Written by DesignThinkers Group Team
When most people approach challenges, it’s easy to fall back on the people and parameters we already know. But, is that limiting your ability to develop novel solutions? Are you excluding a key perspective on the problem? With about an hour of stakeholder mapping, you can know for sure. This super flexible design thinking activity often shows the hidden landscape of a challenge, and reveals important stakeholders who were initially overlooked.
Stakeholder mapping helps create an important mind-shift in how we perceive who is involved in a project, their relative importance, and where we most urgently need to build empathy. It is an excellent tool for uncovering important relationships that could otherwise have been missed. Ready to explore?
A stakeholder map, like any other map, shows in visual form how different elements are positioned relative to each other. DesignThinkers Group uses a large format template that is easy to print or create on a whiteboard or flip chart. It enables teams to take in the entire ecosystem of people, groups and organizations concerned with a design challenge at a glance.
Stakeholders can include customers, staff, suppliers, external organizations – whoever is concerned with the specific challenge or project. Even when we already know something about the interplay among such groups, creating a stakeholder map helps the design team to identify the most important stakeholders and how they interact with the project and among one another.
Stakeholder mapping helps create an important mind-shift in how we perceive who is involved in a project, and where we most urgently need to build empathy.
Stakeholder mapping also helps reduce some of the uncertainty in developing solutions. We’re less likely to be caught off-guard by, say, backlash to an unintended consequence if we have identified and involved key stakeholders upfront. At the same time, keep in mind that organizational and project landscapes evolve, and so might the stakeholder maps that illustrate them. Think of the map you will create as a clear image of where things are today, not necessarily a crystal ball into the future.
Print out the DesignThinkers stakeholder map. Grab some sticky notes. Gather your team.
A stakeholder map is best created with the key project team members involved in solving the challenge. As with so much of design thinking, the conversation and the energy the process creates are the keys to success. Think of stakeholder mapping as creating a picture of the people concerned with the project and getting to know what other people on the team know that you don’t know.
- You’ll begin by silently brainstorming as many people or groups as you can whose experiences, beliefs and actions are relevant to the challenge at hand. Write each one down with a marker on a separate sticky note. Now is the time to think as broadly as possible, knowing you might change some information for each group as you learn more and dig deeper. There are not right or wrong stakeholders; this is about brainstorming as many as possible.
- Then, you and your team will begin to plot the sticky notes on your map by attaching them to the map. The most important stakeholders go in the center of the map, with less important stakeholders plotted in the outer rings. You’ll see points of agreement in the form of duplicate sticky notes – leave them as duplicates, or retain only one. It’s up to your team. You’ll also begin to see groupings and categories emerge. Talk these through as you go, and consider labeling the groups to enrich the picture.
- Throughout the process, people will voice questions and insights that you’ll want to jot down. Note each insight on a sticky note and collect these notes off to the side of the map.
- There you have it. You should end up with a map of stakeholders, plotted according to relative importance for the project, and grouped according to common perspective or influence on the challenge. The document you’ve created together will more than likely reveal an ecosystem much larger and more complex than anyone first assumed. It should help you identify the core personas you need to design for and sharpen your team’s focus for support-building and communication activities.
KEEP IN MIND
Remember, some stakeholders aren’t part of your immediate organization or directly affected. For example, are spouses or families of employees important? What about community members? You may find they are more central than you initially thought, which can influence the types of solutions you design.
Also, don’t assume the most obvious stakeholder goes in the middle – or that the middle can hold only one. For example, if you’re redesigning the employee performance review experience, it’s likely that the manager is just as important as the employee.
The biggest value of stakeholder mapping comes as much from the conversations and shared understanding that results from the activity as from the final map itself. It is a simple yet powerful way to identify key players affected by your challenge. It helps a team work out who should be involved in different aspects of a project as you move forward designing solutions.
Stakeholder mapping doesn’t have to be a one-time activity. You can revisit your map at critical milestones in the project (e.g. during project kickoff or later during co-creation sessions) to check that you’re including stakeholders in your storytelling and execution as needed. Stakeholder mapping can continually sharpen your awareness of who is impacted by your solutions, and how important they really are.
Stakeholder mapping is one of the simplest activities you can lead as a design thinker, and yet it stimulates a wealth of shared understanding for your team. It helps to identify people who need to support the project (e.g. funding decision makers), those who could get in the way, and those who will be critical to implementing any solutions you come up with to solve your challenge. Most importantly, anyone can facilitate a stakeholder mapping session in under an hour and get true value from the activity.
So, go ahead. Download our stakeholder map and give it a try. And, please, let us know how you fare with your mapping session and what insights come from it.
Request your Stakeholder Map