Monthly Archives: August 2017

New Articles posted to the Web #65

BeaverWe have been busy beavers updating the PM Knowledge Index on our website with White Papers and Articles.   Some of the more interesting uploaded during the last couple of weeks include:

And we continue to tweet a free PMI style of exam question every day for PMP, CAPM, and PMI-SP candidates: See today’s question and then click through for the answer and the Q&As from last week.

You are welcome to download and use the information under our Creative Commons licence

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Levels of Stakeholder Engagement

How engaged should your stakeholders be? Or how engaged do you want them to be? In an ideal world the answer to both questions should be the same, but to even deliver a meaningful answer to these questions needs a frame of measurement.  This post uses ideas from 1969 to propose this framework!

In July 1969, Sherry R. Arnstein published ‘A Ladder of Citizen Participation’ the A.I.P Journal[1] looking at citizen participation and the consequential citizen power over a range of USA government initiatives designed to enhance the lives of disadvantaged people in US cities. The typology of participation proposed by Arnstein can be transposed to the modern era to offer a framework for discussing how engaged in your project, or program, your stakeholders should be in actively contributing to the management and governance of the work they are supposed to benefit from.

Modern paradigms such as ‘the wisdom of crowds’, ‘user participation in Agile teams’ and ‘stakeholder theory’ all lean strongly towards stakeholder ownership of the initiative designed to benefit them. These views are contrasted by concepts such as technical competence, intellectual property rights, confidentiality and the ‘iron triangle’ of commercial reality (often backed up by contractual constraints).

The debate about how much control your stakeholders should have over the work, and how engaged they should be in the work, is for another place and time – there is probably no ‘universally correct’ answer to these questions. But it is difficult to even start discussing these questions if you don’t have a meaningful measure to compare options against.

Arnstein’s paper is founded on the proposition that meaningful ‘citizen participation’ is ‘citizen power’ but also recognises there is a critical difference between going through empty rituals of participation and having real power to affect the outcome of a process. This poster was from the May 1968 student uprising in Paris, for those of us who can’t remember French verbs, translated it says:  I participate; you participate; he participates; we participate; you (plural) participate; …… they profit.   The difference between citizen participation in matters of community improvement and stakeholder participation in a project is that whilst civil participation probably should mean civil control,  this same clear delineation does not apply to stakeholder engagement in projects.  The decision to involve stakeholders in a project or program is very much open to interpretation as to the best level of involvement or engagement.  However, the ladder of engagement proposed by Arnstein can easily be adapted to the requirement of providing a framework to use when discussing what is an appropriate degree of involvement of stakeholders in your project or program.

There are eight rungs in Arnstein’s ladder; starting from the bottom:

  1. Manipulation: stakeholders are placed on rubberstamp advisory committees or invited to participate in surveys, provide feedback, or are given other activities to perform which create an illusion of engagement but nobody takes very much notice of the information provided.   The purpose of this type of engagement is primarily focused on making the stakeholders feel engaged rather than using the engagement to influence decisions and outcomes. The benefits can be reduced stakeholder opposition, at least in the short term, but there is very little real value created to enhance the overall outcomes of the project.
  2. Therapy: this level of stakeholder engagement involves engaging stakeholders in extensive activities related to the project but with a view to changing the stakeholder’s view of the work whilst minimising their actual ability to create change. Helping the stakeholders adjust to the values of the project may not be the best solution in the longer term but every organisational change management guideline (including our White Paper) advocates this type of engagement to sell the benefits the project or program has been created to deliver.
  3. Informing: informing stakeholders of their rights, responsibilities, and/or options, can be the first step towards effective stakeholder participation in the project and its outcomes. However too frequently the emphasis is placed on a one-way flow of information from the project to the stakeholders. Particularly when this information is provided at a late stage, stakeholders have little opportunity to contribute to the project that is supposed to be delivering benefits for them. Distributing information is a key stakeholder engagement activity (see the Three Types of Stakeholder Communication) but there have to be mechanisms for effective feedback for this process to maximise its potential value.
  4. Consultation: inviting stakeholder’s opinions, like informing them, can be a legitimate step towards their full participation. But if the consultation is not combined with other modes of participation this rung of the ladder is still a sham, it offers no assurance that the stakeholder concerns and ideas will be taken into account. Effective participation includes providing stakeholders with a degree of control over the consultation processes as well as full insight as to how their inputs are considered and used. In the long run window dressing participation helps no one.
  5. Placation: at this level stakeholders have some degree of influence although tokenism is still potentially involved. Simply including stakeholders in processes such as focus groups or oversight committees where they do not have power, or are trained not to exercise power, gives the appearance of stakeholder engagement without any of the benefits.
  6. Partnership: at this level power is genuinely redistributed and the stakeholders work with the project team to achieve an outcome that is beneficial to all. Power-sharing may seem risky all but if the right stakeholders with a genuine interest in the outcome are encouraged to work with the technical delivery team to constructively enhance the project’s outcomes (which is implicit in a partnership) everyone potentially benefits.
  7. Delegated power: In many aspects of projects and programs, particularly those associated with implementation, rollout, and/or organisational change, delegating management authority to key stakeholder groups has the potential to significantly improve outcomes. These groups do need support, training, and governance, but concepts such as self-managed work teams demonstrate the value of the model.
  8. Stakeholder control: In one respect stakeholders do control projects and programs but this group tends to be a small management elite fulfilling roles such as sponsors, steering committees, etc. Genuine stakeholder control expands this narrow group to include many more affected stakeholders. Particularly social projects, where the purpose of the project is to benefit stakeholders, can demonstratively be improved by involving the people project disposed to help. But even technical projects can benefit from the wisdom of crowds[2].

In summary, the framework looks like this:

The biggest difference between the scenario discussed in the original paper and stakeholder engagement around projects and programs is the fact that different stakeholders very often need quite different engagement approaches to optimise project outcomes. Arnstein’s 1969 paper argued in favour of citizen participation as a single entity and the benefits progressing up the ladder towards its control. In a project situation, it is probably more sensible to look at different groups of stakeholders and then assess where on the ladder you would like to see that group functioning. Some groups may only need relatively low levels of information to be adequately managed. Others may well contribute best in positions of control or at least where their advice is actively sought and used.

Do you think this framework is helpful in advancing conversations around stakeholder engagement in your project?

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[1] Arnstein, S.R.  AIP Journal July 1969 pp:216 – 223.  A Ladder of Citizen Participation.

[2] The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations, published in 2004, is a book written by James Surowiecki about the aggregation of information in groups, resulting in decisions that, he argues, are often better than could have been made by any single member of the group.

New Articles posted to the Web #64

BeaverWe have been busy beavers updating the PM Knowledge Index on our website with White Papers and Articles.   Some of the more interesting uploaded during the last couple of weeks include:

And we continue to tweet a free PMI style of exam question every day for PMP, CAPM, and PMI-SP candidates: See today’s question and then click through for the answer and the Q&As from last week.

You are welcome to download and use the information under our Creative Commons licence

Defining project success – moving beyond benefits realisation!

What you measure is what you are likely to get – so do the so-called measures of project success used by The Standish Group[1] and other really help?  Certainly, the CHAOS definition has been updated from the ‘traditional’ assessment of on-time, on-budget, and on-target (scope) to the ‘modern’ definition of on-time, on-budget, and a satisfactory result[2]; but does this really change anything?

Challenged projects failed to achieve one or more of the measures, failed projects were cancelled before completion or the deliverables were not used.  The problem is do these measures really matter?  The Panama canal expansion was planned to finish in 2014, it was actually finished in 2016; its costs were estimated at US$5.25 billion, it actually cost will be in the range of $6 to $8 billion (depending on the outcome of disputes).  But, the expanded canal is operating close to capacity and has had to restrict bookings since January 2017 to minimise delays and the latest estimates project that fiscal transfers from the Canal to the central government are expected to increase 60% to a total USD 1.6 billion in the current fiscal year.

Given the canal is 100 years old and the new works can be expected to have a similar lifespan what is the real measures of success? In the last 11 years of Panamanian administration, canal revenues grew at a compound rate of five percent annual of the fiscal year 2006 to 2016. Given the core mission of the Panama Canal is to generate income and support the growth of the Panamanian economy is this really a ‘challenged project’?

We have been suggesting for many years real success is a much more complex issue that requires far more sophisticated measures and management than simply focusing on time, cost and scope:

All of these papers lead towards the same conclusion, project success is founded in the creation of deliverables that facilitate the realisation of benefits. But real success needs something more; the benefits have to be seen as valuable by a large proportion of the key stakeholders – success is very much in the ‘eye-of-the-stakeholders’ and if they declare the project a success it is, if they don’t see the outcomes as valuable it is not!

The simple measures used by The Standish Group are only relevant if they advantage or impact the value perceived by the project’s stakeholders.  A number of projects in Queensland leading towards the 2018 Commonwealth Games undoubtedly have time as a key component in providing recognisable value to stakeholders. In many other projects time may be almost irrelevant. Cost may affect profitability (and therefore value in the ‘eyes’ of some stakeholders) but is probably far less important than delivering an output that delights the end users.  Quality and scope should be similarly balanced against the value perceived by stakeholders.

The problem with the proposition that success is based on outcomes of a project being perceived as successful by its stakeholders are many:

  • Different stakeholders will have different views of what is important and ‘valuable’ – these differences may be irreconcilable.
  • Stakeholder’s perceptions change over time – the Sydney Opera House went for a ‘white elephant’ that suffered massive time and cost overruns to a UNESCO World Heritage landmark in record time.
  • It is impossible to know how people will react to the eventual project outcome in advance –success, or failure, emerges after the project has delivered and everyone involved has ‘gone home’.

I don’t have an easy answer to this conundrum – but I do believe two major shifts in project governance and the overall ‘management of project management’ are needed:

  1. The concept of project success is built over time; it starts during the earliest stages of a project when the concepts are being formulated – no one benefits from delivering the wrong project on time and on budget.
  2. Everyone involved in the management of the project including sponsors and portfolio managers through to the project manager need to have in-depth discussions with their stakeholders about what success looks like and what is really important to the client and end users of the deliverable. This discussion needs to be framed by the constraints of cost and time (to the extent they matter) but not limited to predetermined artificial values, to create a prioritised list of success criteria that directly relate to the needs of the stakeholders (which may include time and/or cost, but equally may not); see: Defining Project Success using Project Success Criteria.

Finally, the ‘what’s really valuable’ discussion needs revisiting on a regular basis to keep the work of the project aligned with the evolving needs and perceptions of the stakeholders.  You can call this ‘agility’ if you like (or simply effective stakeholder engagement) but by now we all should recognise that producing ‘failed’ projects helps no one and driving to achieve arbitrary and/or unnecessary time and cost targets is a good way to destroy real value.

Making these shifts presents some real challenges:

  • The challenge the project controls community needs to start looking at is how do we start measuring success? Most organisations can’t even measure benefits!
  • The challenge for people involved in the overall management of projects is primarily answering the question which stakeholders are important in this conversation and how do we engage them?
  • The portfolio management challenge is focused on developing ways to quantify and assess these intangible metrics to select the most valuable projects.
  • The governance challenge is putting rigour around the whole framework to encourage innovation, satisfy stakeholders and maintain overall accountability.

My feeling is that project success is a complex, emergent, characteristic of a project that manifests after the work of the project has been completed.

Your thoughts are welcome.

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[1] See: http://www.standishgroup.com/outline

[2] Presumably this change is to accommodate agile project where the scope is defined through the course of the work.

New Articles posted to the Web #63

BeaverWe have been busy beavers updating the PM Knowledge Index on our website with White Papers and Articles.   Some of the more interesting uploaded during the last couple of weeks include:

And we continue to tweet a free PMI style of exam question every day for PMP, CAPM, and PMI-SP candidates: See today’s question and then click through for the answer and the Q&As from last week.

You are welcome to download and use the information under our Creative Commons licence