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Tag: Stakeholder

A Self-study about the Impact of AI on Project Stakeholder Management

I want to know the exact details of how AI can help project managers.

Not much concrete work is done in this area, so it is hard to find scientific papers or case studies about the impact of AI on project management. 

In this situation, I had to rely on the most powerful and trustworthy method, i.e., Self-help.

To understand the influence of AI, I picked one specific knowledge area: Project stakeholder management.

I will try to find out the benefit of using an AI tool or system on the four processes that comes under this knowledge area.

 

These days, I am reading loads of articles related to “AI in Project Management”. Being a PM, I always look for such articles with great curiosity and expectations. I want to understand how AI will impact project management.

 

To my dismay and frustration, most of such articles turn out to be fluff. I can categorize most of these articles into the following three brackets:

  • Some start with an explanation of AI and then get into details about different forms of AI like NLP (Natural Language Processing), ML (Machine Learning), Generative AI, etc.
  • A few articles mention various tools that use AI. Unfortunately, these tools had no relevance whatsoever to project management.
  • Many articles talk about the benefits of using AI in project management, such as automation, cost reductions, time savings, and better decision-making. In my opinion, all these benefits look like a general statement that goes for every other innovation too.

 

First, a refresher on what is project stakeholder management: 

Stakeholder management is the process of managing the expectations of anyone who has an interest in a project or will be affected by it.

 

The four process groups identified in project Stakeholder management are as follows:

  • Identify Stakeholders
  • Plan Stakeholder Management
  • Manage Stakeholder Engagement
  • Control Stakeholder Engagement

 

I will examine these processes and try to inject AI into their ITTO (Inputs, Tools, Techniques & Outputs) to the best of my knowledge.

I am not an expert in AI, so please correct me wherever you think there could be better usage of AI in that specific process.

 

Identify Stakeholders: Identify everyone, be it groups or individuals, affected positively or adversely by the project’s outcomes.

In this process, we check the existing project documents to identify all the stakeholders. These documents can be project charter, project proposal, or any contract created at the project beginning.

I do not think AI will be of any use in this process. Generally, a Project manager checks all these documents and lists all the stakeholders. PMs should also connect with project sponsors and other subject matter experts for their input in the stakeholders list.

 

Every project is unique in nature with its own enterprise environmental factors (EEF). In such a case, it is not possible to develop a ML model that provides predictions for unique projects.

Stakeholder analysis is one of the techniques used in this process. The primary goal of stakeholder analysis is to gather information about these stakeholders and use it to make informed decisions, manage relationships, and mitigate potential conflicts.

Can we use AI here? Can we Develop an ML model to categorize the stakeholders according to their power and influence automatically?

 

A few questions to ask: Is it worth the effort? What could be the maximum number of stakeholders in a project? Let us assume that the project is big and complex, so we have many stakeholders identified. Can we create a machine learning model by mapping different attributes like stakeholder’s interests, concerns, and influence and then classify them based on their level of interest and power or influence? The input data would vary a lot for each project. In such cases, the models would need a large amount of data for training to identify patterns for predictions.

 

Let’s assume we can create an ML model that can define stakeholders’ engagement strategy depending on their power/influence/interest. Will this model add much value to the organization’s productivity?

I feel a project manager could do the stakeholder analysis more quickly and accurately.

The output of this process is a stakeholder register.

 

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Plan Stakeholder Management: comes up with the management strategies required to engage stakeholders effectively.

This process also requires the PM to check project-related documents.

Mind mapping is one of the techniques used in this process. It is a visual tool.

 

Can AI be useful in this technique? We could automatically create a Mind map using the stakeholder register constructed in the previous process. PMs can then develop an engagement strategy or prioritize the engagement efforts based on the mind maps. This automated process saves time and effort for the Project managers.

Is this a good AI use case? No, according to me. The mind mapping tools might already have the feature to import a risk register as an Excel or doc file. So, I don’t think it is justified usage of ML for developing mind maps from Stakeholder risk register.

The output of this process is the Stakeholder Engagement Plan.

 

Manage Stakeholder Engagement: This process outputs effective communication with stakeholders and works with them to meet their needs through meaningful and appropriate involvement in project activities.

This is primarily an execution phase where documents are updated on a need basis. An ML model cannot predict this day-to-day process. So, an AI chatbot cannot replace a project manager here. A PM needs to have active interactions with stakeholders. PM needs to listen to what the stakeholder is saying and try to infer what the stakeholder is not saying.

The tools & Techniques in this process talk about interpersonal and communication skills, which are tough to emulate via an AI chatbot. I feel if a stakeholder gets to know that a bot is doing communication instead of a human PM, they might view it as a communication breach. I cannot imagine a stakeholders’ meeting where an AI bot is giving a status update report, and all the stakeholders are nodding their heads, feeling proud and in awe about this technology feat.

 

Control Stakeholder Engagement: This is the process of monitoring overall project stakeholder relationships and adjusting the strategies and plans for engaging stakeholders accordingly.

One of the techniques in this process is decision-making – Multicriteria decision analysis (MCDA)

MCDA is a structured approach for evaluating and comparing multiple criteria or factors when making decisions. It also requires data collection, assessment, monitoring, and readjustments.

We can use some software for decision-making that uses custom-trained ML models. I feel the attributes to train the models would be humongous and human centric. It would not be useful to create custom models for stakeholder engagement.

 

I have covered all four processes involved in the Project Stakeholder Engagement knowledge area.

In this exercise, I tried to put an unbiased perspective where I wanted to incorporate AI consciously in the Project Stakeholder Management knowledge area.

 

My concluding thoughts on how AI would impact Project Management:

The Project management stream requires more behavioral skills than technical skills. It requires human eyes, ears, brain, and heart. It cannot be completely replaced by Artificial Intelligence generated robots or systems.

 

As mentioned earlier, I am a project manager, not an AI expert. I would look forward to constructive input from other AI experts. But for the AI bots generated comments, please stay away!

 

Manage Your Opinions for Optimal Decisions

If you are ready to improve your team decision making “Do not search for the truth; only cease to cherish opinions.”[1]

When you cease to cherish opinions you avoid unnecessary conflict and achieve optimal decisions by allowing the “truth” to reveal itself through analysis, intuition, and dialog.

There is nothing wrong with opinions. Just don’t cherish them. To cherish them is to be attached to and identified with your opinions. Avoid this because it gets in the way of finding optimal decisions and it fuels unnecessary conflict and division.

 

What are opinions?

Everyone has opinions. They are the result of our experience, beliefs, knowledge, and training. They express our intelligence. They can be useful, and they can also get in the way.

Opinions are beliefs, points of view, assumptions, or judgements. They are not conclusive, not facts.

Often, we do not have the luxury of making fact-based decisions. Our issues may be too complex. Data may not be available. We may act on an opinion and gut feel, but if we do, it is best to do it with objectivity and self-awareness.

 

Objectivity and Self-awareness

Objectivity knows the difference between fact, certainty, and opinion. It values facts and realizes that subjectivity is also valuable. Self-awareness tells you when your attachment to your opinion is causing emotions to surface and you to resist questioning your opinion.

Together these two, objectivity and self-awareness, are key to effective relationships. And effective relationships are critical success factors. They are displayed in decision making, conflict management, planning, problem solving, change management – just about every aspect of project work or any kind of collaborative effort.

 

Managing Opinions

We are living in a time when beliefs and opinions are confused with facts and reality. People have lost the distinction between objectivity and subjectivity.

Are you willing to question and validate your beliefs and assumptions?

 

“When you see …, how belief, prejudice, conclusions, and ideals divide people and therefore breed conflict, you see that such activity is obviously not intelligence.

  Will you drop all your prejudices, all your opinions … so that you have a free, uncluttered mind?

If you say it is impossible, you will never find out for yourself what it is to be intelligent.” — J. Krishnamurti Excerpt from Can Conflict End?

 

Opinions Drive Action

Manage opinions well because they drive action. We hold opinions about team values, what vendor to use, how best to perform some tasks, who to hire, promote, or fire, and more. Opinions directly affect performance because they influence decisions.

Clearly, we want to make sure we understand the need to put opinions under the microscope and see their source and why we have them. Our approach is to balance opinions and fact-based analysis to make decisions that consider opinions and seek optimal results.

 

Attached

Being attached to and identified with opinions gets in the way. What does it mean to be attached to and identified with your opinions?

It means that you are so convinced that your opinion is “right” that you reject or suppress alternative opinions and refuse to question and validate your own. You are cherishing your opinion as if it were a part of your body. When you see it as an idea, a concept, you can value your opinion without being attached to it. This allows you to be open and respectful of other opinions.

Valuing is different than cherishing. You value your opinion because you think it is well founded on a strong belief, experience, data, theory, etc. You value it enough to state it and argue for it. And you also value the learning you get from exploring and validating your opinion.

 

Learning

Learning may strengthen your conviction that your opinion is worthy of being acted upon. Or it may show you that your opinion is not worth holding onto.

Learning comes out of dialog with opinions being shared and supported by the reasoning behind them. Be open to changing opinions to reach win-win outcomes and the actionable decisions that resolve issues most effectively.

 

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Beliefs

When opinions are based on strong beliefs, for example the belief that agile project management is always better than alternatives, there is a need to explore and question the underlying belief.

Fortunately, in project work we are less likely to find strong underlying beliefs driving decisions. When they do present themselves, we can justify confronting them because it is part of our best practices.

With beliefs regarding social and political issues it is not so easy. While these beliefs and the opinions that grow out of them is important, it is best to address them outside of business decision making.

 

Exploring Opinions

Should the sponsor of a project express her opinion, for example, “AI is too immature to waste our time looking at it”? Even if she isn’t convinced about her opinion, it will influence the team. As a leader, it is wise to hold back and open the space for opinions to be shared easily.

Other team members may have the opinion that there is something to be gained and that it won’t take much to explore how an available tool might be used to make the project go more smoothly with less effort and higher quality.

Wise leaders ask questions that lead the team (including the leader) to identify opinions and explore them to find the best outcome.

Are assertions backed by facts? For example, is AI not mature enough? Would it be too costly to explore? What biases are at work? What does ‘too costly’ mean?

 

Decision Making

Managing opinions is one part of decision making — the process that settles conflicts, underpins planning, vendor selection, and every aspect of team performance. It is a mission critical capability, no matter what the mission.

 

In the following articles I have explored decision-making from different perspectives:

 

[1] Seng-ts’an The Third Zen Patriarch,  Hsin Hsin Ming (Verses on Faith in Mind).

Five Ways Construction Companies Can Avoid “Technical Debt”

This article was cowritten by Lucas Marshall and Robert LaCosse of Milwaukee Tool.

 

Construction companies know the importance of integrating their systems (e.g., 85.1% of owners viewed mobile integrations as a “very important” or “important” priority in the 2021 ConTech Report). Yet, full-system integration remains an industry challenge – a global KPMG study revealed that a measly 16% of executives surveyed reported their organizations have fully integrated systems and tools.

 

In early 2023, 40% of SMBs in the construction industry stated they’d be looking to upgrade their software in the next 12 months.

When deploying any software system, you run the risk of accruing technical debta term that commonly fits into the vernacular of software developers and represents the #1 biggest threats according to 69% of business leaders.

 

An academic study revealed that 75% of technical debt instances originate from clunky legacy software systems. Many construction companies on legacy software systems may find themselves in a catch-22: Addressing the technical debt of their legacy system or facing downtime to deploy and learn a more cloud-friendly, adaptable solution.

In this article, we define what tech debt might look like at a construction company and offer five ways to avoid it or put solutions toward it.

 

What Is Technical Debt?

In short, technical debt refers to the dependencies one introduces when deploying new software and hardware solutions.

A dependency may be one system not communicating with another, or perhaps an accumulation of software bugs that make a software interface sluggish and hard to use.

Technical debt, like financial debt that can lead a person to bankruptcy if left to accumulate, poses a significant business risk; growing technical debt, that is, refers to the cascading effect that happens when these dependencies, ignored, exponentially propagate and become insurmountable, involving massive operational costs to fully resolve.

 

Examples of a Construction Company’s Tech Debt

  • Mobile apps not integrating with construction ERPs
  • Single-application heritage systems running on outdated hardware
  • Time needed to learn new software
  • Discovery time needed to perform security risk assessments of new system

 

Five Ways to Avoid Tech Debt

Now that we’ve established what technical debt may mean to a construction company, here are five ways to avoid tech debt from accumulating:

 

1. Embrace a Culture of Collaboration over Isolation: Rituals, Governance, and Retrospectives

A retrospective is a classic practice in Agile software development where teams reflect on recently completed work and, through these rituals, the team gets more efficient and collaboration yields greater productivity over time.

 

Planning Poker

Planning poker is a conversational tool that exists online and physically – it’s a great tool for facilitating critical discussion. It centers on the reality that if you want to avoid technical debt – which can emerge from complexities not commonly understood by all stakeholders – you need to implement a process whereby all stakeholders, or more importantly all disciplines, have the ability to voice what they believe or know to be benefits and threats of any implementation.

“Collaboration” Apps and Systems

A joint-Autodesk/FMI study revealed that construction has some work to do in terms of collaboration:

  • 60% of general contractors see problems with coordination and communication between project team members and issues with the quality of contract documents as the key contributors to decreased labor productivity.
  • 68% of trades point to poor schedule management as the key contributors to decreased labor productivity.
  • 9% of construction industry professionals say that the top reason for miscommunication is unresponsiveness to questions/requests.

 

Construction companies can address these collaboration pitfalls by: Adopting cloud-based productivity apps and encouraging company-wide usage. Conveniently accessible communication apps like Slack can empower back-office workers as well as those in the field to communicate with each other more seamlessly, while powerful project management apps like Procore can help construction managers oversee full-lifecycle projects onsite. We’ve built our tool management app with workflows in mind – allowing, for example, tool managers to text or email team members from their smartphone contacts list without leaving the app. It’s of course important to stress, though, a collaboration platform, no matter how powerful, can’t empower its users unless they actually commit to using it together! Our advice: Pick an app and integrate it with other teams’ apps and systems (see in our next section about integrations) to avoid information silos.

 

2. Hire a Dedicated Software Engineer, Technologist, or CTO

A construction technologist is an important, emerging role within an organization that oversees a company’s construction technology program—responsible for researching and piloting advanced technology (see in next section).

 

True, labor shortages in the construction industry are staggering, though the US construction market is expected to continue to grow. Mass layoffs in the tech industry present a unique opportunity to absorb the tech industry’s displaced software engineering talent to help address the industry’s productivity challenges:

 

  • Addressing Technical Debt – In lieu of three months downtime to fully port over one system for another, software engineering expertise can guide a company in taking a portion of a larger software ecosystem offline at a time and replacing it with a part, but there are complexities and hairiness to that, which will require nuanced expertise.
  • Integrations – Building connectors between project management and an ERP, connecting specialty design to prefab, BIM and asset management, etc., to limit manual reentry of project information, remove data silos, and better connect the flow of project data between your teams’ various software systems and apps.
  • Open APIs – Open APIs allow software providers to empower your company’s technical team; in the event an integration doesn’t exist, technologists have the tools to build a custom solution in the short-term.

 

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3. Embrace Technology

It may sound counterintuitive—to attack technical obstacles by introducing more technology, especially when 42% didn’t have a budget for IT (according to the same ConTech report). But successful pilot programs and onboarding can empower contractors and business owners to deploy technology in a meaningful, outcomes-driven way:

 

  • BIM – Building information modeling, the digital tools of trade that architects, engineers, and contractors use to create unified, collaborative, multi-dimensional representations of built environments and infrastructure can mitigate risk and shorten project timelines by 50%, according to a scientific case study.
  • Industrialized Construction is not so much a technology as a complete redefinition of construction processes in favor of “productization” over one-off projects that improves quality, consistency, and value for customers. It takes advantage of multiple approaches, such as:
    • Offsite construction – both prefabrication and modular prefabrication – which moves preassembly of certain components to an offsite, manufacturing-style facility, and which has proven to increase project timeliness by 50% while reducing waste by 20%.
    • 3D Printing – 3D printing (aka: additive manufacturing) offer rapid design freedom and speed of delivery, delivering a 10-house community in China in a single day, for example. Respondents surveyed about their use of 3D printers reported the following benefits they viewed as most important: Ability to create complex geometrical objects, 69%; Value of quick iteration of products, 52%; Mass customization abilities, 41%.
  • Drones – Drones can be used ahead of breaking ground on projects in land surveying just as they can be used to provide real-time project reality capture.
  • Robots – Robots can be used to automate procedural tasks to free skilled trades to tend to tasks that require a higher degree of human intelligence; they can also keep workers out of harm’s way by automating dangerous tasks.
  • Smart Tools – Smart power tools can deliver installations faster and safer, using advanced technology like machine learning to protect operators against dangerous kickback events. Advanced software/hardware interaction can be used to dial in precision settings for application-specific repeatability, utilization data from events performed on tools in the field can be packaged up in a fully customizable reporting suite to provide proof-of-work documentation to customers, building inspectors, and stakeholders.
  • Generative AI – It may be a faux pas in certain circles, but exploring realistic ways in which generative AI may fit into construction workflows (e.g., assisting project managers, inventory managers, construction safety trainers, etc.) is critical as the industry looks to execute on growing backlogs.

 

4. Lean Construction

Just as agile software seeks to improve quality over time, lean construction is an approach to the business of building things that aims to minimize waste and maximize value for all stakeholders by reducing waste commonly encountered on construction sites such as:

 

  • Excessive material handling
  • Rework
  • Design errors
  • Conflicts between trades
  • Conflicts between other contractors
  • Ineffective supply chains

 

5. Digital Twins and IoT

Digital twin technology seeks to mirror real systems and drive smarter, predictive analytics with real-time sensor data through machine learning and artificial intelligence – and it’s helped reduce rework in manufacturing by 15-20%.

Digital twins aggerate data through related IoT sensors that can be used in construction to keep track of tools and equipment in real-time across various jobsites as well as drive safer, smarter installations.

McKinsey some six years ago predicted the rise of IoT devices to empower companies to monitor and repair equipment in real-time through automated alerts for preventive maintenance, inventory management and ordering, quality assessment (i.e., “smart structures”), energy efficiency, and safety.

Today, many of those predictions have come true; with the launch of Apple’s Vision Pro recently, renewed discussion in the construction wearable space, for example, is worth having to enhance safety training.

 

Bottom Line

The construction industry, strapped for talent (both skilled trades and engineering), is rife with opportunities for technical debt – however, there’s a myriad of tools at a business owner or technologist’s disposal to prevent technical debt from getting out of hand.

 

We recommend:

  1. Collaboration and ownership through project retrospectives
  2. Hiring a Dedicated Software Engineer, Technologist, or CTO – perhaps displaced talent from the technology sector
  3. Embracing advanced technology
  4. Embracing lean construction principles
  5. Supercharging your data analytics via digital twins and IoT

 


Robert LaCosse is a User Experience strategist with over 10 years of experience improving user experiences for major companies like Intel and Razorfish. At Milwaukee Tool, he is a leader in the UX Research discipline, responsible for ritualizing user research practices for One-Key software products. He also serves as a UX mentor and adjunct professor of computer science at Clark College in Washington state.

Engagement Management: A Key to Successful Projects

If you are experiencing unproductive disagreements, dissatisfied stakeholders, finger pointing, and misunderstood roles and responsibilities, look to your engagement management (EM) process.

 

All projects are engagements among project managers, performers, clients, sponsors, functional managers, and “customer care” people in sales and support roles. Whether you are in an organization providing contracted services or you are managing in-house projects with clients in your same organization, if you manage a project without managing the engagement, you are likely to fail to satisfy stakeholders, even if your project achieves its objectives.

 

This article describes engagement management and the critical importance of collaboration and the clarity of roles, responsibilities and objectives to ensure that stakeholders are satisfied:

  • Clients are satisfied because their expectations are met – what you promised, what they bought, what they need, and what you deliver match up.
  • Sponsors are satisfied because there is value to the organization, desired benefits are realized at an acceptable and expected cost
  • Performers and managers are satisfied when they are not overburdened by impossible demands, unnecessary bureaucracy, unhealthy relationships, and poor working conditions
  • Regulators, accountants, attorneys, procurement specialists are satisfied when their views are respected and rules, protocols, and regulations are followed

 

The Engagement Management Process

Wise service industry organizations formally recognize the engagement management process with pre-sales, sales, performance (projects and services), relationship management, and support functions as part of an overall engagement.

 

For example, a typical service organization has the following functions involved in each engagement

  • sales and marketing to attract and ‘close’ clients
  • engagement management to oversee and coordinate
  • delivery to manage and perform projects
  • functional managers and staff to provide resources and expertise
  • procurement to find vendors, negotiate, and manage contracts
  • legal to make sure that contracts are clear, valid, and satisfy needs of the parties
  • quality management to make sure what is delivered is acceptable
  • customer service to manage the relationship, maintain communications, and provide support,  before, during and after the project
  • administration and finance for accounting, billing, reporting and other services.

 

Roles and Responsibilities

Roles and responsibility assignments vary depending on organization structure and the relationship between the client and the providers. The structure and degree of formality of the process depends on the stakeholders’ legal relationship. If they are in separate corporations, procurement, accounting, and legal issues must be formal and precise to avoid unnecessary conflict and better manage the conflict that does arise.

 

When the providers are in-house, there is a similar need for clear understanding among the stakeholders. Though, since there are no legal requirements, it takes greater discipline to follow best practice standards that manage disagreements and unmet expectations. Legal and procurement professionals may have no involvement but someone (the PM, a PMO, or a quality management group) needs to make sure that agreements are clearly documented, and decisions are made with objectivity.

Whether in-house or not, a project manager (PM) may play multiple roles. For example, sometimes the PM provides customer support and sometimes business analysts, salespeople, or customer service specialists play this role. Sometimes the PM is the engagement manager.

 

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The Engagement Manager

Everyone should be clear about who is doing what, who has final authority, what reporting is required, and how decisions will be made – majority, consensus, authority.

Holding the engagement together is an engagement manager, who may be managing a portfolio of accounts with multiple projects and is responsible for making sure the clients are happy and the contributors to the engagement are playing together nicely.

 

Whether the client and provider are in the same organization or not, there is a similar need for attracting and closing realistic deals, establishing and performing a project, maintaining healthy stakeholder relations, and following up with support.

The Engagement manager makes sure all engagement functions are assigned, coordinated, and well performed, and that the expectations of all parties, including performers and executive sponsors in both provider and client organizations are managed.

 

The Sales Role

The sales role is as important when the project is in-house as it is in vendor situations.  Though in-house engagements often fail to recognize the need for a sales role.  Some of the in-house sales work, performed by “champions,” evangelists, or advocates, may be to promote project ideas and “sell” sponsors and clients on an in-house solution over vendor alternatives.

The sales function often leads when it comes to setting client and sponsor expectations and pricing, though these must be influenced by project constraints and costs.

 

Effective engagement management (EM) avoids a disconnect between the people who set client expectations (sales)and the project and support people charged with delivering the results. A well-defined EM process will ensure input from delivery and a decision by engagement management or sponsors as to the final deal. Salespeople are most effective for the organization when they are compensated based on the profitability of their sales.

Consultative selling ensures that both the client and provider understand the client’s needs. Collaborative selling involves delivery experts in the process of defining and pricing the work.

 

What You Can Do

Engagement management is both necessary and complex. If you are experiencing dissatisfied stakeholders and lots of useless and avoidable conflicts, it is likely that your engagement management process needs to be assessed and improved.

The first question to ask is “Do we have a defined process?” There is always a process, but if it isn’t defined, roles and responsibilities are likely to be unclear and some functions may not be performed well or at all.

 

For example, if customer service and engagement management functions are not identified and assigned, responsibility defaults to the PM. If the PM is aware of the needs and has the necessary competency, all will be well. But if the PM expects someone else to handle the relationships and accountabilities, and no one picks up the work, there will be trouble – arguments, dissatisfaction, etc.

To avoid trouble, whether you are part of a contractor firm or an in-house service department, step back, assess and define your process. You can do this for a single project, but it is better if it is done on a broader scale. It requires involvement and buy-in from all the stakeholders in the sales, customer service, and performance organization.

 

Related articles
Improving Project and Engagement Management Performance
Vision and Systems View to Improve Performance
The Challenge Of PM In Engagement Management

Managing Disgruntled Stakeholders: All Feedback is Useful

You can please some of the people all of the time,

you can please all of the people some of the time,

but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

John Lydgate adapted by A. Lincoln

 

In complex programs and projects (as well as in life in general) it seems that you can’t always satisfy everyone. Even if you put out a great product someone will think it should be more perfect, different, or delivered sooner for less.

 

If you choose a vendor, won’t like your pick. Some think there is too much communication while others think there is not enough. Some have an old grudge, an ax to grind, and no matter what you do it won’t be enough, they’ll criticize and come up with should haves and could haves that make your decisions look lame. Some like green, others like blue.

 

The master project manager cares about what the critics have to say but is not driven or upset by it. The PM cares because what critics say may be relevant and useful and/or because others my hear it and it may affect their decisions, opinion of the product, and the PM’s performance. The goal is to satisfy everyone, if possible. And it is not always possible.

 

As a rule, it is best to hear what is being said about your project, decisions, and results, objectively assess its content and relevance so you can decide what to do about it Note that if you ignore it, you open yourself to the risk of making a disgruntled stakeholder even more angry and dissatisfied.

 

Timing

Criticism is most valuable when it is received before action is taken. If a plan or decision is criticized there is an opportunity to make changes before it is acted upon with minimal cost. After the fact, the information may be useful as a means for learning, but it won’t affect the outcome or may be too costly to use.

 

In one case a stakeholder, let’s call her Jane, criticized the choice of a contractor based on history with the vendor. The information would have been useful in making the decision to put the vendor on a “short list” after an initial assessment. When the list was made public Jane complained, with disdain for the decision makers – “How could you shortlist them after what they have done?”

 

Because the final choice had not yet been made Jane’s information could still be used. Had Jane waited until the final choice was made, the information would have been completely useless and no more than a way to make the decision makers look bad or somehow make Jane look good.

 

Soliciting Feedback

To get timely criticism it must be solicited. This may take the form of focus groups, or asking individuals to provide their opinions so you can use them to make better decisions.

Who do you ask? As usual, it depends on the situation – sometimes you seek out people with expertise in the subject matter, or who have ‘good’ taste, or who will be affected by the decision.

 

For example, if you are considering design you would want to solicit technical design input from engineers, software experts, etc. If it is about look and feel, then it would be potential users or clients, as well as designers with aesthetic views.

 

Note that it is not uncommon for project managers and decision makers to avoid getting input from others. They may believe that it overcomplicates the decision making and is costly in the time and effort needed to prepare effective solicitations, sift through, assess, and respond. Avoiding feedback may also be caused by “ego issues” like a sense of superiority or insecurity.

 

While it is true that extra effort is required, not soliciting feedback opens the risk that stakeholders will be dissatisfied and critical after the decision has been acted upon to create a fait accompli.

Note that we are not implying that a democratic vote should be taken or that opinions received must be used to make the final decision. The project plan and organizational protocols and policies establish the authority of decision makers. What is being implied is that it is wise to solicit input as a means of making better decisions.

 

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Substantive or Empty: Fact Check

The timing of criticism and the solicitation of feedback are important as is considering the accuracy and relevancy of the content.

Was Jane’s experience with the vendor recent or in the far distant past? Had the contractor learned from the experience and changed its methods and personnel to avoid a repeat of poor performance? What were other customers’ experiences? What was Jane’s relationship with the vendor, for example was there a personal issue that tainted Jane’s view? How complicit was Jane in the vendor being unsuccessful?

 

To make effective use of critical input it is necessary to assess, and fact check it in order to make an informed decision. To simply take it at face value, whether you accept it, reject it, or ignore it, leaves the door open for additional criticism and loses the benefits that may come from the feedback.

 

Politics

There are political issues. Feedback from a senior stakeholder must be addressed in a way that does not create unpleasant ripples. Imagine if Jane was the project’s senior sponsor or a highly placed and influential client. Would questioning his/her/their opinion result in an explosive response or would it be viewed as the normal and wise thing to do? That depends on Jane’s mindset.

Stakeholders are people with biases and beliefs that are often perceived as being “truths.” Questioning their opinion may be taken as a personal affront. So be careful.

 

Ignore or Respond

If you receive feedback respond. Ignoring it risks upsetting its source and demotivating people from giving feedback in the future.

The response may be a simple statement like “Thank you.  We will take your input and fold it into our decision making.”  This recognizes the effort taken by the source while not committing the decision makers to following the advice offered. You might want to go further and give reasons for not complying or to say how you chose to make a change based on what you have received.

 

Open To Criticism

If you are open to feedback and criticism, solicit it, and respond with courtesy and respect, you will have fewer disgruntled stakeholders and better decisions.