In my first column, we established that the design of customer communication documents (including paper, web, SMS, etc.) is always about people — managers, project teams, internal stakeholders, end users and customers. Each step of the way, success is measured by how well your project satisfies people. In the second column, we discussed the value of involving stakeholders in your projects and made the case for making sure they stay actively engaged throughout the project.

The most effective way to engage stakeholders is to organize a knowledge team, made up of representatives of each stakeholder department — a team with goals and responsibilities. The knowledge team should be your design team's primary source of information about their functional areas and they should critique your design at critical points throughout the project. So, how do we choose the knowledge team?

As you are identifying your knowledge team members, it may be useful to think of them in three groups — primary, secondary and tertiary stakeholders. Doing so helps us bridge the gap between how we have traditionally thought about stakeholders and how we should think of them to optimize stakeholder relationships.

Primary stakeholders (often referred to as "users") are those who are affected directly by the document being designed — they are direct beneficiaries of the project and they would naturally come to mind for inclusion on the knowledge team. For example, if we are designing bills and statements, the billing and collections departments are obviously primary stakeholders since the bill is a delivery vehicle for customer payment requirements, documentation of account status, past due messaging, disclosures and expectation-setting content that supports the collection process.

Secondary stakeholders are those who enjoy benefits from a document, which is primarily produced to serve someone else's needs. In the previous billing example, the marketing department would fall into this category. If the bill gives a favorable impression of the company, is well-organized and is easy to navigate and understand, it creates an environment in which cross-selling and up-selling can be done successfully, thus, supporting marketing's needs.

Tertiary stakeholders are those who do not benefit directly or indirectly from the document but who are affected by the document's design. These stakeholders are often overlooked when putting together a knowledge team. Examples of this kind of group would include the IT department who provides data for the document and all of the services necessary to generate it, as well as the print production department, which is responsible for its printing and distribution. These stakeholders are not only affected by the document's design, they are also a vital source of knowledge regarding implementation, feasibility, affordability, etc. The company's risk managers, including legal and compliance, are another example of tertiary stakeholders. In our billing example, they need to be included to ensure that the document adheres to the company's legal standards and meets all applicable regulatory requirements.

In short, all departments who either affect or are affected by the document are stakeholders and should be represented on the knowledge team. There is a great temptation to omit at least some of the tertiary stakeholders from this team and simply check with them at the end of the project "to see if you missed anything." It's best to understand, before you start, that if all of your stakeholders are not engaged throughout the entire project, you will have missed a lot by the time you reach the end, and correcting oversights will be far too expensive, time-consuming and politically risky.

GEORGE R. WILLIAMS [] has over 30 years of experience in the computer field, has extensive marketing and sales experience and has been a consultant in the application and marketing of technology for more than 15 years.


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