Want Satisfied Stakeholders? Guide Them Through a Learning Process

By Mario H Trentim

Original Source: ProjectManagement.com


A successful project must satisfy stakeholders. But how can we agree in advance what success means if we don’t have all the information?

Although you cannot control stakeholders’ expectations, you can influence and persuade them. The key is to engage and involve stakeholders in value creation. Success hinges on a stakeholder-centered approach to project management.

Your job as project manager is a cross between a physician, a consultant and a professor. You have to guide and educate stakeholders, diagnosing their pain to uncover their real needs. If you really want to uncover stakeholders’ needs, you have to learn how to ask the right questions.

Since 2011, I’ve been applying problem structuring methods (PSM) to project management. These methods guide stakeholders through a learning process in which you define the boundaries of a problem to be solved. You understand more as you advance progressively and iteratively, tilting the project toward success.

Soft systems methodology (SSM) is one of the most powerful PSMs I know. It is organized into seven steps:

  1. Problem situation unstructured: area of concern, purpose and end objectives.
  2. Problem situation expressed: rich picture created to represent the structure and processes of the problem situation.
  3. Root definition: clarifies what needs to be addressed and which human activity system is of concern. You can have more than one root definition, representing the HAS (human activity system).
  4. Conceptual models: use creativity and logical argument to derive relevant activities in the HAS and build conceptual models in different levels of abstraction.
  5. Comparing #4 to #2 (real world and the conceptual model), provide comments and recommendations.
  6. Identify feasible solutions: you can use a multi-criteria model to compare alternatives.
  7. Improve the problem situation by implementing the solution.

Soft systems methodology (adapted from Checkland, 1981, Fig. 6).

In my next post, I’m going to provide a real project example showing how to use SSM.