How much or little a project or business decision affects a person, a department or an organization depends on their interest, perspective and stakeholder status. Primary, secondary and tertiary status definitions are among the most common. An opportunity to look at a project or decision from more than one perspective is one of the most important reasons to identify and understand stakeholders.

Stakeholder Analysis

Although every stakeholder has an interest in the outcome of a project or a decision, not everyone has the same expectations. Distinguishing between the different levels via a stakeholder analysis makes identifying and managing differing expectations much easier. In general, the process involves identifying all potential stakeholders, documenting their needs and assessing each stakeholder’s level of interest or influence. Once you have this information, categorize each one as a primary, secondary or tertiary stakeholder.

Primary Stakeholders

A primary stakeholder can be a beneficiary or a target. Beneficiaries refer to individuals who stand to gain -- or lose -- something directly and personally. Targets refer to departments or organizations that stand to gain or lose as a whole. While the primary stakeholders for a software development project are beneficiaries, such as hands-on daily users, a business process redesign most often targets a specific department. Regardless, the needs and expectations of primary stakeholders hold the most importance.

Secondary Stakeholders

Although projects or decisions always affect people or groups identified as secondary stakeholders, the effects -- either positive or negative -- are always indirect. A program to reduce workplace injuries could decrease the time human resources spends creating injury reports, as well as increase overall department productivity. Although the needs and expectations of secondary stakeholders are not as important as with primary stakeholders, they may have as much influence. For example, if a proposed business process redesign in the sales department means it will take longer for the accounting department to receive sales reports, the uproar might cause the redesign to consider an alternative solution.

Tertiary Stakeholders

The final category includes people and groups affected more indirectly then secondary stakeholders. Most often, this group includes the business owner, the public and sometimes federal and state government agencies. Despite this, it’s important to engage tertiary stakeholders, as their opinions and perceptions can determine whether a project succeeds or fails. For example, it’s vital to get a business owner’s support for a mission critical project or a major business decision. In the same way, the public might support or oppose a business decision to relocate to a certain area, based on perceived benefits or risks to the community.