With roughly 50% of both agile and waterfall projects being challenged, and another 14% outright failing, it is crucial that Project Managers pay attention to the warning signs of a faltering project (1). One of the quickest ways to tank a project is by not getting buy-in from the appropriate stakeholders. So how do we get the buy-in from the right stakeholders? Outside of stakeholders who do you need to get buy-in from to make sure a project is successful? When do the end-users need to buy-in to a project? To get a better understanding of the subject, I once again sat down and spoke with the Technical Program Manager of Evergent, Scott Wherity PMP, CMS.
Buy-in from everyone is not realistic, but you got to get most of it.
Often times a project team will receive buy-in from top-level executives since they are the ones initiating the project, signing off on the budget, and hiring the project team (2). However, these stakeholders usually fail to recruit anyone else in the company to buy-in to the project (3). The task of gaining organizational buy-in usually falls on the project management team. The best way to gain the trust of the organization is to sit down and speak directly to the people that are most impacted by your project.
Scott Wherity: Buy-in from everyone is not realistic, but you got to get most of it. It is important for the sponsor of the project to have juice, so to speak, within the business. The authority, financially and decision wise to be that influencer that you need. You should ideally sit down with the key stakeholders and make sure a, you understand their needs, you can identify who’s going to be impacted and if you think it’s going to be positive or negative.
By letting them know, they may not like what you’re doing, but at least they’d have their day in court so to speak and they’ve had some input. You need to document the impact. If someone’s been told, well once this thing goes in, you’ve got a staff of 10 and we’re only going to need five of these people anymore.
Where my projects have been really successful and easy, the biggest common denominator is I came up with sponsorship.
When IT projects are taken on, the project could eventually lead to many employees losing their jobs, due to the process improvement. These employees are still needed for requirements gathering and are often tough to win over. Frequently, the companies initiating a project will put a sponsor in place to help with stakeholder buy-in. The sponsor is responsible for developing and maintaining stakeholder relationships, ensuring stakeholders are adequately communicated with, and the capabilities and benefits of the project are realized (4).
Scott Wherity: When we created a shared service center at Warner Music in the early 2000s, late ’90s, that was when shared service centers were just getting started. Part of the problem was Atlantic Records had their own accounting in the accounts payable department and their own HR and payroll. Same for Warner Brother Records, same for Electra Records, same for our distribution unit and manufacturing. All these various groups, Rhino Records, well since we came in and put this thing in, we reduced headcount from Accounting and Accounts Payable overall by like 40 some odd percent for the company.
That was a lot of people who lost their jobs. They’ve got to figure out how they’re going to do that. Those people that are being impacted, they’re not necessarily going to go out of their way to help you. They may say, oh I’m sorry I don’t have time this week or next to review the requirements, it’s going to be three weeks. Some of that you need to accept, it’s a balance, it’s soft-skilled, but you’ve got to have some leverage. But it’s also got to become a partnership. Everybody has to get on the same page. Where my projects have been really successful and easy, the biggest common denominator is I came up with sponsorship. The sponsor helps to keep a project a partnership and his influence helps to create more organizational buy-in.
You’ve just got to do the best you can to be reasonable with the people that are being impacted.
The employees that are in danger of losing their jobs are often the stakeholders that are the most resistant to change. Project Managers need to understand the situation that they are in and try to put themselves in their shoes to try to win them over. But if they significantly stall the project, that’s when a PM needs to get the sponsor involved to try to get them back on the same page.
Scott Wherity: It’s a challenge. You’ve got people that are your fans and people that are not your fans. You’ve just got to do the best you can to be reasonable with the people that are being impacted. Show some empathy for them, understand. But you’ve also got to see if you’re not making progress, you’ve got to talk to the project sponsor and those that want this thing in place and say, hey, Eddie Smith has canceled four meetings with us in the last three weeks to get these requirements reviewed and signed off on. Betty’s going to lose 30% of her staff out of this, and those people have worked for her for a long time. But she’s one of the CFOs very favorite people and I need to get buy-in from her. Hey, this person who doesn’t think this is the right approach, they’ve been there, they’ve had tremendous influence. They’ve been a lot of help first to the business, and we know how they can undermine things. You’re going to have to deal with those folks and figure out how to get them aboard somehow.
You need to make sure that your end-users understand what is going to happen when the new system or product is implemented.
One of the most important stakeholders is throughout the entire project is the end-user. Without them, there would be no project to work on. It is vital to constantly communicate with them from the beginning of the project to closeout through milestone meetings and usability tests. Their feedback on the usability of a project is crucial to ensuring the end product is something that they will actually use. Communicating with them about initial product limitations, and educating them on what is going to happen when the product is complete is very important for setting expectations.
Scott Wherity: Keeping the end-user is critical throughout the project, and you need to set up milestones so that user feedback, is taken into account. That way you don’t get very far down the line on a project, and user’s feedback hasn’t even been considered. End-Users buy-in is the most important because they will be the ones ultimately using the product and has the need.
And like I said if they want to start something early, and they know that the requirements aren’t fully there, fine. But, you have to have an agreement in place. This is going to be our checkpoint. 30 days from now, we expect to have all of our requirements fully defined, and our budget up to date, our level of effort, and our budget, and we’re going to re-forecast on this date, and we will have a meeting with you to take you through this.
You need to make sure that your end-users understand what is going to happen when the new system or product is implemented. That this is what we’re going to use now to make our orders through you. You have to be compliant if you want to remain one of our vendors. Here are the interface specs, you’re going to need to be able to deliver this file in an FTP world or to our AWS cloud folder. Or the companies that are purchasing that buy through you. You may have to say, yeah, we’re going to be giving you this new software. We’ll send the people out to put it in, but we’re going to have to help train your folks and this and that. This is why it’s going to be a benefit to you. You’ve got to make sure everybody understands that.
Buy-in from all stakeholders is vitally important to the health of a project. Without proper stakeholder buy-in, projects can be stalled, challenged, or ultimately fail. It is critical for the project manager to sit down with stakeholders that will be the most impacted by the project and thoroughly listen to each of their concerns. In certain instances, it is advised to set up a project sponsor in order to develop a relationship with the stakeholders and get them to buy-in to the project. This can come in handy when stakeholders in danger of losing their jobs stall the project, as they should be able to help win these stakeholders over, and get the project back on track. End-users buy-in is critical, as they are stakeholders that have the need and will be most affected by the project completion. End-users need to be involved during the entire process. It is imperative that end-users expectations are kept are effectively communicated. Project buy-in is imperative to have from stakeholders throughout the entire process. But there is no one-size-fits-all approach stakeholder buy-in. It is ultimately up to the project manager and their team to come up with the appropriate solution. The success of the project is dependent upon it.
Featured Image: “Redbubble.com.” Redbubble.com, www.redbubble.com/people/shelma1/works/22124606-flat-design-multicultural-group-thumbs-up?p=photographic-print&ref=similar_products#&gid=1&pid=1.
(1) Mersino, Anthony. “Agile Project Success Rates vs. Waterfall Projects.” Vitality Chicago Inc., 1 Apr. 2018, vitalitychicago.com/blog/agile-projects-are-more-successful-traditional-projects/.
(2,3) May, Andrea. “Stakeholder Buy-In: The Secret to Project Success.” Stakeholder Buy-In: The Secret to Project Success, 14 Dec. 2016, www.dashe.com/blog/the-importance-of-stakeholder-buy-in.
(4) Kloppenborg, Timothy J., and Debbie Tesch. “How Executive Sponsors Influence Project Success.” MIT Sloan Management Review, 16 Mar. 2015, sloanreview.mit.edu/article/how-executive-sponsors-influence-project-success/.