In my classes, I like to tell my students that stakeholders are like new puppies in the backyard: They gotta mark their territory and leave their scent on everything they see! They need to make the project deliverables their own by adjusting them, changing them, reinterpreting them, and otherwise “branding” them with their own perspectives.
In other words, if they are doing what you want them to do — actively engaging with your team and with your project’s deliverables as they are evolving — they are absolutely guaranteed to make modifications and adjustments as they begin to “own” the project’s outputs. And that’s a good thing! You want this kind of ownership to help assure the success of your project’s finished work products when they are finally turned over to the users.
The down side of this, however, is that it leads to rework as you make all the suggested revisions.
The key question for you, as project manager, is this:
- Will you accommodate this stakeholder-generated rework by formally building it into the project plan or will you simply be ambushed by it when the stakeholders surprise you with all their divergent feedback at your review sessions?
Never Build More Than You Want to Revise
The spirit of the diagram above is this: Never build more than you want to spend time revising. That is, don’t risk hours of work in the “wrong” direction.
Get feedback early and make adjustments early, then repeat — a little at a time, in small increments.
How to Design a Project with Rework Opportunities Built In
The following process (from my Book, The Project Management Minimalist, “Step 4: Figure out what you need to do to complete the work products.” ) will guide you through the process of designing a project plan with plenty of rework built in.
- Assemble all project documentation you’ve created so far, including the stakeholder-approved Project Scope Statement, WBS (work breakdown structure), technical specifications, proposals, and so on.
- Assemble the core project team and as many stakeholders as possible.
- Conduct a brainstorming session in which the core project team and stakeholders do the following:
- Examine each specific deliverable that must be created. (Refer to your WBS… )
- List the specific tasks that must be performed to cause that deliverable to evolve from rough idea to finished product. (Use yellow stickies, flip charts, white boards, mind mapping methodology and other tools of brainstorming you like.)
- Incorporate plenty of opportunities for stakeholders to review work products in small increments, as they are evolving. So, for example, if you are writing a report, don’t wait until you’re finished to share it with reviewers. Instead, share (and get feedback and make revisions to) an outline first and then a rough draft, before you spend your time finalizing and polishing the report. Specifically, insert as many “create, share, feedback, revise” cycles into your task list as possible. This will help prevent unplanned rework (and blown schedules from having stakeholders reject your deliverables!) by building opportunities for review and revision into your plan.
- Combine and organize the list of tasks/activities into broad collections of related tasks or phases.
- Create a network diagram (flow chart) showing the sequence and flow of all project tasks, activities, and phases.
- Polish and finalize the network diagram and task list.
- Circulate the network diagram and task list to appropriate stakeholders/sponsor and get formal approval (i.e., sign-off).
Like Puppies in the Yard
Remember, your project stakeholders are like new puppies in the backyard: They need to mark territory! They need to make the project deliverables their own by adjusting them, changing them, reinterpreting them, and otherwise “branding” them with their own perspectives. Work with your stakeholders, using the steps outlined above, to create a shared set of project steps that allows them plenty of opportunity to shape the deliverables systematically, in a scheduled and fully-anticipated fashion. This way you won’t be ambushed by a pile of unanticipated changes that blow your project schedule and budget!