How to compile comprehensive case studies

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Our case studies can be used in a wide variety of situations and with the view of determining different outcomes. In short, within the Stakeholder Engagement Focus Group (SEFG)  a case study can be an account of:

  • An activity
  • An event
  • A problem
  • A circumstance
  • A behaviour

All of which contain a real or hypothetical situation, including all the complexities you would find in the workplace and to help the reader see how the complexities of real life can influence decisions. 

This blog is aimed at providing the reader with some insight into the thought process behind what we in the Stakeholder Engagement Focus Group (SEFG) looked at with regards to case studies.  We chose to use a series of case studies as ‘tools” to assist project managers and practitioners in their day-to-day running of projects, and with regards to engaging with project stakeholders. As an example please see: Stakeholder engagement in a globally distributed software project

In seeking a number of case studies from colleagues and associates from around the world we chose the following sub-headings:

Background:

Sets the scene and provides an insight into the corporate culture. The corporate culture can often determine how a project matures through its life cycle. In short corporate / organisational culture represents the basic assumptions, values and norms shared by its members. It also orientates and marshals employees to the company goal and suggest the kinds of behaviour for success.

The significance of the project brief is explored. What is / was the objective of the project? What is / was the expected outcome? Unless the project manager, the project team and the stakeholders, and especially the project sponsor, have a clear picture of the finished product then the path along which the project moves will be full of twists and turns – some of which can lead those involved in the wrong direction.

Whilst there are many definitions of a project stakeholder, I like this one: ‘An individual, group, or organisation who may affect, be affected by, or perceive itself to be affected by a decision, activity, or outcome of a project’ (PMI – 2013 A guide to the project management Body of Knowledge – 5th edition)

The issues:

Here we are looking for some information regarding:

  • What was working well and why
  • What was not working well and why
  • Projects involve a change to ‘something’ and it is inevitable that somewhere along the line there will be resistance to change. This can come from a wide variety of areas – those directly affected by the change to those who are aggrieved at what seems to be an insignificant (to many) change.  Take the HS2 programme and the issues surrounding the Great Crested Newt. Conservationists were concerned about wildlife habitat being ‘destroyed’ by the project. Management within HS2 took note and developed appropriate action: www.gov.uk/government/news/unprecedented-conservation-project-starts-in-warwickshire
  • Communication across cultural boundaries is becoming more of an issue in the 21st Century.
  • Managing remote teams can be an issue, especially where there are significant time differences. As an example, one programme I was engaged with had the client in the Middle East, where I was based, but a large number of my project team, including the suppliers, were UK based. The difference in the working week (Middle East was Saturday – Wednesday with the UK being Monday to Friday) and the difference in working hours during the day (Middle East client worked from 0700 – 1430 each day whereas the UK worked from 0900 – 1730 each day). As can be easily observed there was the issue of a very small overlap in official working times between my team in the Middle East and the UK team.
The challenges:

This is where the circumstances of “what had to be done and / or changed” is described.

  • Historically communication within a project, particularly mega projects, appears to be an issue. Project managers need to remember that in this context communication is a dialogue and not a monologue – it is a two-way street. The project manager will need to face this challenge throughout the life-cycle of the project.
  • As George Bernard Shaw quoted: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”.
  • Not only is the identification of the project stakeholders a challenge but often the real issue is identifying who holds the real power. A degree of detective work is often required here.
  • Are there cultural issues that need to be addressed? The world today is significantly smaller than in the last century. Digital communication involving the exchange of data and ideas has resulted in many projects having ‘remote teams’ with some working in totally different cultural environments from others in the team. The challenge facing the project manager is gaining a sound understanding of cultural issues that require addressing (careful handling) throughout the project.
  • Is there overt and/or covert resistance to the project? The project manager will need to be aware of both and devise methods of addressing each. How many time have you heard the statement: “but we’ve always done it this way and it worked in the past – why change”?
  • Albert Einstein reportedly said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results”. If you always do what you have always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.
  • A growing concern within the project management arena is the role of the project sponsor. Sadly, many project sponsors are allocated the role with often little or no understanding of what the project is, or the objectives being sought. The challenge for the project manager is to ensure that the project sponsor is adequately briefed on their role and the support that the project manager will require.
The solution:

The actions taken, and the plan agreed to address the issues.

  • We need to enhance Stakeholder Engagement throughout the complete life-cycle of the project. This requires effective communication with the stakeholder community, one way of implementing this is through a ‘four step process’: 
  • Enlighten – Communicate, Listen, Respect
  • Engage – Workshops, Surveys, Participation
  • Endow – Training, Development, Commitment
  • Enthuse – Motivate, Recognise, Reward
  • Find out who the project sponsor is, do they understand what it means being the sponsor, their role, responsibilities, duties and powers? Talk through the areas of responsibility that both the Sponsor and the Project Manager have. Are there any gaps or significant overlaps?  Agree a Reporting Strategy.  Does the Project Sponsor want / need any training?  If so where can it be sourced from?
  • Agree a strategy with the project sponsor on how to deal with any resistance to change that may (will) raise its head.
The benefits:

What were the benefits realised through addressing the issues? Are they:

  • Measureable:
    • Financial
    • Timescales
    • Throughput
    • Customer satisfaction
  • It is important to ‘measure’ the level of customer satisfaction throughout the life-cycle of the project. This will assist in heading off potential issues.
  • Intangible:
    • Reputation
  • Reputational damage can be, and often is, extremely harmful to an organisation. Loss of trust from a customer base is a major risk – is it part of the Risk Log?
  • Once the reputation of an organisation is ‘damaged’ then even projects currently underway can be seriously affected.
  • Overall an improvement in communication, in trust and in honesty will allow the project to run much smoother.
The learning points:

Relating to the learning from the project; experience and learning is both an individual and corporate aspect which has the potential to influence stakeholders in future projects.

  • Whilst most (probably a high percentage) of projects seek to capture evidence in the form of data by the application of a ‘Lessons Learned’ exercise, however, once the project has been completed the real question is “what happens to this data?” I have a belief that sadly in many cases the document finds its slot along with the other project documents and is then filed away under ‘project completed’.
  • During a Leading Project Success course at Henley Business School it was pointed out to the delegates that the exercise at the conclusion of the project (in reality this should be carried out throughout the life of the project) is in fact a ‘Lessons Observed’ exercise where all the positives and negatives experienced throughout the project are tabulated.
  • In order for these lessons to be of value then they need to be adopted into future projects – agreed that not all will ‘fit’ but you might be surprised just how many do.
Executive summary:

It is planned that on stakeholder engagement section of the web site there will be an executive summary for each of the case studies which will provide the reader with a quick overview of each case study.

Ian Cribbes

Posted by Ian Cribbes on 16th Mar 2018

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