Project Relationship Management and the Stakeholder Circle®

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Project Relationship Management and
the Stakeholder Circle® [P021]

A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Project Management at RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia.

Other related sections of the PMKI:

- Advanced Stakeholder Engagement
- The Stakeholder Circle® Methodology
- The Stakeholder Relationship Management Maturity Model (SRMM®).


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Stakeholder Circle Tools
Project success and failure is related to stakeholders’ perceptions of the value created by the project and the nature of their relationship with the project team. This dissertation demonstrates a link between the successful management of the relationships between the project and its stakeholders, and the stakeholder’s assessment of a successful project outcome. The project’s success, or failure, is strongly influenced by both the expectations and perceptions of its stakeholders, and the capability and willingness of project managers to effectively manage these relationships within the organization's political environment.

A stakeholder management methodology and visualization tool, the Stakeholder Circle®, was developed to assist in this process and was the foundation for this research. The Stakeholder Circle® is based on the premise that a project can only exist with the informed consent of its stakeholder community. The methodology supported by the tool provides an effective mechanism for assessing the relative influence of a project’s stakeholders, understanding their expectations, and defining appropriate engagement procedures to influence the key stakeholders’ expectations and perceptions for the benefit of the project.

There are four themes to the research: the first theme is to identify reasons for project failure and to define the link between project success and stakeholder management. The second theme is refinement and testing of the Stakeholder Circle® methodology and visualization tool to support the building and maintenance of project relationships. The third theme is to gauge the methodology’s effectiveness in building and maintaining robust project relationships. Finally, the fourth theme is to identify the skills and willingness of project managers to build these relationships with the support of the tool.

This research adopted a qualitative approach. Data were collected through interviews, document analysis, observation, and from the results of the iterative refinement cycles of the Stakeholder Circle®. Case study descriptions of the six participant projects provided a rich picture of the project and the organization, and supported interpretation of the resulting profiles of each project’s unique stakeholder community. The iterative methodology refinement resulted in a practical methodology that was refined until there were no further adverse comments from the research participants.

Findings from the research can be categorized into three groups. The Stakeholder Circle® was evaluated as an effective tool that can support project teams in identifying the ‘right’ stakeholders to engage; the second was an understanding of the level of capability and willingness of people in different organizations to manage project relationships. Finally, serendipitous findings about the relationship between the profile of stakeholder community as shown by the Stakeholder Circle® and the informal power structures of the performing organization have aroused interest in the project management community.

The research contributed to the body of knowledge in at least five areas. The first three areas are concerned with the combination of existing theories to address gaps noted in the literature. The first contribution presented an interdependent model of project success. This model incorporates a balance of focus on delivery of value, the management of risk and building effective relationships. The second gap was the lack of a dynamic process to identifying the right stakeholders for the right time of the project lifecycle. The refinement of the prototype Stakeholder Circle® and its development for practical use addressed this gap. The third gap related to the personal qualities necessary to build and maintain relationships with key stakeholders. This gap was addressed through an identification of cumulative levels of skills and experience building to ‘wisdom’ – the project manager’s willingness and capability to use the Stakeholder Circle® to build and maintain robust project relationships for project success.

The final two areas are concerned with practical benefits. A decrease in failed projects should benefit organizations and their management through a consequential decrease in wasted funds and resources. The project team should benefit from use of the Stakeholder Circle® methodology and tool by sharing knowledge about each of the stakeholders, and through this sharing, and enhancing the building of team relationships. These experiences can contribute to the growth of the project team members along the path to ‘wisdom’. Through the additional knowledge the project team gains, the organization can increase its ‘knowledge capital’.

The new approaches to project relationship management in the form of the theory implicit in the Stakeholder Circle® methodology and visualization tool should benefit the profession through improving the chances of project success. These approaches should in turn increase the value of projects to organizations, and with their continuing success, improve the reputation of the project management profession.

Download the Thesis

Download a summary of this thesis presented as a PMI Research Conference Paper.

Download the Thesis Research Report Notes, published in:
International Journal of Managing Projects in Business (2007)



Table of Contents

Abstract Table of Contents (with dynamic links)
List of Tables & List of Figures
List of Papers Published
Glossary of Terms
Chapter 1 - Introduction
Chapter 2 - Literature Review and Theoretical Concepts
Chapter 3 - The Stakeholder Circle™ Methodology
Chapter 4 - Research Design
Chapter 5 - Iterative Methodology Refinement
Chapter 6 - Project of Iteration 1 – ‘Pilot’ stage
Chapter 7 - Projects of Iteration 2 – 'Continuous Improvement' stage
Chapter 8 - Projects of Iteration 3 – ‘Validation’ stage
Chapter 9 - Inter-Case Analysis
Chapter 10 - Conclusion References Appendices

Navigation options built into the PDF file include: Bookmarks for each section & Chapter, A dynamically linked Table of Contents, Thumbnails.

PP: Project Relationship Management and the Stakeholder Circle. A dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Project Management (DPM). Dr Lynda Bourne investigated the concept that a project’s success or failure is closely aligned with perceptions of the project held by its key stakeholders; and that project teams can manage these perceptions to create success. The research resulted in a new tool, the Stakeholder Circle® that maps each stakeholder community in a unique way, allowing the project team to effectively focus its stakeholder engagement strategies.


Stakeholder Circle® Books Authored by Dr. Lynda Bourne

Click through to the relevant book page:

Making Projects WorkMaking Projects Work: Effective Stakeholder and Communication Management. Dr. Lynda Bourne: Projects are performed by people for people, with the key determinants of success being the relationships between project teams and project stakeholders. This web of relationships will either enable or obstruct the flow of information between people and, as a consequence, will largely determine project success or failure. See more.

Advising UpwardsAdvising Upwards: A Framework for Understanding and Engaging Senior Management Stakeholders. Dr. Lynda Bourne: Building, and managing, relationships with senior (upwards) stakeholders is essential for success. This requires the activity manager to be skillful at building and maintaining robust relationships, focused on engaging the support of senior executives, understanding their expectations and managing them through targeted communication. See more.

Stakeholder CircleStakeholder Relationship Management A Maturity Model for Organisational Implementation. Dr. Lynda Bourne: This book provides the 'road map' needed to help organizations achieve effective stakeholder engagement in two ways. Firstly, it is a ‘how-to’ book, secondly, it is a guidebook for assessing the current maturity of an organization. See more.

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A course in a book

Communication management template

Work Performance Management

A course in a book

Communication management template