In my previous post, I emphasized the importance of engaging and involving stakeholders proactively in a learning process about project definition and planning. I highlighted soft systems methodology as a powerful problem-structuring method.
But how exactly can we incorporate problem-structuring methods into the project management practice? Are they really useful and feasible? Let me guide you through an example below, step by step, according to the Soft Systems Methodology.
Project: Build a New Power Plant
Figure 1: Simplified rich picture for the project “Build Power Plant” (Trentim, 2013)
Actors: sponsor, project manager, team and contractors
Transformation: provide enough energy
Weltanschauung: energy fuels operations
Environment: client environment
Figure 2: Conceptual model based on root definition “to ensure that the client has enough energy” (Trentim, 2013)
Table 1: Comparison to reality (Trentim, 2013)
Actually, the solution implementation might encompass all of the project life cycle. Stages 1 to 6 may happen prior to project initiation or in the beginning of the planning phase. Once we have the problem statement and the proposed solution aligned strategically to stakeholders’ expectations and needs, we can use our traditional project management knowledge, as compiled in the PMBOK® Guide, for example.
A successful project delivers solid benefits. That’s why we have to understand the problem before we start creating a solution. In other words, well-crafted plans and detailed scope definitions are useless if they do not address the real needs of stakeholders. Don’t you think?
Have you ever solved the wrong problem? Please leave your comments and thoughts below.
A successful project must satisfy stakeholders. But how can we agree in advance what success means if we don’t have all the information?
Although you cannot control stakeholders’ expectations, you can influence and persuade them. The key is to engage and involve stakeholders in value creation. Success hinges on a stakeholder-centered approach to project management.
Your job as project manager is a cross between a physician, a consultant and a professor. You have to guide and educate stakeholders, diagnosing their pain to uncover their real needs. If you really want to uncover stakeholders’ needs, you have to learn how to ask the right questions.
Since 2011, I’ve been applying problem structuring methods (PSM) to project management. These methods guide stakeholders through a learning process in which you define the boundaries of a problem to be solved. You understand more as you advance progressively and iteratively, tilting the project toward success.
Soft systems methodology (SSM) is one of the most powerful PSMs I know. It is organized into seven steps:
Soft systems methodology (adapted from Checkland, 1981, Fig. 6).
In my next post, I’m going to provide a real project example showing how to use SSM.
Do you have any other ideas or experience on how to engage your stakeholders in a learning process? Please leave your comments.