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Using the Small Project Management Guide – Part V: Controlling the Project and Dealing with Stakeholders

This is the last commentary on the Small Project Management Guide. Thank you all for reading the guide and providing your comments. I firmly believe that good project management will be one of the keys to successfully bringing about Gov 2.0 and Open Gov and I hope I have convinced you to learn more about project management.

Andy’s last question is actually two:

“Control. That word just sounds bureaucratic. And yet the last element of your Project Management Guide is ‘Project Control Plan., How do you keep these tools from becoming your worst enemy – bogging down process and hurting the project? If you have to get buy-in from so many people, it seems like you’ll never please all parties. What’s the trick?”

So what Andy is actually asking is how does the Project Manager prevent micromanagement of the project team. The answer to that is that the PM learns to manage-by-exception. Once the planning is done and the project team has their tasks the PM’s role shifts to a servant leadership style. The PM’s major duties at this point are to protect the team from interference with their work, make sure resources are provided in a timely manner, and track the progress of the team’s work. Andy’s concern that the tools of the Small Project Management Guide will get in the way is a valid concern and that is why I have only the minimum required templates which only the PM is tasked with completing and maintaining. The project team members are free to use whatever tools they need to do their work.

The only time the project manager interferes with a team member’s work is when an exception to the project plan occurs. An exception could be a developing risk event or deviation from the project plan in terms of schedule, budget, or scope. The PM does not take over the work but does determine what is needed to eliminate the exception and continue with the project plan. Once the exception has been eliminated the PM returns to monitoring the project’s progress. If a PM finds that he or she is telling a team member how to do the project work they need to stop and confirm that the team member is the right person for the task. If not, the PM needs to reassign the task to a team member who can complete the task on their own. If everyone sticks to their roles then the tools will not get in the way but will provide just the right amount of control to keep everything on track toward a successful completion.

Now let us consider Andy’s second question which deals with gaining buy-in from all of the stakeholders. He is right that the more stakeholders you have the harder it is to gain consensus on the project solution. It would be nice if you could find an optimum solution that everyone agrees on but realistically that is not often possible. So what do you do when stakeholders disagree?

This is why it is vital to have an executive sponsor. Earlier in this series of commentaries a reader questioned why I would need an executive sponsor’s signature for a small project because it seemed like overkill. In situations where you have disagreement among stakeholders having an actively involved executive sponsor is a great help. Yes, you would like agreement among the stakeholders but the two most important stakeholders are the executive sponsor and the project customer. These are the only two stakeholders that have to buy-in to your project. It would be great if you could have buy-in from the other stakeholders but if all you can achieve is to neutralize their opposition then that is acceptable.

For example, I am currently working on a project to introduce an enterprise-wide knowledge management system. We have a strong executive sponsor who is the head of the agency with the CIO’s office as the primary customer of the system. Add to this many stakeholders including five groups of stakeholders who are pushing their preferred technology platform. I know that once we finish gathering requirements and analyzing the requirements we will determine which platform will best fit our needs. And whatever we decide will gain immediate opposition from up to 80% of the stakeholders. But if we convince the executive sponsor and the customer of the validity of our decision then they can use their influence to at least neutralize the opposition and possibly gain a reluctant buy-in. The project team must do their best to deliver and implement a successful project product because any perception of failure will be seen as vindication for the groups whose solution was not chosen. Even if I can’t gain buy-in I am hopeful for grudging acceptance.

Project management is not easy. You are attempting to introduce something new into the world and the tools can only help you so far. The rest is up to your skills in persuasion, creating a vision, dealing with people, negotiating, handling conflict, creating trust, and collaboration. The best way to learn how to manage projects is by doing. This is why I created the Small Project Management Guide. It gives you a foundation of the basic concepts in project management so that you can begin to explore how to develop a schedule, a budget, and a task list. Once you have gained confidence in dealing with small projects you can begin to tackle projects with more complexity. I also hope that I have encouraged you to learn more about project management and even consider becoming a certified Project Manager.

Thank you again for reading and please contact me if you have suggestions, comments, or need further help.

Previous postings in this series:

  1. Using the Small Project Management Guide – Part I: The Charter
  2. Using the Small Project Management Guide – Part II: The Scope Statement
  3. Using the Small Project Management Guide – Part III: Creating the Project Tasks
  4. Using the Small Project Management Guide – Part IV: Project Risk Management

I also recommend reading Josh Nankivel’s blog. He has some great insights on project management. GovLoop also has some great project management groups.

  1. PM Boulevard
  2. Project Management Institute
  3. Crossboundary Project Management

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Scott Primeau

Bill, this has been a great series. As someone moving into more formal project management, your insights have been very helpful and encouraging.