Who Is The Real Project Stakeholder?

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

When you start a new project, are you asking the following questions:

  • Who is the real project stakeholder?
  • Who holds the biggest stake in your project?

The answer to these questions probably isn’t who you think it is.

Common Answers

There are two simple answers to the second question. The problem with the common answers is that they are simple, and the simple answer isn’t always the right answer.

If you ask this to most Instructional Designers you’ll often get the following two answers:

  • Subject Matter Expert (SME)
  • Business Partner

You’ll get the SME as the answer because they have the closest ties with the Instructional Designer during the project. There are regular check-ins with the SME and the know the details of the content.

You’ll get the business partner as an answer because they are the driving force behind the project, and usually the initiator too. They have the most to gain from the success of the project and the most to lose.

While these are honest mistakes as an answer, they do have a negative effect on the overall success of the project.

Incorrect Answers

These two answers are incorrect because their titles are exactly as stated. One is the Subject Matter Expert and the other is the Business Partner. Neither of these is the real stakeholder. While each of them does hold a stake in the project, there is one person who has a larger stake, and a larger overall cost if the project isn’t executed to their benefit.

The SME is close to the content, they want people to know everything they do, and their job is extremely important to them. So is all the content. Their best interest is to impart their knowledge to others overwhelming as it may be to somebody new to the topic.

The business partner is interested in an overall success, and rightfully so. They usually oversee the overarching project and want to make sure it’s successful, but they aren’t close enough to the details to be the top priority of making great content for. They do need to like it, though!

Who The Real Project Stakeholder Is

The only answer to who the real project stakeholder is:

The User.

The most time spent in the project will the user or participants in your course/class/etc. Tally up an estimate of how many people will take your course and multiply that by how much time it takes. That’s a lot of time, I know.

The best part is if you can execute the project in the best interest of the user, the SME and business partner will both benefit tremendously.

The project will be a great success, you’ll look good, and everybody will love you.

Your only job is to keep the stakeholders (users) at the top of your mind and work with the business partner and SME to make it happen.

Don't forget about the real project stakeholder

Tell Your User’s Story

To help you make things as good as possible for the users/stakeholders, telling their story is a must. Figure out who your users are, what their pain points are, and what you can do to mitigate those pain points.

Creating a user story or even a persona will help you do the best job possible for them. While you want to keep the SME’s and business partner’s concerns in mind, they should always be of benefit to the user also. Keep things simple, give your users only what they need and you’ll never end up with a bloated project.

Who’s Who

There you have it, there are at least three parties you need to keep in mind, make happy and do your best work for. Those three parties are:

  • Business Partner – The sponsor of the project, the main person(s).
  • Subject Matter Expert – Knows all the information you need to make it a success.
  • Stakeholder – The person that you’re doing this project for, the one’s who is the most affected.

It’s not always as clear-cut as this, but it gives you a basic idea. I’ve had projects where the SME is the business partner and vice versa, but the stakeholder as the user will always stay the same. The user will always stay the most important group of people in the project, and they are always the most affected.