Is it possible for a project to prosper and be acknowledged as a resounding success if it exceeds initial estimates, takes longer to deliver than first planned, and delivers less functionality than originally hoped for? Absolutely! Can the stakeholders in such a venture enjoy their just rewards? Of course! Is it possible for a project to miss all of its initial targets and still be considered a triumph? Without a doubt! The answer to this paradox lies in the decision-making process and who gets to call the shots – the stakeholders.
Change is amorphous. The exact end result is a dream. The way to that dream is a cauldron of competing interests, perceptions, personalities and priorities. A change doesn’t come out of someone’s head fully formed. It doesn’t emerge from a planning meeting signed, sealed and delivered. It has to be moulded, shaped, poked and prodded into its ultimate form by the people who have to live with the results – the stakeholders.
What’s a stakeholder? In the context of this discussion, it is a decision maker who:
o Directs an organization that initiates, is affected by or is charged with managing all or part of a change,
o Has the authority and responsibility to set direction, establish priorities, make decisions, commit money and resources
o Is accountable for delivering the planned benefits on budget and on plan.
Stakeholder involvement and commitment is one of the most important ingredients for successful business and technology change. Without it, a project is doomed.
Let’s look at a couple of examples. For those of you who have had a house built from scratch, you know there are thousands of decisions that need to be made, from the fundamental ones dealing with location, lot size and shape and the size and structure of the buildings to selection of hardware for the kitchen cabinets, lighting fixtures and door hardware and everything in between. Every one of these decisions can influence the final cost by thousands of dollars, up or down. The examples below are real life situations. Just substitute your project of choice for the house building exercise to relate them to your own major change experiences.
Couple A, who I’ll call the Dissatisfieds, went through the building process and were very unhappy with the end result. Couple B, the Satisfieds, went through the building process and were thrilled with the results. In both cases, the final cost was well over budget but work was completed on target. The Dissatisfieds received everything they wanted in terms of the specified form and features. The Satisfieds actually ended up with a somewhat smaller house than originally planned. Why the difference in attitude towards the final outcome? Stakeholder involvement in the decision-making process from beginning to end made all the difference!
There were seven stakeholders involved in both projects: the homeowners, husband and wife (sponsors), the architect and contractor (change agents) and the neighbours on either side plus the building inspector (targets). In the Dissatisieds’ situation, most of the decisions were made by the architect and implemented by the contractor. They involved the owners minimally and the neighbours not at all. The owners didn’t ask, the architect and contractor didn’t tell! When the over budget bills started coming in, the owners directed their wrath at the architect who blamed it on the contractor. The neighbours directed their wrath at the owners for the constant noise, dirt and dust and the location and size of the buildings. One of the neighbours actually sold their house and moved away. The building inspector lost most of his hair and spent many sleepless nights trying to deal with and resolve issues after the fact. Relationships were frayed all around. It was not a successful result!
In the Satisfieds’ situation, the owners were actively involved with the other stakeholders from the planning stages on. When there was an issue that could affect the cost, environment or delivery date, they were all engaged and a collective decision was made. Yes, they spent more than planned and delivered less than planned. But, they could point to the incremental costs and smaller house with confidence that they had, collectively, made hundreds of right decisions along the way leading to the end result that they wanted. The builder was pleased with the process and the outcome and used the Satisfieds as a reference for prospective clients. The neighbours were involved throughout and happy with the result. The building inspector was a constructive and contented partner. And of course, the owners were ecstatic! Active stakeholder involvement! It made all the difference.
How do you go about creating that winning stakeholder group? There are thousands of organizations that focus on effective project and change management, lots of books and a veritable avalanche of periodicals and articles about both subjects. But there are few, if any, tools that focus exclusively on stakeholders – until now!
Project Pre-Check provides a unique practice for stakeholders that is easy to learn, easy to apply and quick to deliver value. Stakeholders can garner meaningful insight into a project’s strengths and weaknesses in a matter of days. The results provide a comprehensive platform for pro-active and remedial action that ensures the focus is always on the real goal – delivering targeted benefits to the organization.
So, if you’re a stakeholder in a planned or in-progress change and you want to ensure that the project is a success, put the Project Pre-Check building blocks to work: an effective stakeholder group, defined and proven processes that the stakeholders can apply and the Decision Framework, a mechanism for quickly leveraging industry best practices that stakeholders can use in their decision-making deliberations.
Drew Davison is the owner and principal consultant at Davison Consulting and a former system development executive. He is the developer of Project Pre-Check, an innovative framework for launching projects and guiding successful project delivery, the author of Project Pre-Check – The Stakeholder Practice for Successful Business and Technology Change and Project Pre-Check FastPath – The Project Manager’s Guide to Stakeholder Management. He works with organizations that are undergoing major business and technology change to implement the empowered stakeholder groups critical to project success.