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The Proximity Principle: Continuous End-User Involvement and Project Success

In my previous blog entry, I mentioned the importance of managing perceptions. I also wrote that not doing so was the main cause of why only one project out of three was considered successful by major stakeholders, according to the Standish Group’s Chaos Report 1.

So, if we have to manage perceptions, where and how should we start doing that? The Chaos Report gives us pretty good leads on that, so, I am still amazed to find in my project management workshops that not even one participant out of 100 knows about the Chaos Report, its contents and conclusions (based, by the way, on data and observations on thousands of projects).

The report identifies the involvement of end-users as number one in its top ten list of key project success factors. Yet many project managers and their sponsors still shy away from this obvious tip. On too many projects still, project managers meet, at the start of the project, some so-called representatives of these ultimate project customers to discuss rapidly THEIR operational requirements. They will not be in touch with end-users again until much later in the project, only to find a very uninformed, displeased, and distressed party in full “resistance-to-change” gear. There is then a lot of damage control to do to regain end-user trust and ensure that they will commit to materializing project benefits from the deliverables “imposed” on them.

End-users involvement must be more than that. Successful project managers have long realized that, in this changing world of ours, customers/end-users also change their mind along the way and must also understand that conditions in the project environment change for all sort of uncontrollable reasons. Both project managers and their ultimate customers must be ‘in sync’, preferably in a continuous manner, in order for the former to satisfy the latter.

Ensure with your sponsor that you get proper end-user representatives on board and keep them involved in your project as it evolves. I call that the Proximity Principle and its functioning is quite well explained by Scott Ambler in his landmark article: Agility for Executives 2. Do that and you will automatically get high quality deliverables (and highly satisfied end-users perceiving the same deliverables as you), while keeping the risks of not meeting requirements as low as possible. Do this also with all other major stakeholders and you will effectively manage perceptions and deliver successful projects over and over again.


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