A DIFFERENT DRUMMER

If These Walls Could Talk...
Ignoring Project Influencers Is Not Bliss

By Doug DeCarlo


Within days after we were married, my wife gave me my first project - paint the living room. In sizing up the job, I figured it would take me a half-day - max. It actually took two and a half days of work: two days to peel off sections of old wallpaper, patch and sand cracks and prime the surfaces, then a half-day to apply the paint.

Initially, I had inconveniently overlooked all the necessary preparation and time required to make the walls ready for the "real" project, which was to apply the paint. As it turned out, the preparation itself was a project in its own right that was a much bigger and more complex project than my original mission.

Preparing the World for Your Project
One of my favorite pieces of project mythology is the belief that coming in with the highest quality project deliverable on time and within budget will ultimately overcome any resistance to the project. Most of the time, it doesn't work that way because projects tend to polarize people. Some will perceive themselves as being negatively impacted by the project, while others will perceive a benefit.

These project influencers - both the yeasayers and especially naysayers - are ignored to the peril of the project.

Walls Are Like People. They Resist Change and Need to Be Primed for It
Since nearly all projects - especially projects internal to the organization - involve change and since people tend to be threatened by change, it's not uncommon for a project resistance group to quickly form. It's Newton's law of motion adapted to project teams. "For each and every project team that forms, an equal and opposite team forms." I call it the anti-project team, for short.

The anti-project team meets informally in the shadows, the hallways, restrooms, bar rooms and around water coolers. Rumors seep out about the negative impact the project will have. Once the anti-project team gains enough momentum, it can be very effective at sabotaging the pro-project team in subtle ways - internal politicking, withholding necessary information, delaying approvals, and making sudden budget cuts.

Making the world - and the walls - safe for your project is often project number one, and a critical success factor in successfully achieving the "real" project.

As one savvy project manager quoted to me, "I keep my friends close, but I hold my enemies even closer." The time to identify project influencers and compile a formal assessment is right up front during the planning cycle, when the overall project strategy is being formulated. Here are some guidelines:

  • Identify what will change because of the project.
  • Identify project influencers by name - both the yeasayers and naysayers.
  • Determine how each influencer will be impacted.
  • Establish an action plan for contacting each influencer (who will contact whom and by when).
  • Build the time it will take to work with project influencers into the project schedule.

Reminder: Enlist the project sponsor to identify and manage selected influencers.

As the project moves forward, focus especially on the project nemeses. The objective is to not dismiss them as necessary evils, or treat them like chopped liver. They may have valid concerns. You may even learn from them that the project you've been assigned is truly a bad idea. If this is the case, then they can help you get the project killed so your precious resources can be redirected to a truly worthwhile project. The guiding principle is: Make them part of the solution before they become part of the problem.






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