by Linda Agyapong
"Who" really is a stakeholder?
I enjoy breaking down some of the buzzwords in project management.
In my previous post, we looked at “project success” vs. “project management success.”
Today I’d like to focus on “stakeholder”—one of the most buzzworthy terms.
For this discussion, let’s check in with our three favorite project managers: Jim, Mary and Alex. They have been tasked with a major construction project in Europe. On the first day of their kickoff meeting, as they were documenting their project charter, they got stuck because the three of them could not agree on identifying all the stakeholders for the project.
Turns out the targeted site for the construction project had a natural habitat for a specific kind of protected species—the moor frog.
Jim and Mary jointly agreed that moor frogs should never be considered as stakeholders of the project—after all, they were not humans. But Alex maintained that they should be considered as stakeholders because the frogs would either be significantly affected by the project, or they would significantly affect the project.
Alex then explained that the classic definition of a stakeholder—from the legendary business theorist R. Edward Freeman—did not segregate animals from humans, nor living things from non-living things. In his award-winning book, Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach, Mr. Freeman defined a stakeholder as “any group or individual who can affect, or is affected by the achievement of the organization's objectives.” He subsequently clarified that this definition can be expanded further to cover anything that the organization significantly affects, or is significantly affected by it.
Alex added that the very issue had been argued in the journal article Project Temporalities: How Frogs Can Become Stakeholders by Kjell Tryggestad, Lise Justesen and Jan Mouritsen. These authors took the stance that the natural habitat of the frogs provided some benefits to people in the community, such as via food, recreation or entertainment. Because of that value, the moor frogs should be classified as stakeholders.
Robert A. Phillips and Joel Reichart argued the opposite in their article, The Environment as a Stakeholder? A Fairness-Based Approach. They said that this natural habitat cannot be classified as a stakeholder because, “only humans are capable of generating the necessary obligations for generating stakeholder status.” Their basis was that stakeholders can only impact a project when they “make themselves known as part of the empirical process to develop the project.”
Tryggestad, Justesen and Mouritsen, however, advised that non-living things could be actors of the project if they make a visible difference within the project, such as significantly impacting any of the triple constraints of the project (namely time, cost and scope). Their rationale was that “an actor does not act alone. It acts in relation to other actors, linked up with them.” The frogs were then considered to be “an entity entangled in a larger assemblage consisting of both humans and non-humans.” At the end of their research, the frogs were classified as actors or stakeholders of the construction project.
To bring it home, Alex calmly advised his colleagues that the frogs have peacefully lived in that part of the community for several years. To avoid incurring the residents’ wrath, they should classify frogs as stakeholders and subsequently make the necessary arrangements to appease the community accordingly.
In the end, Jim and Mary unanimously agreed to this great suggestion.
I encourage you to think outside the box to identify all the potential stakeholders for your upcoming projects. Good luck!
by Wanda Curlee
Not long ago, neuroscience was considered something akin to science fiction. In recent years, however, it has crawled out of that genre and into practical reality. By identifying ways people can reason, it’s even making major contributions to the project management profession.
Take the functional MRI (fMRI).
The fMRI creates an image of what a person’s brain is doing when they’re working. If you’re doing math, let’s say, the fMRI shows what areas of the brain are functioning.
Through these studies, neuroscientists have said that there are three ways a person can reason:
1. The detailed-oriented person. This is someone comfortable with schedule management, risk management, budget management, issues tracking, etc. Normally, this would be someone from the project management office (PMO) or a junior project manager.
2. The person who can see the forest for the trees. This is the seasoned project manager or a junior program manager. They are savvy with integration and can see the strategy that is needed for decision making.
3. The strategic-minded individual. Think senior program managers and portfolio managers. These individuals are focused on delivering the organization’s strategic objectives. They can see what the landscape needs to be into the future.
So how does this help you as a project leader? Studies show that if you provide the opportunity for a detailed-oriented person to work in the role of seeing the forest for the trees or putting a strategic person into a detail-oriented role, these individuals become more creative and innovative.
Think about it: By putting individuals in radically different positions—with some guidance and mentorship, of course—you are forcing that person to see problems from different perspectives.
When CEOs claim they do not have creative and innovative people in their organization, I would contend that the CEO is wrong. The CEO just doesn’t nurture the creativity and innovation.
Imagine a brainstorming session where you have individuals who have switched roles. These employees can take an idea presented at the brainstorm and now see it from different perspectives. You no longer have people trapped in thinking from only their own worlds.
Are you as a project leader willing to push your team to experience the world from a different perspective? Are you willing to take a detail-oriented person and cajole him or her into seeing the forest for the trees? Will you mentor and guide the person? You will need to help with the anxiety of doing something totally foreign.
If you are willing, then you have created a more innovative and creative team!
By Cyndee Miller
Like most people, I am equally super excited and super terrified by technology. I do enjoy the idea of some adorable robotic creature handling all my mundane tasks. Yet I really don’t care for the idea of Alexa tracking my moves and monitoring my conversations.
But between chatbots and self-driving cars, this is the year where there’s no turning back on tech disruption. Why?
“Everything is data, data is everywhere,” said tech pioneer Inma Martinez, the closing keynoter at EMEA Global Congress.
And that comes alongside the rise of deep learning, the terrifying tech that aims to mimic the human brain. Again, equal parts super exciting, super terrifying.
So will project and program managers be replaced by a supercomputer? Will the machines eventually turn against us?
Machines will never be able to beat humans at understanding right from wrong.
“This is where deep learning fails and fails and fails,” Ms. Martinez said. “It goes into bias and bias and bias. And this is why people in the scientific community like myself are willing to say please stop doing this. You still want the humans to use their wonderful brain to make that decision.”
Instead, we should use data to tackle the big issues, like mental health and the mass migration to cities. “We’re all going to end up living in massive urban centers,” says Ms. Martinez, and data can transform them into truly smart cities.
Ms. Martinez called out Boston, Massachusetts, USA as a prime example. Why? Because the mayor decided a few years ago to make city data accessible to all—allowing any user to check out how services in Boston are faring.
“Because the data is shared across the board, citizens are engaged,” Ms. Martinez said. And armed with that data, the mayor could force companies like Uber to treat all the city’s denizens equally.
“They started to analyze how long you have to wait in a low-income area—and sometimes it’s like 20 to 25 minutes,” Ms. Martinez said. “So the mayor said, ‘You want to operate in Boston? You need to send Ubers to the people, all types of people.’ This is data in service of the people.”
That change will also drive a shift to humans acting, like, well, humans.
“Human life will seek sensorial stimuli, information disclosure and self-empowerment.”
Hmmm. Maybe I need to rethink—that doesn’t sound even vaguely terrifying.
It's auf wiedersehen for now. This human is off to explore more of the city's projects (and sneak in a David Bowie walking tour). But then I suppose I'll have my voice assistant friend book time for next year's congress in Dublin on 13 to 15 May.
What about you? How are you feeling about the robot revolution?
By Cyndee Miller
I write about project management—a lot. But there’s a certain adrenaline rush that comes when you actually get to check out a project and get the scoop from people in the know.
I was feeling mighty pleased that I scored a backstage pass to the Berlin Brandenburg Airport project—two years before it’s slated to make its long-awaited debut. So this intrepid reporter put on a super-chic red construction helmet (and complementary work vest) to get the low-down on one of the most notorious projects in recent history—as well as the strategy to get this baby open by 2020.
The team is refreshingly honest about the issues it’s faced since the project first launched in 2006: a “constant” increase in complexity, a spike in passenger volume that far exceeded expectations and a “difficult political environment”—which meant fielding requests and often brutal criticism from airlines, governments, the press and a slew of other stakeholders.
But the team has a blueprint and seems resolute it will deliver on its Master Plan 2040 that promises to deliver capacity to handle 55 million passengers. So what makes the team think it will actually be able to pull this off? The will to get things done—from the very top.
Sounds promising, but can they do it? Only time will tell. But there is a rather promising precedent, as my fellow reporter Matt Schur learned when he headed out on PMI’s other off-site excursion. The Hauptbahnhof train station, with rail lines extending in every direction, wasn’t built in a day—or 100 years for that matter. The project had been floated since the turn of the 20th century. But two world wars and a divided Germany stood in the way before the project started in earnest in the 1990s. Even then, complexity reigned.
Location is everything, I’ve been told. And while Hauptbahnhof’s spot in the center of the action is a major asset today, the location created one of its greatest challenges. Water and sandy ground surround the area, forcing the team to dig huge excavation pits, ultimately removing 1.5 million cubic meters of earth.
And despite being a century in the making, the team ran up against massive schedule compression: The German government wanted the train station done in time for the 2006 World Cup. With a slight shift in scope, the project closed a month ahead of the big deadline.
Getting that insider scoop was a boost for project managers, too.
"The visit was beneficial to me to see that complexity is everywhere—not just on my project," says Tamy Baddour, PMP, IT project manager at Bankmed, Beirut, Lebanon, who toured the rail station. "It's great to know that there's light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how long it takes. It was an eye opener for me."
For those project and program managers who didn't make the sojourn to the airport or the train station, experiences were front and center in some new-fangled immersive sessions. Attendees worked in groups and partnered up with colleagues to brainstorm potential breakthrough innovations, debate the differences between good project managers and great ones, and test out their strategic leadership skills.
Fellow reporter Kelley Hunsberger checked it all out and declared her favorite immersive experience to be Escape from Earth! A Project Management Board Game. Attendees were broken up into different teams and left to figure out how to save humanity from certain extinction after the planet had become hostile to human life. Teams completed a bevy of challenges through a series of sprints to rescue the human race
Saving a world, now that would be an adrenaline rush.
by Cyndee Miller
Innovation has an odd rep, tied to a rather romanticized notion that it rests with only a small cadre of some bleeding-edge R&D types.
That’s just not how it plays out in today’s hyper-competitive world, though.
Innovation must become an “all-the-time, everywhere capability,” said author Rowan Gibson, the opening keynote speaker for PMI EMEA Congress. “It must become a corporate way of life.”
Absolutely. But how do you actually do that?
“We have to become trend surfers,” he said, people who make change work for them rather than against them.
So, project management friends, Mr. Gibson has a big question for you: “Are you up there riding these waves of change? Or are you lying on the beach waiting for the tsunami to hit you?”
Don’t get swept away. Trend surfers know they have to go with flow, not stay chained to the past.
“What if the dominant conventions in your field, market or industry are outdated, unnecessary or just plain wrong,” he said.
That leaves you oblivious to new ways of thinking—the kind of thinking that could very well end up changing the whole project landscape.
The world’s largest taxi company doesn’t own a single cab. The world’s largest retailer doesn’t stock a single product. “Ten years ago this type of business model would have been unfathomable,” Mr. Gibson said.
That’s not only possible. Uber and Alibaba have made it reality.
It’s not just the upstarts. Every company has core competencies and strategic assets. They just need to figure out how they can repurpose those resources into new growth opportunities. Disney, for example, wasn’t content with only having its live characters and shows taking a starring role at its theme parks. They used those skills to create a cruise ship model, a travel agency and even some smash Broadway hits.
“Most companies don’t do this,” Mr. Gibson said. “Most companies define themselves by what they do—we’re a bank, we’re a software company, we’re a supermarket—rather than by what they know.”
They’re missing out by not connecting the dots between their competencies and their customers.
“Innovators search for unsolved problems and unmet needs or wants,” said Mr. Gibson, pointing to the lowly paint can. The heavy, hard-to-carry and even-harder-to-use object hadn’t been redesigned since its debut. Paint manufacturer Dutch Boy launched a project to redesign the container in a way that put the customer first. Their new paint “can” is made of plastic, and has a screw top, a handle for carrying and a spout for pouring. “In just six months, the new package tripled their sales and tripled the number of retail outlets stocking their product.”
To move ideas from mind to market, make it about the customer—not rules and regulations. This may be a rough one for project managers in the thick of the action on innovation projects. But ideas need time to grow, so try not to impose too stringent of a process.
Are you ready to ride the wave?