Monday, March 9, 2015

Put A Stake In It!

I was recently asked a question about the role of stakeholders in project closure.  This is a great question.  Many projects get close to completion and then fumble at the end.  The project doesn’t formally close; people just stop working on it.  Deliverables are almost, but not quite, completed.  Project records and archives are not consolidated and made searchable.  While some individuals may have personal learning from the project, formal lessons learned are not identified and disseminated throughout the organization.  This failure can be directly tied to a failure by project stakeholders.

There are many different stakeholders on a project.  The identity and quantity of stakeholders varies based upon the goals of the project and the project management methodology.  For the context of project closure, there are three categories of stakeholders.  One category is the customers or users of the project results.  The second category is the sponsor or senior managers who provide project oversight.  The third category is the project team itself.  Each of these categories has a unique role and responsibilities during project closure.  Some individuals may be in multiple categories; but that is because they have multiple roles on the project.  For example, a member of a project team may also be the user of the project result.  Let’s look closer at each category.

Customer or User Stakeholders

These stakeholders typically have a leadership role at the beginning and end of a project.  At the beginning they must set the requirements or expectations for the product, service or result created by the project. At the end of the project, when project closure approaches, they review and either approve the project results or reject them.  Depending upon the complexity of the project result, this review may take a significant amount of time and effort and should be an identified activity in the project plan.  The responsibility of the stakeholder is to engage with the team and do a thorough review in a timely fashion.

Several problems can occur with these stakeholders.  They are listed below with solutions.

·        Often during the review of the project result the stakeholder will identify something that is not satisfactory to them.  In fact, I now expect that to occur.  Suggested solution: I normally plan a two-step review.  The first review occurs near the end of the project, but completes soon enough that there is time for the project team to resolve any minor issues or misses in the project product, service or result without delaying the project end date. 

·        A second problem is the stakeholder who keeps asking for, “One more thing ….”  This will lead to scope creep.  Suggested solution: A technique I use to limit this effect is to create a “Punch List.”  This is a list of specific items that must be completed.  When those items are done, the project deliverables are complete.

·        A change of stakeholder from the beginning of the project until the end of the project leads to a shift in the user requirements expectations.   Suggested solution: Document the requirements at the beginning of the project.  If stakeholders change during the project meet with the new stakeholder to review the requirements.  If using a stage-gate methodology, review the requirements at the beginning of each stage.

·        Stakeholder does not conduct a thorough review until after the project is terminated.  At that time they find critical defects but there is no team available to work on these issues. Suggested solution: Ensure the commitment from the stakeholders to do a review before the end of the project.  Provide a test/inspection plan for them to use that demonstrates all aspects of the project product, service or result.   

Sponsor or Senior Management Stakeholders

The role of these stakeholders is normally defined within the project management methodology.  They often are responsible for approving the project and setting project priority.  They may conduct periodic reviews or gate meetings.  Normally they are also responsible for providing timely access to the resources needed to complete the project.  At the end of the project, there is usually a final gate review meeting and a reassignment of resources.  

This leads to the problems listed below and the suggested solutions.

·        The disappearing project team occurs when core and extended team members are reassigned before their work is complete.  The activities at the end of the project are often documentation or administrative in nature; which some people feel is not important.  The stakeholders are anxious to assign the team members to other projects that have needs.  Suggested solution: Stakeholder should conduct a functional review to ensure completion of all functional activities before reassigning resources.

·        The final gate review never occurs.  The absence of this review means that a formal handoff of responsibility for issue resolution from the project team to the sustaining organization does not occur.  Suggested solution: Link the rewards and recognition for the core team to the final gate.  They will then be motivated to ensure that the gate meeting occurs.

·        Lessons learned session is not completed and the results disseminated throughout the organization.  The stakeholders do not require a retrospective look at the project to build on the good points and improve the weaknesses in the approach.  Suggested solution: In my experience this session will not occur unless the stakeholders demand a lessons learned report from the project team.  Therefore, demand one.

Project Team Member Stakeholders  

Project team members are also project stakeholders.  Their role at project closure is to complete all of the closeout activities.   They need a plan for closure and the commitment to implement the plan.  Many times they are already thinking about their next project or next job, and they closeout activities are neglected.

This leads to the problems listed below and the suggested solutions.

·        The project team needs a plan for closure and transition.  Often the project plan just goes to the completion of the key deliverables and then stops without closing down the project activities, such as completing documentation, archiving project records, conducting a lessons learned session, and resource reallocation.  Suggested solution: The project management methodology must spell out the need for the closeout and transition plan.  When the project plan is approved, the senior management stakeholders must ensure that portion of the plan is appropriately staffed and scheduled. 

·        Core team members transfer off the project before closure.  Suggested solution:  A strong core team will often hold each other accountable to ensure that all work is done as the project approaches closure.  Another technique I have used is to link rewards and recognition to full project closure.  The core team incentives do not begin for any of them until the project reaches complete closure.

When stakeholders engage and fulfil their responsibilities through closure, the probability of project success is increased in addition to the opportunity for organizational learning.

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