PM Essence
Managing Stakeholder's Expectations - Learnings from a Case Study in IT Projects

- Madhavan S Rao, PMP, CEO, Assurance Consulting, Bengaluru, India

Managing IT projects in an environment of rapidly changing customer requirements, uncertain business scenario and umpteen numbers of risks and vulnerabilities is a real challenge.

More than 60 % projects are either highly challenged or are failures (Chaos Report 2011). Clearly there needs to be a better way of managing the projects in today's environment.

A study was undertaken to arrive at a framework that would supplement and complement the current processes and best practices for managing Projects.

A common learning articulated by most Project Managers, was that 'Managing Stakeholder's Expectations’ in a better way was the real challenge. The case study involved 5000 Project Managers in multigeographic scenario, executing Projects for various clients, who were bought into the idea of experimenting with a unique entrepreneurial approach in addition to application of known Processes and Methodologies. These Project Managers were empowered with a 'thinking framework', that would deliver to them additional action points. These action points were on the soft track and resulted in steering stakeholder's expectations in a more organized and structured way.

Mid-way, we discovered that managing expectations is not enough, we need to proactively and pre-emptively introduce expectations. This was called seeding. This evolved to doing 'ecosystem engineering' so that stakeholders would be open to new ideas and suggestions, when required in the future.

The final 'thinking framework' was evolved (over several iterations) as a framework of 7 Mantras to deliver the required 'Assurance', to stakeholders on an ongoing basis.

It required Project Managers to think through these 7 Mantras and arrive at the action points for steering expectations. We preferred the word 'Steering' instead of 'Managing'.

These Seven Mantras were:
1. Foreseeing the Bigger Picture
2. Investing in Customer and Team Education
3. Information Seeding
4. Perception Management
5. Learning to say a Positive NO/ Conditional YES
6. Steering Comfort Levels
7. Thinking $£€` for Stakeholders

It is evident from the above list that all these Mantras deal with softer aspects of a project viz; people management, interpersonal relationship, and entrepreneurial thinking.

Learning as to how the action points from thinking through these 7 mantras can effectively combat the common project vulnerabilities associated with ambiguous requirements, scope creep, shared development, new domain/technology, hardware or software infrastructure, human resource issues (skill availability, motivation/morale, attrition, idle time), incorrect estimates, undocumented/ unshared assumptions, unshared commitments, differences in perception delayed feedback etc. was the essence of the pilot phase of the case study.

To practically test this out, the project managers were asked to apply these insights after an initial workshop and bring out authenticated case studies of benefit illustrations. These case studies were appropriately mapped to Project Management Knowledge Areas and Process as defined by PMI (Project Management Institute) and also to the relevant SDLC (Software Development Lifecycle) phase.

Seeing the successful outcomes of steering projects by empowering the PM's with The Seven Mantras - we graduated from redefining the term 'expectations management' as “Assurance Management”.

The Study positioned Assurance Management as a framework that complements the traditional practice of Risk Management. While Risk Management deals with uncertainties in a project, Assurance Management focuses on “enhancing the leadership mindset by visualizing and utilizing all opportunity to the fullest potential in a real-time manner to steer projects to success.”

The Case Study delivered a disciplined approach to implement Project Assurance Management in form of four principles:

1. Seeding: Any activity performed to create opportunities that positively affect the project outcome and also the customer relationship.

2. Ecosystem Engineering: Focused modification of project conditions through perception management, real-time ecosystem scanning and implementing dynamic methodologies to achieve stakeholder buy-in.

3. Pre-emption: Deliberate creation of the right circumstances that will pre-empt or negate any troubled situation arising in the project. This proactively takes into account the human frailties that lead to many project challenges.

4. Innovative Paradigms: Having a framework in place that enables stakeholders to break out of the existing paradigm of doing things.

Having the mindset to introduce perceptions allows us to expand on the opportunity spaces to steer perceptions. Once we have managed the perception of the stakeholders, we would have achieved the management of the stakeholders themselves more collaboratively and collectively. Just to test your perception management skills Try to list today 5 action points you have triggered, that are not part of the action points from Processes or the Project Plans. If you can arrive at new ones every day for 2 weeks, you are on the fast track to become a 'Perception Manager' and not restricted to remain as a 'Process Application Manager'. This is indeed a Mindset shift. The Project Manager thinking of himself / herself as a 'Perception Manager' to steer the success of Projects is a 'break-through' that has to be experienced to be believed. Are you ready?

Book Reference - “Steering Project Success – What More is Possible?” by Madhavan S Rao