Passions can run high when it comes to project management. Project office members typically have a lot invested, from maintaining the support of a hard-to-please executive team to a desire to ensure the PMO’s customer satisfaction remains high. Stakeholders may have different types of concerns—whether the project will really deliver the results they hope for, if their workflow will feel unanticipated impacts, etc.—but their commitment to the project and its achievables is often just as strong. Continue reading STRATEGIES TO DEAL WITH ANGRY PROJECT STAKEHOLDERS
Successfully executing a project—particularly those that are complex, long, or highly disruptive—requires serious commitment. That means stakeholders and sponsors must be as dedicated as the PMO team is to seeing the project through to the end. Unfortunately, the necessary level of commitment can sometimes be difficult to attain (and maintain). Continue reading DON’T LET LACK OF COMMITMENT DOOM YOUR PROJECT
Most project management professionals have been there: the project that never seems to actually begin. Stakeholders take their time negotiating what they need and where they can compromise. The PMO may be asked to draft multiple iterations of timelines, budgets, and even potential vendor lists. Discussions go on and on. The planning continues to be drawn out and the team isn’t able to get to work.
It’s a difficult situation for everyone. End users aren’t sure when anticipated work disruptions will begin. Stakeholders don’t know when they can look forward to everything being done. It’s likely no one involved is clear on what the project’s objectives will be.
One significant risk for those within the PMO is burnout from being in extended limbo. Teetering on the brink of beginning of project for too long saps morale and energy. It’s an issue that can negatively affect productivity across the board.
To ensure the team’s forward momentum doesn’t suffer, preparation fatigue is something the PMO’s leadership should be ready to address and mitigate as soon as it appears. A handful of strategies can be helpful in keeping everyone focused and engaged.
Reduce the size of the team. The moment it becomes obvious that the planning phase will be protracted, team members should be reassigned to other efforts. This helps to eliminate the anxiety created by stalled discussions and extended negotiations. Rather than keep everyone on a project when their efforts aren’t yet required, it’s better to allow them to contribute to other activities that will help the team move forward while enabling individuals to continue honing their skills and gaining experience. By reducing the number of team members, those that remain on the pending project will also be able to take greater ownership of the duties that still exist and be more tightly focused on making progress.
Provide regular updates. Even after team members have been reassigned to other projects, they’re still likely to be keeping an eye on how the discussions are coming along. To prevent their time from being occupied with routinely checking in for information on where things stand, it’s often helpful to implement a schedule for sending out updates to all those team members who will be involved in supporting the project once it’s officially underway. Take an extra step toward reducing the potential for distraction by letting everyone know when they can expect to receive updates—weekly, monthly, etc.—and who will be sending them. This eliminates as much uncertainty as possible and provides the team with reassurance they won’t miss out on important status reports.
Develop a kickoff protocol. Team members can’t really devote their full attention to other activities if there’s a constant undercurrent of concern that their efforts will need to return to the stalled project at any moment. Eliminating this ambivalence can often be accomplished by setting a formal kickoff protocol that lets everyone know the project is finally ready to start. It doesn’t need to be an elaborate system. How the protocol is structured will depend largely on the organization, but it may begin with something as simple as letting the team know the project has been assigned its own capital budget number or that signature authority has been officially delegated to the project leader. Whatever the protocol entails, be sure it’s outlined for everyone in the PMO so they know what to look for and will recognize it when they see it. It’s another strategy to help team members dedicate their efforts to other projects, comfortable in the knowledge they’ll be alerted as soon as the stalled project is ready to move forward.
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Seeing a project through from initial planning to completion is a big job. Challenges can come from many angles—stakeholders with ever-changing needs, vendors with busy schedules, and sometimes even executives with competing priorities or difficult strategic objectives to support.
One thing project management professionals know is that overcoming these obstacles becomes monumentally more difficult if the project isn’t tightly aligned with the organization’s overall goals or mission. A disconnect, even a relatively small one, can significantly dampen enthusiasm and engagement. It often leaves the project team on its own, with little meaningful support from the very stakeholders it needs most.
Unfortunately, it isn’t always obvious that the project’s problem revolves around misalignment with the organization’s wider objectives. This is particularly true when an executive has made the project into a personal pet (giving the appearance of support without formal buy-in), or when market pressures or other influences have changed the company’s course and affected the project’s relevance.
If your PMO is sensing support for a project has wavered but the cause isn’t clear, see if these telltale signs sound familiar.
Funding is difficult to secure. Getting money approved for projects is often a tough task even when stakeholders are eager and supportive, however, a PMO that’s constantly bumping up against resistance for even baseline funding should take a step back and figure out why. Projects that aren’t closely linked to the organization’s mission may look good on paper but may not pass the business case test. It’s also possible that stakeholders will express encouragement for the project but won’t be able to prioritize it over competing initiatives (which may be better aligned with the company’s current strategic direction).
You’re repeatedly asked to present the business case for the project. This may be due to other factors, such as a simple lack of understanding on the part of those reviewing the business case, but it could also be a symptom of an organization that isn’t quite convinced the project is worth the effort. Evaluate your communication strategy to see if your approach is lacking. Determine where you can provide more concrete details about how the project serves the organization’s wider goals. It may be as straightforward as asking stakeholders if they’re looking for additional justification points or specific data related to the project.
Your project has been shuffled between different budgets or business units. Sometimes dollars or initiatives need to move to a more fitting home, but this type of reorganization could spell trouble if it happens repeatedly. It may point to a company that believes in the project in principle but can’t quite seem to make it fit in with the current mission. If one or more reshuffles gives you cause for concern, consider working to align the project with the goals of a particular department or functional area. These will sync up with the organization’s overall mission on some level and your business case may be better received by the group you’re directly partnering with on a daily basis.
Scope creep is the order of the day. As annoying as scope creep is, it can be extremely useful as a harbinger of mission misalignment. Stakeholders sometimes begin by suggesting a series of changes to objectives and they’re often unusually receptive to deadline extensions for critical milestones. On the end user side of the project, your team is likely to receive requests for achievables that weren’t discussed during the project’s initial planning phase. Overall, scope creep associated with unaligned high-level objectives may look like the organization is seeking a project that’s nearly unrecognizable compared to the one that was actually approved.
Project management training tips provided by PMAlliance Inc.
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A strong culture of project advocacy contributes significantly to repeatable success. But sometimes even savvy PMOs discover their advocacy efforts are falling short. See if any of these 6 warning signs sound familiar. They may signal it’s time for your project management team to double down on developing better project advocacy habits.
1 – Stakeholders express surprise as the project’s approved objectives. It’s common for a project’s objectives to evolve as planning gets underway, and some may be trimmed or eliminated once budget and other operational discussions begin. However, if team members are actively engaged in their role as advocates, stakeholders won’t be surprised by these events. User input and concerns should be solicited throughout the process, with strong two-way communication channels keeping everyone in the loop on what’s expected, what’s possible, and why particular requests have been pulled from consideration.
2 – End users aren’t interested in attending project meetings or presentations. These groups should be eager to know what’s happening, so if they’re dismissive of invitations your team should take notice. They may feel they’re too disconnected from the process or that the project’s objectives don’t match what they were hoping for. End user participation should normally be robust, and it’s something your PMO can encourage at all stages in the project. If this stakeholder group disengages at any point, it may indicate a failure in your team’s advocacy efforts.
3 – Few in the PMO interact with end users. Communication channels are often necessarily constricted—to maintain consistency of information, to streamline operations, to ensure necessary approvals are given before news is released, etc.—but day-to-day interactions should still be the norm, not the exception. Good advocates get out from behind their desks and make a point to reach out to end users and other stakeholders regularly. Even if your PMO has identified one or two point people to act as primary project advocates, everyone on the team should work to engage stakeholders and ensure the project is successful.
4 – Stakeholders are unwilling to accommodate work disruptions. Anytime operations are disturbed or impacted it’s an inconvenience for users. But if your PMO has been doing a good job of cultivating an environment of advocacy, stakeholders should not only be in the know about planned disruptions but should also be supportive of accommodating them. The reason? When the culture nurtures project advocacy, stakeholders are full partners, and are eager to see the project’s benefits come to fruition.
5 – The leadership team micromanages the PMO’s inner workings. Worries may crop up when executives aren’t well informed about the project team’s operations, or if they see different protocols applied to different projects. No matter where concerns originate, it’s crucial the PMO boosts its advocacy role and views the leadership team as another stakeholder group (though one with slightly different needs and expectations). Better communication will provide a starting point, followed by interactive discussions about the concerns, education on how operations are carried out, and ongoing engagement to ensure that any worries have been addressed.
6 – Budget or contract processes are slow-moving or filled with glitches. While this may point to other concerns—lack of project support from the executive team, for example—there’s also a strong possibility that poor advocacy efforts are playing a role. Project advocates should be proactively working with internal partners to ensure all necessary hand offs of go smoothly, that questions are answered early in the process, and that any requests for additional information are addressed as quickly as possible. This keeps administrative issues moving forward and prevents them from interfering with the project’s progress.
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There are many ways to get team members involved in project advocacy “Getting others on the project advocacy train”, but most of those only go so far. To really support the principles on an ongoing basis, your PMO should embody a culture of advocacy, where every project management team member understands their role and embraces it. It may sound overwhelming, but it doesn’t need to be. We’ve put together a handful of tips to help nurture project advocacy from the ground up.
Address advocacy missteps quickly. If you spot a team member overlooking an opportunity to reinforce their role as an advocate “3 ways project advocates miss the mark”, simply mention it to them. With hectic schedules and a full workload, they probably didn’t realize their actions were off the mark and will likely appreciate the reminder. Consider including advocacy refreshers and tips during routine team meetings, so the message within your PMO remains consistent.
Connect stakeholders—champions, end users, team members, etc.—as often as possible. First, understand this means there should be a good percentage of project meetings that are open to people outside your PMO. Next, whenever stakeholders have been invited to a team meeting, ensure time is set aside to acknowledge their presence (particularly important in large projects, where external project management consulting experts or other outside collaborators may not know everyone in the room), and provide them with an opportunity to ask questions, raise issues, or provide information.
Identify end users as partners. As PMOs deal with busy schedules and projects that are likely competing for some of the same internal resources, it’s far too easy to fall into the trap where team members begin to view project champions as the real customers, and end users as simply those people who will be affected by each project’s achievables. Instead, encourage everyone in your PMO to treat end users as fully-vested partners.
Provided by PMAlliance project management training tips.
We’ve already covered why consensus doesn’t equal project success [“Why consensus doesn’t always equal project success (and what you can do about it)”], but stakeholders who claim to have reached consensus when they really haven’t can also be a problem for project teams. Use our list to see if disagreement is lurking among your stakeholders.
1– Key stakeholders no longer attend strategic meetings. It’s far easier to feign agreement when you don’t actually sit in on essential planning sessions and other discussions. Even with a busy schedule and other groups competing for their attention, a stakeholder who’s comfortable with a project’s progress and direction will still make time to occasionally attend team meetings and offer face-to-face support.
2 – Final funding still hasn’t been approved. We all deal with garden-variety corporate delays, but if your key stakeholders have influence over budget matters and you still haven’t received the money you need, it could be a worrying sign. Your champion may disagree with the project’s direction, or could be withholding support in a bid to get their way on a key decision that’s still pending.
3– Negativity rules every discussion. A stakeholder who constantly questions the team’s ability to succeed almost certainly disagrees with some portion of the project plan. In the absence of support, they resort to criticism.
4– Strategic discussions continually circle back to the most basic elements of the project. When stakeholders aren’t satisfied with the more advanced portions of your project management team’s proposal, it’s common for them to return to those aspects everyone does agree on (without making progress on the more contentious issues, unfortunately).
5– Contingency planning is being discouraged. Examining the risk of glitches and making arrangements to address potential issues is a vital aspect of project management, but stakeholders may try to stymie these activities if they aren’t sure you’re on the right path in the first place.
A popular tactic of stakeholders who don’t really want to commit, “leaderless” projects are those that end up being turned over to entire groups of end users to babysit, and often result in nightmares for Project Managers. Below are a handful of scenarios that could tell you you’re facing a leaderless project.
Approval authority has been delegated to more than one person. On the surface this looks like empowerment, but deep down you may discover the project’s primary champion has simply eliminated their role and effectively left a host of others in charge without giving them the true authority to keep the project moving forward. Leadership-by-committee works for a while, but if difficult decisions must be made it’s likely no one will feel they are in a position to have the final word.
No one seems to have approval authority. A number of individuals may have been tasked with acting in the primary champion’s stead, even though none has been given the power to make project-impacting decisions. Trying to pry approvals or firm direction from the chief stakeholder is likely to be difficult, and the project ends up languishing in a mess of internal red tape while purchase requests and pending contracts sit in limbo.
The primary stakeholder rarely attends high-level project meetings. Often a co-symptom of leaderless projects, along with either delegating approval authority to several others or delegating approval to no one. An absent champion isn’t a concern if they continue to be accessible in other ways (via e-mail or phone, or through regular drop-in visits to their office). The bigger issue is the champion who is absent because they’re getting pushback on the project from other sectors (budget, corporate objectives, etc.), or has lost their zeal for the project and no longer gives it the support it needs.
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A while ago we talked about reasons your end users might be unhappy (reasons-your-end-users-are-unhappy), but what about your stakeholders? Their reputation could be affected by your PMO’s actions—before, during and after the project—and they often have their own perspective on what success looks like. Your team could be inadvertently cultivating displeased supporters if you…
We’ve already looked at ways to evaluate and select the best option when none of the choices are perfect (3-ways-to-make-a-decision-you-can-live-with). Now the challenge becomes convincing your stakeholders that you made the right decision, and that the end result will still be satisfactory and meet the project’s objectives. Below are some suggestions to keep everyone happy and looking forward.
If you achieved your objectives but your end users still don’t consider a project a success, it may be time to see if you’ve inadvertently become your own worst enemy. Ask yourself if end users’ unhappiness might be because you are difficult (or impossible) to reach. End users shouldn’t feel their messages are falling into a black hole.
…are too secretive. Users feel better when they know what’s going on, so provide them with as much information about the project—schedules, objectives, interim process changes—as you can.
…say no to everything. You can’t accommodate every end user request, but incorporate them where you can, or send them up the chain for a go/no-go decision if appropriate.
…over-commit. Saying yes to something now may make users happy in the short term, but it’ll come back to bite you if you can’t actually deliver on promises later. Stop agreeing to everything and set more reasonable expectations.
…don’t provide enough notice before impacting their work area. You can estimate how long users will need to prepare for interruptions or potential work stoppages, but they’re the ones who have to live with it if you haven’t given them enough time to get ready.
…don’t consider their needs when scheduling activities. Shifting things by even a few days could make a huge difference to users, so make the effort to minimize conflicts whenever possible.
…don’t follow up after the project is finished. Your large tasks might have been completed but there could still be outstanding issues causing glitches or slowing users down. Close the loop with them to ensure everything was done correctly.
…don’t treat end users like customers. Never forget that some piece of your project is meant to improve the efficiency, comfort, safety, or some other aspect of the end users’ environment.
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We’ve already talked about a few flavors of nightmare end users (Nightmare End Users) and ( LEARN TO SPOT THESE 4 NIGHTMARE STAKEHOLDERS) now it’s time to look at some ways you can manage their behavior to keep your project moving forward.
Difficult stakeholders (LEARN TO SPOT THESE 4 NIGHTMARE STAKEHOLDERS) can be problematic, but don’t underestimate the havoc that might ensue when a nightmare end user descends on your PMO. See if you can spot any of these angst-causing personalities from past (or present) projects. And if you’ve run into a nightmare end user, here is our post on how to handle them. (6 STRATEGIES FOR DEALING WITH NIGHTMARE END USERS)
Stakeholders are critical to project success—project management teams rely on them for information, feedback, and support. But occasionally you’ll come across a stakeholder that adds more hassle than help. We’ve put together a field guide to help you spot the four most common flavors of nightmare stakeholders. Also check out these other Blog posts: (Nightmare End Users) and (6 STRATEGIES FOR DEALING WITH NIGHTMARE END USERS)
Project management professionals know that consensus among stakeholders is a critical component in moving a project forward and meeting final objectives. But consensus is just one component of many that must be addressed, and sometimes even the most foundational agreements are too flawed to withstand the future challenges that typically arise.
How can you ensure that your project achieves the level of consensus it needs? Getting all involved parties to agree on something doesn’t procure the funding, timeframe, or other resources that are often needed to shepherd a project through to a successful completion. What happens when you’ve achieved consensus nirvana, and things still aren’t going the way they should? Original agreements sometimes don’t fully support the fundamental objectives your project is supposed to meet. Below is an overview of how the consensus phase sometimes goes wrong, and tips for steering it back on course.
What type of consensus have you reached? Beware the final agreements that required foundation-level compromise. If too much has been negotiated away, your project management consulting team may soon be looking at a project that is so far diminished from its original scope or intent that it no longer meets everyone’s needs (and may, in fact, meet no one’s needs). Have you lost necessary support or resources? Have you agreed to conditions or objectives that leave no wiggle room for managing the occasional glitch? If you’ve finally reached consensus only after stripping the project to its lowest common denominator, chances are good that your project is lacking some critical pieces. Agreeing that you need additional manufacturing capabilities isn’t sufficient to clearly define your project’s objectives, let alone plan and execute a project that meets that goal. Scope, cost, impact, timeframe, and other factors must still be worked out. Reminding stakeholders that “this is what we agreed on” will not resolve the fundamental errors in planning or execution that may result from a poorly-supported consensus.
What’s still left to do? Especially when negotiations have been protracted or tense, it’s important to constantly evaluate the objectives of the project against the agreements you’ve been able to reach so far. Is the price your organization will pay—in terms of financial cost, impact to operations and personnel, market standing, and any other area which may be affected—still worth it when viewed against the project’s compromised objectives? Have your project’s objectives been chipped away to such a degree that your access to funding or other resources has been hindered? Have your stakeholders lost their passion for the project? Has the timeframe been compromised as a result of an extended negotiation or planning phase? Has your PMO lost key talent or expertise since the project’s inception? Ensure that your project management team is still capable of fulfilling its role, that needed resources are available, and that the scope continues to meet the necessary metrics to be considered a success.
How do you tackle a too-soft consensus? Your approach will depend heavily on the type of organization and complexity of the project you’re supporting, but some good first steps include returning to your project’s original scope and re-opening negotiations, conducting a new cost-benefit analysis to demonstrate any diminished ROI, gathering updated market data to reaffirm your need for additional resources or other support, and working with end users to highlight any potential negative effects of moving forward with your project’s current plan. You may also want to evaluate your decision-making team—if negotiations have in any way been based on a lack of proper authority to commit funds, staff, or other resources, then you may consider elevating the discussion to include individuals with increased authorization levels.
Project management consulting professionals are often called upon to help persuade stakeholders to give a project their support. Below are a few tips to bring these key people into your camp.
1 – Ask questions. Don’t rely on secondhand information or assumptions. Instead, contact each stakeholder (if possible), and let them tell you about their reservations directly. Once you have accurate and current information, you can begin to address the concerns that are preventing them from giving you their full support.
2 – Provide objective data. You need to be persuasive to win stakeholders over to your side, but don’t compromise your data to do so. Always show your stakeholders complete, current, and relevant information. Benchmarking data obtained from outside sources—often available through industry or regional organizations—can be a powerful tool to help demonstrate your project’s real-world potential. If you find that you can’t respond to stakeholder questions by defending the project on its merits, it’s time to reconsider whether it’s worth pursuing.
3 – Highlight tangible benefits. Show your undecided stakeholders all the positive impacts your project will bring. Benefits such as short- and long-term cost savings, reduced resource consumption, increased market share, and advantages over the competition are all important points to consider.
4 – Show how things will look if your project doesn’t go forward. What will be affected? The continuation of less-than-efficient processes, inability to maximize cost saving opportunities, loss of key customers or business partners, diminished market position, and hampering of growth plans should be among the issues you address.
5 – Make a deadline. Sometimes decisions are delayed simply because they can be. You don’t want to hurry a decision unnecessarily, but if the window for low material prices or contractor availability is a concern, let your stakeholders know the deadline up front.