person drawing on stakeholder map template hanging from a wall

The basics of stakeholder mapping

December 15, 2019

A stakeholder map visualizes the ecosystem in which a product or service operates from a specific perspective. This article explains what a stakeholder is, why stakeholder mapping is important and how to create an insightful stakeholder map.


You're a visual learner?

This short video about how to create a stakeholder maps summarizes the most important things you should know.

What is a stakeholder?

A stakeholder is an individual person, a group, an organization or an aspect that has a certain interest in or a relationship to a specific topic or business. A company’s stakeholders can be external (with no direct relationship to the company) or internal (with a direct relationship). Both internal and external stakeholders can have an impact on a company’s actions and operations or be affected by them.

Examples of stakeholders can include:

  • Customers, users, clients
  • Employees, in-house departments
  • Business partners
  • Agencies
  • Shareholders, investors
  • Suppliers  
  • Communities
  • Governmental institutions
  • Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs)
  • Competitors
  • Media
  • Industry Associations
  • … and other individuals and groups that match the criteria mentioned above.

These are just a few examples, and stakeholders can vary depending on the specific context, project, or organization being considered. Identifying and engaging with stakeholders is crucial for effective decision-making, managing relationships, and achieving desired outcomes.

visualization of what a stakeholder is: a person, organization or an aspect with an interest in a topic or business

What is a stakeholder map?

A stakeholder map, also known as a stakeholder analysis, is a visual representation of the ecosystem of stakeholders involved in a customer experience.

Customers interact with many internal and external stakeholders during their journey: they use different products or services, various devices and platforms, communicate with diverse departments through different channels. Stakeholder mapping helps you understand this ecosystem of your product or service.

A stakeholder map is a useful tool because it helps you better understand the ecosystem you are operating in, including the actors who have a certain interest in a topic or business, as well as how they are interconnected.

Stakeholder maps help to understand and visualize who is involved, to reveal existing formal and informal relationships between stakeholders, to identify frictions between them, and to find new business opportunities by establishing new relationships, fostering existing ones, or creating alternatives.

A classic stakeholder map consists of several circles and the more at the center a stakeholder is, the more important they are. The stakeholders’ position might change depending on the project’s goal, such as a map with specific departments for in-house services or employees at the center for projects on employee experience.

A customer-centered service puts the customer at the center of the stakeholder map – because the customer is the most important stakeholder after all. This is also how you can tell whether or not a company acts in a customer-centered way: if the customer is not at the center of a stakeholder map, there is definitely room for improvement.

However you will often come across stakeholder maps that put other stakeholders at the center; this might be a conscious decision, e.g. if the stakeholder is there to optimize employee experience, the employee should be at the center of the map.

To be very precise, there are different types of stakeholder maps, so-called system maps. For details on the difference of stakeholder maps, value network maps and ecosystem maps, have a look at this slide deck.

Stakeholder maps are the output of the activity of stakeholder mapping:

What is stakeholder mapping?

Stakeholder mapping as a systematic process helps organizations identify, categorize, and understand the individuals, groups, or entities that have an interest or influence in a particular project, initiative, or organization.

Thus, stakeholder mapping is the activity of analyzing the parties involved in a service delivery and their interconnections, creating stakeholder maps as an output.

The pure activity of researching the stakeholder network, gathering with a diverse team in a room and analyzing the status quo, holds value in itself. Thus, stakeholder mapping is not only about the output –the stakeholder map– but also about the outcome: better understanding and clear insights.

visualization of what a stakeholder map is: a representation of the ecosystem of stakeholders involved in a customer experience

Stakeholder map examples

Stakeholder maps can be visualized in different forms – we'll deeply elaborate on that later. For now, here are a few examples that help you imagine a stakeholder map.

Stakeholder map example #1: workshop stakeholder map

Manually drawing a stakeholder map on a poster offers a tangible and interactive approach to stakeholder analysis. This hands-on process encourages deeper engagement and collaboration among team members, fostering a shared understanding of complex stakeholder networks. The poster's visual nature allows for easy updates, annotations, and customization, ensuring that the map remains a living reference that evolves alongside project dynamics.

Stakeholder map example #2: sticky notes

Sticky notes are also useful during workshops, if you are not quite sure about the stakeholder maps and their connection yet.

Stakeholder map example #3: digital stakeholder map

Utilizing digital tools for stakeholder mapping enhances collaboration, efficiency, and visualization. These tools facilitate real-time teamwork, automate updates, and create visually compelling representations for improved accessibility and accuracy.

A stakeholder map created in Smaply
Stakeholder map created with

In practice, you will find different forms of visualizations; here's a short overview on different stakeholder mapping techniques for your inspiration.

Why do I need stakeholder mapping?

You need stakeholder mapping because it provides a holistic view of the stakeholders involved in a project or organization. With this understanding, you can effectively manage the various expectations and perspectives at play, collaborate more efficiently, and ultimately make better decisions.

The purpose of stakeholder mapping is to understand the relationships, interests, and influence of various stakeholders in order to effectively engage with them and manage their expectations. It helps in identifying key stakeholders who can significantly impact the project or organization, as well as those who might be affected by it.

Understanding the interactions (or their absence) of customers with internal and external stakeholders allows for a project’s success, deliberately tackling interactions and building a support network.

The greatest benefits of stakeholder mapping are:

  • Identifying key stakeholders
  • Understanding stakeholder interests and concerns
  • Managing relationships
  • Enhancing communication and engagement
  • Mitigating risks and addressing concerns
  • Making informed decisions
  • Enhancing project governance
  • Adapting to change

The value of stakeholder mapping is manifold:

1. Zoom in and focus: You can evaluate your competitors from your customer’s perspective. Or you could illustrate who the external stakeholders are that influence your business.

2. Zoom out: Stakeholder maps can also help you to zoom out and see who you might need to include, or what opportunities or risks you might have overlooked.

3. Designing resilient systems, products or services: You can easily identify relationships or partnerships that could be formed so that your organization leverages several parts of a system and does not rely just on one.

4. Communicate: It can help you communicate to your team and other stakeholders complex information, problems or systems.

Elements of a stakeholder map

Stakeholder maps consist of three basic elements: stakeholders, prioritization, and relationships. Creating a successful stakeholder map involves a structured analysis of these key elements that influence and shape a project's success.

Stakeholders (including personas)

The main actors in your system can be freely arranged on this large circular map. This can include individuals, groups, organizations, or even communities. Their position depends on what you want to visualize, but usually your customer should be in the centre — at least if you try to be a customer-centered organization.

You can visualize your stakeholders in the form of personas.

Prioritization and importance

A stakeholder map provides a determination of the priority or level of importance of each stakeholder based on their influence, interest, or potential impact on the project's success. This helps allocate resources and attention accordingly

Categorize your stakeholder by using three circles on your map. According to your project, this could be for example: “essential – important – interesting” or “internal – external directly – external indirectly”. Use whatever makes sense to structure your ecosystem. After placing your stakeholders on the map, check if they are currently on the position where you really want to have them, or if you need to to adjust your processes and service in order to move them to another field. E.g., is your customer really the most essential and central part of your service development, or do you need to shift your development focus to become more customer-centered?

visualization of the main characteristics of a stakeholder map: stakeholders, prioritized in circles, connected via relationships

Relationships and influence

A stakeholder maps helps to assess the level of influence or power that each stakeholder holds. This can be based on factors such as decision-making authority, financial resources, expertise, or access to key networks.

Stakeholders have certain relationships with each other. In many cases, a transaction or value exchange takes place between them. Use the stakeholder map to illustrate these relations. This will help you to see what stakeholders are connected, and to discover lacks or synergies. For example, if the same transaction happens twice e.g., filling out a form with the same information. Or if some transaction is missing e.g., forwarding information with some department that would need it.

Call to action: Create my free stakeholder map!

Advanced elements of stakeholder maps

For more detailed stakeholder maps, you can also include advanced elements like:

  • Role or Position: Identify the specific roles or positions held by the stakeholders within the project or organization. This helps understand their responsibilities and authority.
  • Interest/Concern: Determine the stakeholders' interests, concerns, or objectives related to the project or initiative. This includes their motivations, expectations, or desired outcomes.
  • Engagement Level: Evaluate the current or desired level of engagement or involvement of each stakeholder. This helps prioritize communication and engagement strategies based on their importance and influence.
  • Communication Channels: Identify the preferred communication channels or methods for engaging with each stakeholder. This can include face-to-face meetings, email, phone calls, social media, or specific platforms.
  • Relationships/Connections: Identify the relationships and connections between different stakeholders. This helps understand alliances, dependencies, or potential conflicts between different stakeholder groups.
  • Attitude/Influence: Assess the overall attitude or stance of each stakeholder towards the project or initiative. This can range from supportive to neutral or even oppositional, indicating their potential influence on the outcome.
  • Expectations/Outcomes: Identify the specific expectations or outcomes desired by each stakeholder. This helps in aligning project goals and strategies with stakeholder needs.

These characteristics can be perfectly visualized by creating a persona for each of the stakeholders.

How to create a stakeholder map?

Creating a stakeholder map involves identifying and categorizing individuals or groups who have an interest in or are affected by a particular project, initiative, or organization. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to create a stakeholder map:

Step 1: Clarify the project focus

In order to create a stakeholder map, it is important to define the scope and goal of your project first. For example: let’s say the scope of your project is to understand and improve the customer experience with your product.

Step 2: Define your stakeholders

Usually you start by researching and analyzing your stakeholders. Create a list of stakeholders that are involved with your product and your customer’s experience.

Red visualization of a stakeholder map with icons and symbols for stakeholders.

Ask yourself: Who are the people or organizations who will influence your product? Who will influence the customer experience? Other stakeholders may come to mind, but if they don’t pertain to the focus of the map – leave them out for now. You can list out stakeholders with post-its or simply write them on a flipchart.

Step 3: Prioritize your stakeholders

Choose a scale and determine the level of importance of the stakeholders.

Categorizing your stakeholders and defining their influence helps you to get a better understanding of their importance. Which of these stakeholders are essential, important or interesting to your project? The prioritization can also be based on other scales like level of influence or level of contact and so forth…

Stakeholders can be prioritized as essential, important or interesting

Step 4: Illustrate the stakeholder map

Sketch the stakeholders on the stakeholder map according to your ranking – the more important they are, the closer they are to the middle of the chart.

Step 5: Understand relationships between stakeholders

Sketch the value exchange between stakeholders using arrows. Visualizing the value exchange between stakeholders helps you to analyze the existing relationships between them. What does each stakeholder provide to the other? It could be products, money, trust, love a smile, etc. Since an exchange is usually two-ways, you will need two arrows connecting the stakeholders. Stakeholders can often exchange more than one type of value.

Red visualization of a potential value exchange and relationships between stakeholders

Step 6: Take different perspectives

Once you’ve built your stakeholder map, now it’s time to analyze it. You do that by taking different perspectives: one perspective you could choose it to look at the customer experience from the lense of your customer. Another perspective could be to look at the customer experience from the perspective of your employee. Test out different perspectives as you analyze the stakeholders and the relationships or value exchanges on the map.

Step 7: Save and update your stakeholder map

If you are using a digital tool for stakeholder mapping like Smaply you can save and edit your map online. But also in the offline world, it makes sense to keep your stakeholder map and update it on a regular basis.

In the end it’s crucial to discuss the stakeholder map with your team and maybe even invite some of the stakeholders to see if your map really reflects the status quo.

Would you like to go into more detail? Get more information on 3 efficient stakeholder mapping techniques, or find some common questions answered in this Ask Marc session about stakeholder maps.

Tools and templates for stakeholder maps

To start creating your first stakeholder maps, you can choose between pen-and-paper and digital solutions.

  • Pen-and-paper templates for stakeholder maps are useful for a quick first draft. We provide such a stockholder mapping template here.
  • Digital stakeholder mapping tools are useful if you want to share your maps or collaborate with your team. You can use the  a pen and paper template to create your digital stakeholder maps – it includes a simple mapping template with a drag-and-drop editor. However, there are also other tools that are great for more advanced mappers, e.g. good old Miro

Cheat sheet for Stakeholder Mapping

Stakeholders are people, companies, software, or anything else that might in some way be connected or have an interest in your company's activities.

To understand the interdependencies it makes sense to create a stakeholder map, where one can visualize the closeness of the relationship as well as the importance, direction of the communication, channels, etc.

Stakeholder map cheat sheet with descriptions and explanations

Download the cheat sheet on stakeholder maps


Stakeholder mapping is a strategic tool used to identify and analyze the various individuals, groups, or organizations that have an interest or influence in a project or organization. It involves understanding their roles, interests, power dynamics, and relationships. By visualizing stakeholders on a map, it helps prioritize engagement efforts, tailor communication strategies, and manage relationships effectively.

Remember that stakeholder mapping is an iterative process, and the information in the map may evolve over time. It's crucial to update and refine the stakeholder map as the project progresses and new stakeholders emerge or existing stakeholders' interests change.

And now, what's next?

Now it's time to practice what you've learned and create your own stakeholder map!

You can use Smaply's stakeholder mapping tool and create stakeholder maps easily with a simple drag-and-drop editor. Both options are free.

Create stakeholder maps with Smaply!