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.

Here is a quick overview on how to create and analyze a stakeholder map.

If you are looking for more detailed information, take a look at the rest of this article. Here we will provide you with the most important information about stakeholder maps and how to work with them. We will cover the following questions:

What is a stakeholder?

visualization of what a stakeholder is: a person, organization or an aspect with an interest in a topic or business
Stakeholders help you to understand which actors have a certain interest in a topic or business and how the relationship looks like.

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.

For example, your customer or an employee could be a traditional stakeholder, but also the government and service providers, or even something like a digital platform or device can be considered a stakeholder nowadays.

What is a stakeholder map?

A stakeholder map is a visual representation of the ecosystem of stakeholders involved in a customer experience. It helps to understand 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.

visualization of what a stakeholder map is: a representation of the ecosystem of stakeholders involved in a customer experience
A stakeholder map helps you better understand the ecosystem you are operating in and how the stakeholders are interconnected.

Stakeholder mapping helps you understand this ecosystem of your product or service. 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.

For details on the difference of stakeholder maps, value network maps and ecosystem maps, have a look at this slide deck.

Why do I need stakeholder mapping in my organization?

Stakeholder maps can be used to analyze and understand who is involved in a project or organization, and how these people, organizations and aspects are connected. Most projects are influenced by a large number of different stakeholders. Understanding their perspectives and how they are connected can help to better manage the different expectations.

visualization of why an organization needs stakeholder maps: zoom in, zoom out, create resilient systems and communicate
Stakeholder mapping can offer valuable insights about organizations and their position in the ecosystem.

Stakeholder maps provide four different types of value:

1. Zoom in and focus:

You could use the tool to evaluate your competitors from your customer’s perspective. Or you could illustrate who the external stakeholders are that influence your business.

2. Zoom out

Depending on how you use them, 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

With a stakeholder map 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

Lastly, it can help you communicate to your team and other stakeholders complex information, problems or systems.

Characteristics of a stakeholder map

visualization of the main characteristics of a stakeholder map: stakeholders, prioritized in circles, connected via relationships
Stakeholder maps consist of three main characteristics: stakeholders, prioritization in circles and the interconnection via relationships.

Stakeholders (including personas)

The main actors in your system can be freely arranged on this large circular map. 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.

Categorize in circles

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?


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!

How to analyze stakeholders and create a stakeholder map?

Step 1: The focus of your project

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

Typically, you start by 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.
Creating a list of stakeholders is a good starting point.

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.

Stakeholders can be prioritized as essential, important or interesting
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…

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.

Red visualization of a potential value exchange and relationships between stakeholders
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.

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 mtapping techniques in this related article, or find some common questions answered in this Ask Marc session about stakeholder maps.

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 your cheat sheet on stakeholder maps to put on your desk as a reminder.

And now, what's next?

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

You can do this with a pen and paper template, or 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 a stakeholder map with Smaply!