PM Articles > PM Perspectives > Holistic Methodologies: Odd bed partners (Six Sigma and PMLC/SDLC), but Harmonious Relatives

Holistic Methodologies: Odd bed partners (Six Sigma and PMLC/SDLC), but Harmonious Relatives


Stakeholder Risk Analysis Using Forcefields

When looking at the risk profile of a project, teams primarily focus on the risk of doing the project and -- as mentioned in a prior article -- failure modes regarding product features. In this article we will explore another risk dimension that's just as important. “If you build it they will come” may work in movies, but it does not always work when delivering the product of a project.

I once inherited a project with a significant price tag that the customer told me they would not use even when it was delivered. This project was the brainchild of an executive, but that executive did not take the time to ask for customer input. Instead, software was delivered based on his/her own agenda ... with disastrous consequences.

How do you build consensus on a product delivery? Typically, the answer is one customer/stakeholder at a time. When you go for broad consensus and sign off on what to build there should be no surprises. However, along the way a straight answer may not always be forthcoming, or you may get an answer with a passive aggressive response. Perhaps it is more benign; the customer simply doesn’t know what they want until they see it.

When seeking to make a revolutionary change or implement a weakly supported product, it is difficult to quantify the level of support one has or one will need to move forward until this tool. Using Force Field Analysis will assist with subjective quantification. Understanding the level of support or consensus that exists, along with the reasons why people are or are not supporting the scope, can be very important to obtain buy-in and approval for the project and resulting product.

Force Field Analysis Overview

Fundamentally, Force Field Analysis is a way to determine what the enablers or detractors are for a successful project. In traditional Force Field Analysis these forces can be people, processes, procedures, tools, etc. For this article, the focus will be on people (Entities). Below is a high-level depiction of a force field. The length or color of the arrows can depict the level of importance of the topic. Empirical values can be used to quantify the force field +/- energy levels similar to how risk prioritization values are calculated.

Force Field Analysis

Calculation Method

By summing the two values (Support Level and Impact to Success) a Total Entity Risk Level can be derived. The user can then determine which entities can be used to drive success or need to be mitigated in order to proceed with the project.

We quantify the overall risk score using addition rather than multiplication because the range of the overall score could result in a negative number. Summing the values protects the +/- Total Entity Risk Level. (In contrast, traditional risk prioritization scores always result in a positive number.)

Force Field Analysis


An Entity in this case is a stakeholder, person, team, customer, or agency which through their actions can either support or actively prevent project initiation or progress. The following scale is suggested, ranging from an Ardent Supporter to a Staunch Detractor with grades in between. (However other scoring models can be used as appropriate to your needs.)


Reasoning contains a description of why the stakeholder/entity has been cataloged as a threat or advocate for the project. Be specific regarding the reasoning, as it will aid the mitigation of the threat or leverage of any advocacy approach you select.

Support Level and Impact

The provided template suggests the following scoring model, but you can use your own as needed.

Support Level
Score Support Level
5 Strongly in favor; Will go out of their way to convince others (Champion / Ardent Supporter)
4 Will actively persuade others if asked (Advocate)
3 In favor and committed to the success of the project (Facilitator)
2 Agreeable; will take action to support (Consensus builder)
1 Agreeable; will take no action (bought-in)
0 Neutral (Ambivalent)
-1 Will take no action to block - (May be convinced)
-2 Will not take action to block - (Cannot be convinced)
-3 Will take action to block - (Threat to success)
-4 Will try to convince others not to proceed (Detractor)
-5 Vehemently opposed -Will go out of their way to prevent (Staunch Detractor)
Impact to Success or Influence level
Score Impact to Success
5 Critical to success
4 Significant success factor
3 Major success factor
2 Moderate success factor
1 Minor impact - Positive
0 No impact either way
-1 Minor impact - impediments may occur
-2 Moderate impact - Challenged
-3 Major impact - Impediments expected
-4 Significant impact - Proceed with Caution
-5 Critical - Cannot proceed

In addition to the continuum above, an entity's impact on project success also needs to be taken into consideration. An example to consider could be a staunch detractor may have very little influence directly on the project, but may influence others who do. Conversely, a person or team who is an ardent supporter who is not involved with the project could be used as an advocate to influence others who could have a major impact that may be swayed by the advocate. Entities that exert a positive or supportive influence on the project are rated with positive numbers, while those who could impede or damage the project are rated with negative numbers.

Mitigation/Advocacy Approach

After quantifying the Total Entity Risk Level, the level of effort can be rationalized to determine next steps to mitigate or leverage the advocacy the entity/stakeholder can yield. Some examples may be to bring several stakeholders together to reinforce the consensus or conversely to bring a staunch advocate and a staunch detractor together to sort out their differences.

User Beware

It is clear that when making subjective judgments regarding individual or team opinions, fact or supposition can lead to some challenging interpersonal dynamics. It is highly recommended that the contents of this tool should be kept highly confidential when completed, and only used to develop a strategy for mitigation and consensus building. I typically keep this document separate from other project documents due to its sensitivity.

Usage across the SDLC


Stakeholder risk analysis is most important during the Initiation or Discovery phase of a project, when the level of buy-in is most at risk and funding and approvals are still uncertain. Initiation is also when stakeholders are being identified; therefore this tool can be used to determine the level of effort to obtain buy-in or consensus before seeking approval to move to planning. This tool can also be used to determine an approach with each stakeholder or collection of stakeholders for pitching or selling the initiative.


New stakeholders may be identified during the planning phase as the requirements are solidified. Force Field Analysis has a lower priority during Planning than in the Initiation phase, but it still may have a use if planning yields a change in direction or scope that impacts the relationship with existing or new stakeholders.


From a risk analysis perspective, the role of the stakeholder changes from buy-in to managing expectations during delivery. Has the support level of any stakeholder changed due to a missed milestone? Are there dynamics at play that are delivery driven which need to be addressed?


During Closeout, the role of Force Field Analysis changes yet again, from managing expectations to a retrospective data gathering method. This is also a good way to review whether your subjective assumptions regarding the stakeholder's relationship and support levels were valid from Initiation through Execution and Delivery of the product. A review of the mitigation steps used will also help determine if the chosen approaches were the right ones to take.

Alternative Use

We have discussed the use of Force Field Analysis for stakeholder risk analysis. Another possible usage could be to quantify the level of buy-in against the popularity of specific requirements or features delivered through the product of the project. This is important for ensuring the project “build something they will want to come to” use and see value in. Finally, when scope is the primary constraint and something has to be cut, who will be the most impacted by that and what impact might that have on the overall support of the project? Force Field Analysis can help you weigh those tradeoffs.

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