Influence Maps
Uncovering Where the Power Lies in Your Projects
Also known as: Social Network Analysis
Many people can have influence over your projects. Some influencers are obvious and easy to spot. Others are less obvious, but are no less significant. If you fail to recognize and "manage" these influencers, you'll most-likely experience unexpected resistance to your projects, and sometimes bewildering failure. This is increasingly the case as you run large projects, and as the number of people affected by your projects increases.

People within your organization, at least, are supposed to work together openly and willingly. However, even here, your boss, your teammates, your customers, your boss's boss - even the CEO's nephew in the mailroom - can all impact you, given certain sets of circumstances.

However people outside your organization have all sorts of interests and motivations that you can't control. Here, knowing who influences who can be critical if you want to get anything done at all.

Influence Mapping
So do you understand who has influence over your projects? Do you know the nature, direction, and strength of these influences? After all, using the normal "chain of command" may not always be the best way to advance your objectives: Knowing who the real influencers are can help you determine where you should put your effort if you really want to succeed.

This is what influence mapping is all about - discovering your project's true stakeholders (not just the obvious ones) and the influence relationships between them. This helps you target the key influencers so that you can win the resources and support you need to reach your goal.

Influence maps are a natural extension of Stakeholder Analysis. Your project's success can depend on identifying its key stakeholders and then managing the various relationships between them. Stakeholders have the power to help or hurt your initiatives, so stakeholder management is an important aspect of project management. For more on this, see our Winning Support for Your Project Bite-Sized Training.

The Elements of an Influence Map
An influence map is a visual model showing the people who influence and make decisions about your project. The map helps you understand how stakeholders relate to one-another, so that you can quickly see the way in which influence flows.

Remember that even the most powerful people rarely act alone. Top executives and other people in authority rely on advisers. Find out who the advisers are, and understand how they operate. This can be vital to your project's success.

There are three main considerations when you construct an influence map:

The importance or weight of a stakeholder's overall influence (represented by the size of the circle representing that stakeholder).

The relationships between stakeholders (represented by the presence of lines or arrows between them).

The amount of influence stakeholders have over others (represented by the heaviness of the lines drawn between them).
Your completed influence map shows the stakeholders with the most influence as individuals with the largest circles. Lines (arrows) drawn to other stakeholders indicate the presence and strength of influence.

We'll use an example to illustrate.

You've proposed a new organizational structure that will encourage people to work in business units with cross-functional teams. You know this is a huge change, and you want to make sure it's well supported within the company before you try to implement it.

The most obvious stakeholders are:

Elizabeth Brown

Dennis Gordon

Director of Marketing
Pamela Enns

Director of Product Development
Jon Evans

Director of Human Resources
Wallace Houston

But are there other stakeholders as well? And who holds influence over whom?

Upon further investigation, here's what you discover:

The entire HR team will be important to the reorganization - but not just the director of HR. Francis Beaton, the newly hired change agent, will be especially important.

Elizabeth Brown has worked with Jon Evans for over 15 years, and she values Jon's input on strategic initiatives.

The board of directors is chaired by a longtime associate of Jon Evans. Like Elizabeth Brown, the board chair values Jon's opinions and has never objected to any initiative Jon has ever backed.

Wallace Houston and Dennis Gordon have a history of conflict. This is because Dennis was very late to realize HR's strategic value. Dennis still has difficulty spending money on HR projects, which he considers to be "soft" expenses. Getting Dennis's buy-in is critical if you want the financial resources needed for the change.
So when you look more closely, you can identify additional people who will have an impact on your reorganization plan. And not everyone has the same influence.

The resulting influence map looks something like this:

Drawn using SmartDraw. Click for free download.

This influence map clearly shows how important Jon Evans is to the success of your restructuring plan. It also indicates that you should spend energy on gaining support from Wallace Houston and Dennis Gordon before moving on to other executives.

Before you thought about stakeholder influences, you might have assumed that the CEO and CFO had the most influence on organization-wide change. But the influence map shows you that this is probably not for the case in this situation.

Influence is not static. It changes over time, just like the circumstances surrounding each project or decision. If you create influence maps at regular intervals, you'll chart these differences and gain a much greater appreciation for the way decisions are made. This will help you to smooth the decision making process and be more effective.

Creating an Influence Map
Follow these steps to construct an influence map.

Step One: Prepare a stakeholder analysis. This helps you identify, prioritize, and understand your key stakeholders.

Step Two: For each stakeholder, find out the following:

Whom does he or she influence, and who influences him or her?

How strong is that influence?

What is the history of each relationship? How does this impact overall influence?

What role does hierarchy play in the amount of influence?
Step Three: Map the importance of influence using the size and position of the circles. The largest circles belong to stakeholders with the most influence. Where possible, place the most influential stakeholders at the top of the page, and put less influential people lower down.

Step Four: Map the direction of influence by drawing arrows to link the stakeholders. (These may be one-way or two-way, depending on whether influence flows to the same extent in both directions).

Step Five: Map the strength of influence by using thicker lines to indicate stronger influence.

In some situations, the person who signs off projects or purchases may not actually be the most influential person in the network. For example, a Head of Purchasing might always accept the recommendations of the IT Department.

In this case, it's worth marking who has sign-off authority on your map, however, it's worth checking quite carefully that they really are as influenced by others as the others claim!

Step Six: Study the map, and identify stakeholders with the most overall influence. Form a stakeholder management plan that will allow you to communicate with, and hopefully influence, these important influencers.

Step Seven: Map these influence relationships on a regular basis. This way, you'll better understand the dynamics of decision making relating to your project.

Key Points
Influence maps are important visual models of the key people and relationships that impact a project or decision. (Don't make the mistake of thinking that hierarchy or traditional lines of authority are always the routes by which decisions are made.)

Take the time to uncover the underlying relationships and influence that key stakeholders have. With this insight, you can tap into the real sources of power and persuasion.

While this is something that people do intuitively in small projects, it's something that you'll need to do actively for larger projects. This is particularly the case in projects that involve people outside your organization.