Stakeholder Expectations

Thanks for inviting me to post guys!

Also, as a side note, I will upload that podcast very soon! I blame Civ 5 Gods and Kings…

So, I had an idea for a first post that I thought was good, but need has trumped that one. I would like to have some feedback from you guys on a project I have started.

As you both know, I have begun with a large scale legacy project at a company of considerable size. This project is like most legacy ones, a lot of history between the people involved, communication and cooperation breakdowns, and somewhat poor stakeholder involvement.

I have been hired to do a “performance pre-study” for a project aimed at “improving performance”, so, quite vague as to what I am actually being asked to do. Of course each stakeholder has their own ideas and expectation of what this project will or won’t bring… So, my problem is, finding out what those expectations are. Basically, my mandate is extremely unclear…

I have started having one on one meetings with the more involved stakeholders, and many of them are quite clear what their goals for the project are. But soon I will come to the discussion where I expect more vague answers to this question. How you would guys proceed with driving these discussions?

I thought of using success sliders, but the mandate is so unclear, I am not sure what to even use as sliders… I guess what I am after is a list of starting questions to ask to drive the conversation whenever it stalls. Having a lot of respect for your skills in dealing with stakeholders I thought I would pose the question here.

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3 thoughts on “Stakeholder Expectations

  1. Great first post Jeff, I’ve been scratching my head for a while now thinking of how to reply.

    I think you are absolutely right that you’ll need a interview strategy when going in for some of the harder stakeholder interviews. One approach that comes to mind is using a variant of the “five whys” to get to what the stakeholder percieves is the cause of the issues.

    A stakeholder is usually all about getting their stuff delivered on time, budget and with quality so a starting point could be to ask:

    “Are you getting everything you need delivered by the team?”
    [answer]
    “No? Why not?”
    [answer]
    “Aha. Why do you think that is?”
    [answer]

    And so on. Just be subtle with your approach instead of just saying “Uh-huh. Great. WHY?”, “Yeah, yeah… WHY?” etc and don’t be afraid to go up to at least three whys but preferably all the way up to five.

    The do the same for “on time”, “on budget” and “with quality”. That should cover most of the common problem areas.

    You could plot this into a cause-effect diagram (maybe as part of an A3 analysis?) and try to verify this with a second source by starting from a good place in the diagram (like “Team delivers the wrong things”) and asking away from there.

    The ever interesting Henrik Kniberg has more on the five whys, cause-effect diagrams and A3:s – see chapter 20 of “Lean from the Trenches” (available for free online).

    If you have used success sliders, please tell us more about them! I looked at the implementation here (http://www.mountaingoatsoftware.com/tools/project-success) but it all seems way to gimmicky for my taste so I might be missing something here.

    And good luck!

  2. Thanks for the feedback!

    This stratagy worked fairly well, although to be honest the “tough” stakeholders were actually a lot more engaged then I expected them to be, so it ended up not being such a huge issue.

    I have used success sliders once or twice, and I did find them to be useful, but not in the way they were intended 😉

    I will be honest, I have only used them with the teams, not the stakeholders, but I foudn they were very good for starting discussions. Like you start with “How important do we think quality is” and it leads to go discussions about what quality actually is, and what we mean by quality. Although, you are right, they are a bit gimmicky for actually setting stakeholder expectations, I think…

    • Great to hear that the interviews worked out even though they were easier than you anticipated. Better safe than sorry I say, a strategy is always good to have, especially for important situations that MIGHT turn out to be hard to navigate on the fly.

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