Using an Agreement and Certainty Matrix to Drive Stakeholder Management Strategy

Classically, the stakeholder management strategy is developed early in a project.  It considers the level of interest in the project for each stakeholder, and an assessment of the impact their level of participation, engagement, and support will have on the success of the project in order to select potential strategies for gaining support or reducing obstacles.  This strategy is then used to plan communications and otherwise manage stakeholder expectations.  But it may be helpful to consider the stakeholders not just as individuals facing a project, but as members of an organization facing problems with varying levels of agreement on what should be done, and certainty about how to do it.  To that end, let’s consider Ralph Stacey’s Agreement and Certainty Matrix.

Stacey’s model considers two dimensions with regards to management of organizations: Agreement and Certainty.  In the diagram above, the X-axis reflects the degree of Certainty, and the Y-axis the degree of Agreement, and regions representing specific degrees of Agreement and Certainty are plotted.  For the purposes of this model, Agreement is the degree to which the people in the organization “agree” on what is to be done, and Certainty is the degree to which they “agree” on how it can or should be done.  The region at the upper right, where Disagreement and Uncertainty are the highest, is referred to by many change management researchers as “The Edge of Chaos.”  Few projects facing these twin obstacles will succeed!  However, the other four regions each favor specific stakeholder management strategies.

When there is close agreement among the stakeholders as to what is to be done, and how to do it, the project manager should reasonably anticipate little conflict.  In this case, a strategy of “Telling” the stakeholders, in the form of status reports and progress updates should be effective in managing their expectations.

When there is considerable disagreement among the stakeholders on what is to be done, but little dispute on how, the project manager should anticipate conflict when defining the scope and goals of the project.  In this case, a strategy of “Selling” the stakeholders, in the form of a review of the business case, cost-benefit analysis, or similar destination-focused tools with the stakeholders, as a group, may be effective in getting them aligned to a single “vision” of the project.

When there is close agreement on the scope and goals of the project, but a great degree of uncertainty on how to proceed, the project manager should anticipate conflict when defining the technical approach, work breakdown structure, staffing plan, or scheduling the project.  In this case, a strategy of “Consulting” with the stakeholders, in the form of walkthroughs, demonstrations, and other process-focused tools may be effective in giving them confidence in the project.

When there is a moderately high degree of both Disagreement and Uncertainty, but still short of the Edge of Chaos, the project manager should anticipate conflict driven by the perception and reality of the risks facing the project.  In this case, “Collaboration” is called for, throughout the planning and execution of the project.  The stakeholders must be heavily engaged, from risk identification and planning of risk responses through monitoring of the status of identified risks.  It is also probably worth adjusting the change control process to more heavily weight the impact of proposed changes on both the individual risks being tracked in the Risk Register, and the overall project risk profile.  Communicating the status of both risk management and change control activities, as part of regular status reports and other stakeholder communications, will help keep the stakeholders actively engaged with the project, and with each other.

Delivering real and perceived value to the stakeholders is the principle measure of success in a project; consequently, effective stakeholder management is one of the keys to ensuring project success.  Effective project managers consider the degree of agreement and certainty that their stakeholders have toward the project at the beginning, and plan accordingly.

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About Dave Gordon

Dave Gordon is a project manager with over twenty five years of experience in implementing human capital management and payroll systems, including SaaS solutions like Workday and premises-based ERP solutions like PeopleSoft and ADP Enterprise. He has an MS in IT with a concentration in project management, and a BS in Business. In addition to his articles and blog posts, he curates a weekly roundup of articles on project management, and he has authored or contributed to several books on project management.