The project we will use as an example in the blog series involves planning a team event. A team of ten people (including 1 team leader, who is also the project manager) wants to celebrate their well-earned accomplishments of the last 12 months by organizing a get-together. It is not clear whether everyone can contribute to the planning, so the team leader – and therefore the project manager – decides to organize a two-day team event.
The project manager starts by asking himself two important questions:
- Who has a legitimate interest in the team event?
- What do we need to make the team event successful?
Communication Difficulties with the Customer
These two questions lead to the following three points, which I always address right at the beginning of a new project:
- Create a basis for communication
- Identify and include the stakeholders
- Define and write down the aims
I always decide on a case-by-case basis whether I will work on these three points in the same order for each project. Most commonly I will create a basis for communication during discussions with the customer. We use these occasions to identify misunderstandings or define technical terms, which are written in a shared glossary as a means of developing a ‘common language’. In most projects the glossary – which needs to be kept-up-to-date and valid throughout the project (or even beyond) – will contain various technical terms, abbreviations and synonyms, as well as the frequently more important homonyms.
Who are the Stakeholders?
Answering question 1 reveals the identity of the stakeholders (who has a legitimate interest in the team event?). Stakeholders are of vital importance to the project’s success and are not necessarily always people. A stakeholder has a legitimate interest in a project if he or she, for instance
- intends to use the outcome,
- funds the project, or
- is a mandatory regulation.
The general rule of thumb for the number of stakeholders per project ranges between two or three. In our case it would probably be the team, the team leader and possibly the company. In reality, though, the actual number is at least three times higher. The stakeholders in our model project might be, to name just a few:
- team members
- the team leader
- employees in other departments/teams if they work on shared projects
- the company, as the employees will be ‘absent’ and it will have to fund the event
- the employees’ families, usually their life partners and children
- event providers, e.g. go-kart tracks, restaurant owners, hoteliers
- insurance restrictions, laws
- heads of department to approve the team event
We would doubtless come up with a few more stakeholders if we invest the time, but the above list should be enough for now.