Detecting Stakeholder Misalignment
Over the years I have seen many project managers unknowingly accept an engagement that was predicated on an unsupported cause. Usually this misalignment exists between project sponsors (corporate executives etc.) empowered to initiate the project and the business leaders (vice presidents, directors, etc.) and their front line staff assigned to deliver its objectives. The end result is a project manager caught in between opposing beliefs. This article will discuss why it is important to immediately unearth this type of situation during the initiation of the project.
Why It Is Important
When an engagement is accepted, usually two critical assumptions are made by the project manager. First, an assumption is made that support to initiate the project has been reached amongst all business leaders impacted by the project. Specifically, that a single, universally accepted version of the project purpose and desired outcome is endorsed. Second, since this supported version of project reality exists it is natural to assume that the scope and specific tangible deliverables expected from the assigned project manager are also holistically accepted.
In some cases these assumptions prove to be correct and in others false. When these assumptions prove to be false a project manager is thrust into an aura of competitive political warfare fuelled by opposing ideologies. It is important to not make assumptions – trust but verify diplomatically.
Project sponsors, stakeholders and team members provide the means to help make both the project and project manager successful. However, in an environment of warring project ideologies the aforementioned groups may serve as a barrier to delivery. This barrier is formed when business leaders impacted by the project do not support the founding principles of the project. Usually, these business leaders are selfishly trying to manipulate the project with the intent to serve their needs with little if any support for the cause. These opposing ideals coupled with strong political alliances held by those equipped with the means to both derail the project and ensure its success is what leads to project strife.
With consensus between the line leaders and project sponsors absent yet acceptance needed to proceed with delivery, the project manager may encounter an intentional stalemate caused by implicit barriers planted by disgruntled business leaders who oppose the project cause. A project manager who has not diplomatically identified this conflict of ideals at the beginning of the engagement as the root cause of these implied barriers will be struggling to overcome these hurdles that prevent timely delivery. These surreptitious barriers will make it difficult for the project manager to introduce a structured and accountability driven project delivery framework, gain commitment from the project team, confirm acceptance of assigned tasks with due dates and deliver the expected project artefacts required in the inaugural phases of a project.
It is critical during the project initiation phase that project managers embark on a plenipotentiary mission and sensitively conduct an effective stakeholder consensus audit. Diplomatic disclosure of this conflict of ideals by utilizing established governance procedures is all that is necessary to ensure the project manager is not straddled with removing the intentional barriers put forth by the aforementioned selfish needs. Failure to do so provides the opportunity to the warring stakeholders to intentionally deflect the cause of the project stalemate from themselves to the project manager which may damage the project manager’s credibility.
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George Konstantopoulos, MBA, PMP, PgMP, CMC is a Sr. Consultant at Welch International Management Consulting Group Inc. He has managed strategy portfolios and executed complex program and projects in the high-tech, banking, IT, marketing, utilities, retail and professional services industries. His entrepreneurial spirit and keen business insight have benefited many organizations through his effective consultative engagements and compelling achievements. George regularly lectures on management consulting and project management. Additionally, he facilitates quarterly seminars intended to help project managers understand the qualifications associated with consultative project management. You may contact George at [email protected] or through his blog spot at http://welchconsulting.blogspot.com/.