Negotiating Stakeholder Expectations: The Key to Better Requirements

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at

One of the leading causes of projects not meeting their objectives is the failure to fully and completely define the project requirements. A corollary to this, however, must be that one of the leading causes of failing to define project requirements is a not understanding the full range of stakeholders that have an interest in our project.
Many of the formally defined aspects of project management are actually silent on the topic of stakeholders and the definition of requirements. Most project management courses address how to plan and manage delivering the technical results of the project, assuming a stated set of requirements. The definition of the actual requirements, however, is treated as assumed or understood--without a whole lot of guidance on how to establish them.
The structure of the project organization also provides a level of encouragement for a narrow and expedited definition of project requirements. Much that is written or presumed about the role of project sponsor assumes that of a guiding, overarching deity that is final arbiter on all aspects of the project. The practical reality is that the project sponsor is absolutely a stakeholder, and will almost certainly have a perspective--and a say--in the requirements of the project. They are one among many, however. It’s that “many” part that can kill us…
If …

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