In so many respects project management seems like it would be fairly straightforward. You identify and gather a group of highly skilled people, clarify your goals and objectives, develop a budget, and create a schedule. What could be easier?
The reality is projects do not always go the way we would like them to. We often find ourselves being asked to do more with less and at a faster pace than ever before. Sometimes we are successful in our efforts despite these negating factors. Other times these factors cannot be overcome and contribute to significantly less than optimal results and even project failure. The following is a list of additional factors that contribute to project failure:
Some causes of project failure are beyond anyone's control, but more often than not, we can take courses of action that will help ensure project success. The following is a list of just some of the factors that lead to project success:
Achieving success in project management is simply the result of emphasizing the fundamentals. Many key factors contribute to project success, but three of the most basic — stakeholder identification and analysis, effective communication, identifying project requirements, stakeholder expectations, and scope of work.
A stakeholder is a person, group of people, department, or organization that may be affected either positively or negatively by the execution or delivery of a project. Stakeholders may be actively or passively involved with the project, and they can include individuals or groups such as the following:
These are the people who have a vested interest in the outcome of the project. Identifying stakeholders is especially important during the initial phases of the project, when they can have a great deal of influence. The Project Management Institute's (PMI®'s) guiding document, the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), has devoted four of the forty-seven identified project management processes to stakeholders.
As with many aspects of project management, the easiest way for the project management team to identify stakeholders is to ask questions. Here are a few examples of questions to ask:
Stakeholders may affect or be affected by the project, through a project decision, activity or outcome, or they may simply perceive themselves to be affected by the project's execution. The impact or perceived impact on or of a stakeholder can be either positive or negative in nature.
Most projects have a very large number of stakeholders. Identifying all stakeholders increases the chance of project success. You must secure and document relevant information about their interests, interdependencies, influences, potential involvement, and probable impact on the project definition, execution, and final results. After obtaining this information, classify the stakeholders according to their characteristics. This approach will allow you to focus on key relationships that are critical to project success.1
Stakeholder analysis is the technique of gathering and analyzing information, both quantitatively and qualitatively, to determine who the stakeholders are and whose interest should be taken into account relative to the project. Make sure you identify the interest, expectations, influence, and involvement of various stakeholders relative to the purpose of the project. You might also want to identify stakeholders' alliances that might be used to build partnerships to help ensure project success. Stakeholder analysis involves the following basic actions:
Gather information about them such as the role they might play on the project, the group they are in, what their interest level in the project will be, how their experience and background relates to the project, what they expect out of the project, and how much influence will they be able to exert on the project. Usually key, powerful stakeholders are easy to identify. They are often the ones who have budget and decision-making authority or are in a senior management role. People in this group might include the project sponsor, the project manager, and the primary customers (end users). You can gather and document information by using tools such as interviews and stakeholder registers.
Classify them so that you can develop a strategy to manage each of these stakeholders. There are different ways to classify stakeholders. Classifications and associated models can include the following:
Develop a plan for how to win their support or mitigate negative impacts.
Managing Engagement and Expectations
The engagement level, needs and expectations of individual stakeholders, along with their tolerance for risk, can influence (or even constitute) the constraints of a project. As such, they need to be managed. This involves communicating and working with all stakeholders to influence their expectations, address their concerns, resolve issues, and encourage appropriate levels of engagement. The project manager's role during includes the following activities:
Managing stakeholder engagement increases the chances that the project will be a success by ensuring that stakeholders understand the project benefits and risks. This understanding allows them to actively support the project and help with risk assessment on project decisions. By anticipating stakeholder reaction to the project, you can be proactive with preventative action to win the support of the stakeholders, or at least minimize their potential negative impacts. The benefits of this process can be summarized as follows:
Effective stakeholder engagement depends upon effective project governance. In those cases where a project management office (PMO) exists, the PMO is very likely to provide a governance structure for projects. However, project governance remains an important component of effective stakeholder management even in the absence of a PMO. Project governance structures provide a means of an alignment between the project and the stakeholder objectives. It also enables the alignment of the project's value with the larger organizational business strategies, and gives the project sponsor and project manager a consistent structure for balancing stakeholder objectives and organizational objectives in decision-making.
Simultaneously, the project manager should monitor the effectiveness of their strategies regarding managing the stakeholder's engagement, and make adjustments to their strategies as necessary to sustain appropriate stakeholder relationships.
How do you manage anyone's expectations? Through communication. It is vitally important that there be a welldefined communication plan tailored to fit the project and the project stakeholders.
Communication is a dynamic process. This is true for both intrapersonal and interpersonal communications. Interpersonal communication is made up of a loop, which is comprised of a sender (the transmitter) and a receiver (the original destination).
For interpersonal communication to be effective, the original sender must take their thought and organize it; put it into clear, simple, precise terms; and then send their message. Before they can send it, the message needs to be encoded correctly for the receiver. What does that mean? It needs to be put into a context so that the receiver can understand it. The receiver needs to be able to decode the message correctly. In other words, the receiver needs to "seek first to understand," as Stephen Covey suggests in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
The receiver simply needs to seek to understand what has been communicated to them, rather than add to or take away from it. They need to avoid "spinning it in their mind" in any manner. The receiver may then choose to respond. The response also needs to be encoded correctly and decoded correctly. All of this means that there are potentially four places where this communication loop can break down and become barriers in the communication process.
But these are not the only barriers. Other common barriers include sound, distance, language, dialect, racial, cultural, physical challenges, and even attitude and interest barriers. For the most part, barriers are external to us and easily get in the way of two parties having open communications.
Filtering can also become an obstacle to effective communication. Unlike external barriers, filters are internal to us. For instance, people often carry baggage from one relationship to another. In other words, you may end up filtering a new communication/conversation based upon an old paradigm. Political filters are great way to illustrate this point. When you think of a politician, you're more likely than not to have very strong opinions about them one way or the other. If I were to name a politician and then began to talk about their attributes or the things I do not like about them, potentially you will filter everything I have said based upon your own unique political filter. Unless you are completely apolitical, you have a political filter.
The problem is when we allow filters to go far enough, they become a huge barrier in the form of a prejudice. A partial list of additional common filter/prejudices includes: cultural, racial, educational, gender, gender preference, monetary, positional (within an organization, e.g., management versus non-management), military versus non-military, and contractor versus employee. In order to enhance communication, it is important to recognize that you, and anyone you are communicating with, may potentially have many filters. Only when we bring them to the conscious level can we began to do anything about them. Otherwise they simply remain a barrier.
The information presented so far deals mostly with the "how" of communication. But another common issue has to do with which information needs to be communicated. If the information is too high level, then details will be missed. Project information and the communication plan for it, must be tailored to fit the project and the team doing the work of that project. One component of the discipline of critical thinking is to learn by questioning. The PMI indicates that ninety percent of a project manager's job is communication however, it is not limited to talking, alone. It includes, listening, reading reports, generating reports, filtering information from one group to another, etc. To do this effectively, you need a well-defined communication management plan. The creation of any plan like this can be broken down into six questions that need to be asked continually: Who?, What?, When?, Where?, How?, and Why?
And the most important question of all: Why?
The communication plan should also address the lines of communication, forms and appropriateness, media and distribution methods, international and virtual teams, and even effective meeting practices.
Before beginning your project, make sure you have clarified all goals, objectives, and requirements. Obtaining clarity on what is required and ultimately gaining buy-in from the major stakeholders is crucial. These requirements, along with related goals, objectives, and deliverables, become the scope of work that must be completed and will be refined over the life of your project, but if you do not start with a solid understanding of what you are trying to achieve, you might as well have not begun at all.
Without clarity of what the stakeholders perceive the project to be about and what they expect, achieving success from their point of view will be very difficult, if not impossible. This is why stakeholders must be identified and their expectations analyzed as early in the life of the project as possible.
In order to achieve clarity of the true project requirements and scope of work, as with all aspects that are project related, you need a plan: a plan for requirements, and a plan for scope.
The requirements management plan describes the approach to documenting, assessing, and managing requirements during the project. The project life cycle significantly influences choices about how to manage requirements. The requirements management plan includes the
What causes many errors and can contribute to project failure? Poorly defined requirements do. Many studies indicate this as one of the main issues of project failure. The next question that must be asked then is: What causes poorly defined requirements?
Qualifiers for project requirements include those aspects that are as follows: necessary, verifiable, attainable, unambiguous, complete, consistent, traceable, and assumption-free (as much as is possible). A good practice is also to distinguish between the stated requirements and the true requirements of the project. Additionally, just because someone does not state their requirements verbally does not mean they are any less valid for that person or group.
The scope management plan establishes the guidance for how the scope will be defined, validated, and controlled. A go-to scope management plan can be formal or informal. Based on the needs of the project, it should at least provide guidelines for how to
One problem often encountered regarding stakeholder requirements is that personal expectations are not openly voiced. Many key stakeholders assume that you know what their expectations are. This does not mean that those expectations are any less valid for that person or group of people. As with all aspects of a project, a proactive approach is needed. As previously stated, the project manager must first identify and seek out potential stakeholders in order to make inquiries about their requirements and expectations. Once identified, discussions can begin as to whether those expectations align with the overall project requirements. When you encounter stakeholders whose expectations are not in alignment with project objectives, you must begin open communication with them as soon as possible. At times these conversations will not be easy. A great resource is Kerry Patterson's book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002).
Discussions of this nature often turn into informal negotiations. Two short but excellent resources for these type of conversations are William Ury's Getting Past No: Negotiating with Difficult People (New York: Bantam Books, 1991) and Fisher, Roger, and Ury's Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (New York: Penguin, 2011).
It was once thought a project was successful if it was completed on time, on budget, and with the correct quality intact. While this is still true, in the eyes of stakeholders, there is more to it than that. Before beginning the project, the project manager must ensure that it is based on a solid foundation and that they have buy-in from all key stakeholders. Understanding stakeholder interests and expectations and being aware of how they will align with the true project objectives will often determine whether or not the project is successful, at least in the stakeholders' eyes.
Projects are often complex, made up of a large number of moving pieces, and bring numerous challenges to those involved with them. But, by keeping the three key steps — identification and analysis of project stakeholders; the creation and use of an effective communication plan; and proper identification of project requirements, stakeholder expectations, and accurate decomposition of the scope of work — at the forefront during project planning and execution, the ability to achieve success is greatly enhanced.
Tim McClintock is a speaker, business consultant and certified project management professional (PMP®) who specializes in both strategic business planning and development, as well as tactical management practices across several sectors including corporate clients, governmental agencies, and non-profit organizations. His articles and white papers have appeared in publications such as Business Week, Tech Republic, and Modern Analyst.
He has worked with clients such as Cisco, Intel, Deloitte & Touche, Booz Allen Hamilton, Verizon, Citigroup, Lockheed Martin, Exxon Mobil, MetLife, Sabre, the cities of Chicago, Los Angeles, and Palo Alto, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Security Administration (NSA), Department of Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, General Dynamics, National Institutes of Health(NIH), MITRE Corporation, and the United States military.