You want them to understand…but do you really understand?

It is an interesting situation. It is also disturbing. Why? Project managers and project team members are not able to articulate why they are doing the project (what problem are they trying to address), nor what they are doing.

Let me explain what I mean in more detail.

When running a project management course, I prefer participants to work on an actual company projects rather than a case study. I divide the larger group into smaller groups and let them pick one of the projects that someone is working on. Once chosen, I get them to spend 5 to 10 minutes answering the question why they are doing the project.

The problem is that some people really struggle doing this.

What problem are you trying to solve and have you used this to engage with your stakeholders

Now let me look at a separate but clearly linked area to what I have just alluded to. At the start of the project I ask the group ‘what goes wrong on your projects.’ On most courses I get words similar to, “I cannot get others on board…. they will not support the project…”

This is when I link the two issues: not being able to articulate why you are doing the project and not getting people on board. I suggest that in order for people to sign up to the project (support it) there needs to be:

  • a common understanding of what the project is trying to achieve
  • clear business benefits
  • benefits to those individuals you want to get on board

Yes, I agree that the above are difficult to achieve. So what do I suggest? Here are some thoughts.

  • Hold a start – up workshop (or series of workshops) where the context and reason for the project are discussed. Try and develop an answer to the following question: why are we doing this project?
  • Once you have answered question 1 then develop a definition for the project (the ‘what’ of project management) and use simple project management templates to record the business case and project definition (get free ones here)
  • Engage very early with project stakeholders. Maybe invite them to a start up workshop
  • Speak with senior managers and your sponsor – get their view(s) on why you are doing the project. Clarify the fit with the overall strategic objectives – which you can refer back to in any discussions with stakeholders
  • Really work hard at the start of the project to sell the benefits to the project – ensuring you always link back to the problems you are trying to solve

How you get people on board may be critical to the success of the project. So let’s start by understanding why you are doing the project (business case) and then work your way to developing a more rounded definition (PID or project charter)

Of course, you may have other thoughts apart from those above. Why not get back to me with your thoughts.

Image courtesy of

This entry was posted in project management governance and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to You want them to understand…but do you really understand?

  1. Barry Hodge says:

    I could not agree more. Whenever I have joined an existing project I often struggle to work out why the project exists in the first place. The first document I look for is a PID or some sort of project start up document. If I can not find one then I know why the project is in trouble.

    • Ron Rosenhead says:

      Many thanks Barry. I had a conversation with a project management professional recently who said hewalked away from a project as she was unsure what the project was trying to achieve. She said she had her reputation to keep and by working on this project he knew it would suffer…

      Thanks again Barry

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *