments often issued by influencers were often misinterpreted until their
behaviour was explained using this framework. At case sites 2 and 3 the
communication strategies were considerably improved during the implementation
stages through the understanding of the project challenges. There was better
understanding of the right approaches to take in terms of when, who and how this
communication should occur. A further development may be to link this framework
used by Senge et al. (1994) that proposes five levels of stakeholder engagement:
telling, selling, testing, consulting and co-creating. Those stakeholders with low
synergy, for example, will not readily respond to the telling approach. This
framework implies that consulting strategies, such as workshops, focus groups and
interactive training, are possibly the minimum requirement for communication and
engagement practices of the most difficult groups.
(5) Managing resistance to change. For many of those involved, one of the clear
lessons was a better understanding of resistance to change at the individual level.
It was clear that team members took a dispositional view of resistance prior to the
use of this approach, whereas afterwards they saw resistance in others as more
situational. Once it was understood that resistance could be quite rational from
another stakeholders perspective, there was a more positive attitude to
managing resistance. In the largest project, there was real value in understanding
the causes of resistance so that solutions to reasonable objections could be found.
Equally, there was also value in understanding when not to barter or concede to
stakeholders who were using their objections as a bargaining strategy. In some
cases it forced the project managers into the development of better technical
solutions and also to provide the evidence-base for change. In this context much
of the resistance is because of a failure to explain the theoretical underpinning of a
change to intelligent people who are used to justifying their own actions in
clinical trials. They see managers who often fail to justify their own ideas with the
same level of rigour and reject the ideas accordingly.
Some limitations of the approach
There were limitations in the method of assessment. First, as stated above, the
approach does not provide a better system for stakeholder identification. It still relies,
to a great extent, on brainstorming and the creativity of the active project team to find
all relevant stakeholders that need to be assessed. In some situations there will still be

scope to miss stakeholders off this list, especially where their connection to the project
is somewhat obscure. Second, generic labels applied to stakeholders do not necessarily
capture the diversity or complexity of a situation. For example, in case 1, not all
consultants opposed the project, but a dominant group were in this category. Third,
unlike some frameworks, there is no direct measure of stakeholder power involved in
the assessment. This is an important limitation because influence is linked to power as
well as attitude. The approach might be modified to reflect these issues.
7. Concluding remarks
In all projects stakeholder management is an important critical success factor
(Andersen et al., 2006; Leung et al., 2004). This paper has outlined the challenges of
stakeholder management in the context of complex, change-orientated, highly politicised
projects where it is common to have powerful stakeholders who want projects to fail. We
have suggested that in this context it is important to understand that some stakeholders
will be harmed by the project and will actively oppose change. The project managers have
to anticipate all of the associated challenges to mobilise support for the project.
The sociodynamic approach to stakeholder analysis was useful in a number of
It helped to identify some of the hidden stakeholder groups (Bourne and
Walker, 2005) because it encourages people to look for passive stakeholders
who do not appear to be involved.
The matrix produced by the approach became a diagnostic tool as it readily
showed the health of the stakeholder situation in terms of the number of people
able to bring about change, the groups with irreconcilable problems and the
relative influencing capabilities of the project team.
Communication is an important element of stakeholder management (Bourne
and Walker, 2004). This approach helped to identify the high-level
communication challenges within a project. It set out the stakeholder groups
that need to be reached (with some difficulty) and may also identify the
stakeholders who are able to perform these communication tasks.
The approach was helpful in being able to identify or clarify the position or role of
some key stakeholders. In particular, we would point out that all the cases had
issues in the identification of influencers, especially the possible misinterpretation
of useful individuals as trouble-makers.
Project managers need to interpret resistance to change in a more sophisticated way.
This approach helped to utilise the positive benefits of resistance to change as it
allowed the project manager to incorporate ideas from moaners, waverers and
influencers into the project scope without being seen to incentivise resistance. It
also helped in the situation of immovable opponents where compromise will not
work and concession would be seen as a sign of weakness.
Finally, the approach sat comfortably with the concepts of project commitment
(Schmid and Adams, 2008) because these cases show how the required behaviour
change will be more readily achieved when the reasons for the changes are explained in
outcome terms, using the right type of evidence. Where there are opponents to the ideas,
the dominant coalition (Boddy and Buchanan, 1999) in support of the project is





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About the author
Paul Walley manages the Project Management Office at King Faisal Hospital and Research Centre.
His current role is to ensure that the $1.6bn worth of projects progress in line with the
organisations strategic plan and to provide support for the project directors working on individual
projects. Previously he was an Associate Professor at Warwick Business School, where he
taught Project Management and Operations Management. He specialised in the application of
management tools in healthcare. He is an author of many journal articles and reports for
Governments and has worked on projects in North America, Europe and the Middle East.
Paul Walley can be contacted at:

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