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  • Writer's pictureBill Holmes

Project Communications Part 1 – Assessing Key Stakeholders as a Function of Project Length

Project, program, portfolio management
Key stakeholders must be educated on the craft of Project Management

“Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say infinitely when you mean very; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.” C.S. Lewis

“If you can't convince them, confuse them.” Harry S Truman

I thought it would be interesting to do a series on project communications. A disclaimer for anyone who is prepping for the PMP® exam. My thoughts in this area differ from PMI® in several areas, so make sure you know and understand the "book" answers for the exam! The topic of communication is so important is because the success of the project is directly tied to your ability to clearly and concisely communicate to key stakeholders. Key stakeholders who will be directly responsible for making key decisions about your project.

Key stakeholders who probably know nothing about projects.

Think about that. The fate of your project will be largely decided by people who don’t understand projects.

That means that it is up to you, the Project Manager, to assess several things.

How knowledgeable are key stakeholders in the field of project management? How knowledgeable do they need to be? In my experience, that is a function of how long the project is and the temperament of the stakeholder.

If the project is of short duration, then there is probably no need to educate the stakeholder beyond some rudimentary knowledge of how projects manage scope, cost and schedule. Schedule a brief introductory discussion and explain how you will be tracking the triple constraints, when you will be briefing them and what format they will receive it in. There is no need to set up a complex reporting structure for a short project.

However, if the project has a longer schedule or is part of a broader effort and will be reporting into a project, program or portfolio management office, I recommend you consider educating them in greater detail on basic project management principles. There are several key benefits to helping them understand what is required to deliver a project:

· A project can be highly complex and requires trained and skilled individuals to deliver it. It may not have occurred to key stakeholders that this is true! They may believe (and often do!) that any smart person can just step in and run a project, and that is a falsehood. Explaining what is required to deliver your project will help elevate the craft of project management and will begin the process of establishing yourself as a Subject Matter Expert to be relied upon.

· You establish the need for a trained and competent team. By walking them through technical topics such as requirements elicitation, change control, configuration management, traceability, WBS, etc., you can make the case for technicians who are highly competent in various project management disciplines. It also establishes the need for training if you don’t have these people in your organization.

· They should develop an appreciation for the level of effort required to deliver a complex project.

· You can help them to understand their important role in the delivery of the project. Project management literature tends to portray PMO’s and PfMO’s as enablers and allies, however the reality is that many projects find themselves in adversarial relationships with those offices! The PM will need key stakeholders to represent the projects realities to these and other governance bodies.

Ensuring that key stakeholders have some idea of what is required to deliver a project is a key and often overlooked step. This can begin at the initial Charter meeting or at any phase in the project when a new and significant stakeholder becomes associated with your project.

Next week I’ll discuss the other variable in determining key stakeholder needs – stakeholder temperament.


I work for the US Federal Government and have been furloughed for 5 weeks now. My personal opinion about immigration policy aside (I am a first-generation immigrant, so I do have some sharp opinions on the topic!), it is fascinating to hear pundits talking about the impact of not getting paid on the impacted employees. They seem to fall into two schools of thought: 1) The world began to end the first week of the shutdown and; 2) Furloughed employees will be made whole eventually, so they need to suck it up and shut up. I have been a Federal employee for 28 years and always knew this could happened, so I did set aside liquid assets for a situation like this. However, like every other investor I chase return on investment and have made stock and bond purchases over the years. If this drags out, I will have to sell bonds which expose me to additional taxes and robs me of that particular investment. If it goes longer, I will have to sell stocks and that exposes me to capital gains and additional taxes. I have no doubt that I will be reimbursed for my salary, but what about the additional taxes and lost future earnings on my investments. I am not looking for sympathy, but don’t tell me that I’m not being harmed by this.


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