The Scarlet FES

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Categories: Communication

If I had a dime for every copy of every project management article that prodded the reader to further engage stakeholders, I wouldn't have to spend time writing this blog. I could probably buy New Zealand.
    Indeed, failure to engage stakeholders has become the cardinal sin of the project management industry if you read all the trade journals. I do believe that they are only a short distance away from requiring all managers of failed projects to wear a scarlet FES, for Failed to Engage Stakeholders, reminiscent of Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel of a very similar name. Being the hopeless iconoclast that I am, I can't help to make the opposite assertion: Project managers should eschew these all-wise, all-knowing stakeholders for the following reasons.
    First off, who are we talking about here? Which "stakeholder"? If it's the customer, then, of course, "engage" them (which, I assume means, you talk together). But keep in mind, customer involvement often involves their asking for additional stuff on your project or higher quality standards. The desire to accommodate these stakeholders is the most common cause of that most fatal of project-killers: scope creep. And, once a good dose of scope creep has wrecked your project, it won't do the culpable project manager any good to respond, "I was just engaging the stakeholders!"
    Then there are the stakeholders who are neither on your project team nor in your customer's organization: These are "nuisances." If the scope of your project involves doing something that provably impacts others in an adverse manner, that's your customer's problem, isn't it? They probably should have spent a little more time getting the appropriate permits before they ponied up the money for your baseline. And, if these stakeholders don't belong to your or your customer's organizations and aren't provably adversely affected, then they should probably shut up and go away. Does that sound harsh? Okay, they don't have to be ignored or exiled, but they absolutely should not be consulted on what should happen on your project. Indeed, to do so is akin to project management malpractice.
    So there. I was getting a little tired of nobody posting comments on my blogs, and I figure this piece will pretty much cure that.

Posted by MICHAEL HATFIELD on: December 04, 2008 11:54 AM | Permalink

Comments (1)

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PAtrick Weaver
Oh Michael! You have succeeded in generating a comment but you view of ‘stakeholders’ is far from useful. Stakeholders are not fluffy bunnies that need cuddling – they are the source of over 90% of the risk to project success. Engaging with stakeholders can range from the sort of ‘engagement’ vested on the 7th Calvary by the Sioux Indians (but to be successful you need to who your enemy is, where and how strong they are) through to motivating and inspiring the project team. Remember a ‘stakeholder’ is anyone who can impact, or is impacted by the work of the project or its outcome (see the work by Dr. Lynda Bourne at The challenge facing project managers is knowing which stakeholders matter and for what reason. This allows the project team to focus their limited resources to obtain the biggest ‘bang for their buck’. Usually by designing focused communication to achieve specific outcomes (ie, communicating for effect). Probably the biggest threat to most projects is senior management holding ‘unrealistic expectations’. Given unrealistic expectations are unlikely to be fulfilled; the primary objective of a stakeholder engagement strategy in these circumstances should be to adjust these ‘senior management expectations’ to something achievable. If you can’t the project will be perceived as a failure irrespective of its performance against time, cost and specified scope. Event the PMBOK® Guide 4th Edition has moved beyond the old ‘Iron Triangle’ developed by my friend Dr. Martin Barnes in the 1960s. One last point on how much you could buy if you had the $$$ mentioned on P1 - I would suggest 2 or 3 car companies and most of Wall St would be affordable; New Zealand still has a functioning Ovis* based economy even if it is a little depressed and may be beyond your budget… Keep on blogging - Pat (* 16 million sheep)

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