Know Thy Stakeholders
©2020, George J. Irwin. All rights reserved.

It was well before I was an official Black Belt that I learned how critical it was to understand what people who were affected by process change felt about that.

This is the basis of Stakeholder Analysis, a tool that is important as any in the Lean Six Sigma overstuffed toolbag, and yet just doesn’t seem to get the credit it deserves. You can have all the statistical evidence you want to prove that changing a process is the right thing to do, but if you don’t have buy in from the people who need to make it happen, that evidence means statistically close to zero.

A common mistake I’ve seen is underestimating the number of stakeholders. It’s relatively easy to name the roles that would be directly impacted by a process change, but what about those who provide input to that process, or receive output from that process? If an investment in time or money is needed, are those who authorize those decisions on board? Do they even know that there’s a Lean Six Sigma project going on? Are the end customers of the overall process engaged? For example, I once led a project to help speed up the payment of commissions to salespeople—and you know how they are about commissions—but I had to insist that someone be available to represent them, if only as a proxy, to confirm that they knew what I was doing and agreed. (Which, naturally, they did.)

Stakeholder Analyses can be extensive; in fact, our friends in sales who are good at collecting those commissions do them rigorously to see if it’s even worth pursuing an opportunity. At a point in my career when I was in pre-sales, I took a course on this. We can keep it a bit simpler for our purposes, though.

First, we need to know the name and role of each stakeholder. Then we need to estimate where they fall on the spectrum from totally opposed to totally supporting. I like to use the same terms as exist for Net Promoter Scores: Detractor, Neutral, and Promoter. (Your nomenclature may vary.) Then, we need an action for each stakeholder. Yes, even if they are firm Promoters—what is needed to keep them in your corner? Among those in Neutral, are there steps to move them over to the Promoter column? (For example, simply briefing them on the project and its benefits?) And with respect to those dangerous Detractors, is there anything you can do? Or do you need to find a way around them, or simply have them overruled by Promoters above them in the hierarchy?

It’s not realistic to expect that everyone who might be impacted by a Lean Six Sigma Project are going to spend time cheerleading it on your behalf. For one thing, they’ve got Day Jobs. But for the greatest chance of success, the Champion and Sponsor should be solid Promoters along with some who actually work the process. The rest can be Neutral, and you’ll bring them along. Too many Detractors, or just one in a high place in the decision process, and you’d best do some homework before getting too far in the project.

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