9) Understand what success is: the ninth principle of stakeholder engagement
Project success means different things to different people and you need to establish what your stakeholder community perceives success to be for them in the context of project delivery. For example, an office block delivered to time and budget may not be deemed a success if the process of delivery was fraught and the new space just reminds people of poor relationships.
Why is it important?
Stakeholders have a variety of vested interests in the outcome of a project. These interests determine their perspectives of success, which in turn influences how satisfied they will be with the project outcomes.
It is therefore important to distinguish stakeholders’ success criteria in order to prioritise and manage expectations. Stakeholders’ perspectives are often caused by a partial or limited view of the whole project and as a consequence it is also important to allow stakeholders to understand the big picture and where they fit.
What does it cover?
Agree what success looks like: developing a project vision with all your stakeholders is a useful way of uncovering the differing world views that may exist across your community. This vision can be refined throughout the life of the project and serves as a central focus in your communication, ongoing engagement and facilitation with your stakeholder community.
A key element that needs constant consideration is the acceptance criteria. This is a key aspect when defining project success.
How might I do it?
- Examine the value of the project to each of the stakeholders.
- Ask what their success criteria are and make sure that measures are agreed to enabling tracking. These measures may change over the life of the project.
- Seek to clarify expectations - perception of success is influenced by the who, what and how. If necessary negotiate their view against the bigger picture for project delivery and success.
- Help stakeholders to understand the big picture of the project, how their agendas are being met, and how their opinions impact the project lifecycle.
Use the links below to find particular examples and sources that are relevant to this principle.
Patterns and tools
1 Bourne, L (2011) Advising Upwards: Managing the Perceptions and Expectations of senior Management Stakeholders Management Decision, Vol 49 Iss:6 pp 1001-1023
2 RICS (2013) RICS Information Paper Managing Communications 1st edition RICS Publications
3 Walker, Steven F. and Marr, Jeffrey W. (2001) Stakeholder Power: A Winning Plan for Building Stakeholder Commitment and Driving Corporate Growth Perseus Books
Benefits of applying this principle include:
- Open discussions about project success, helping to drive stakeholder motivation and redefine their expectations in support for the overall objectives and project success.
- Having a good understanding of different success options and criteria (measures), helping to mitigate potential risks before they turn into issues.
- Project team motivation and focus on a shared vision.
- Prioritisation of tasks and activities.
Risks of overlooking this principle include:
- Wasting time and money on aspects of the project that are not in line with the vision. Earned Value Management (EVM) is a key process / tool to measure use of time and money throughout the project lifecycle.
- Stakeholders can be disgruntled if success is not clearly identified in their mind-set.
- Inappropriate declaration of project success, followed by disappointment within the stakeholder community. This is where the project team declare that the project has been delivered successfully, however one or more of the key stakeholders has an opposing view and deems the project not a success based on their expectations.