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Why Stakeholders Shouldn’t Be Project Managers

January 25, 2019

I have a few more changes I’d like to add. That’s okay, right?

Well, it’s going to cause a delay.

I’m sure you’ll find a way to work them in. They aren’t really that significant. And we really can’t ship without them.

Stakeholder: An individual, group or organizaiton who may affect, be affected by, or perceive itself to be affected by a decision, activity or outcome of the project.

Project Management: The application of knowledge, skills, tools, and the techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.

In project management, your stakeholders are the ones who will benefit from the project. They are the ones who know what features your application needs to have, what processes your project needs to accomplish. They are the ones who will decide what makes a project successful. In fact, one of the steps of project managment is getting your stakeholders to agree that the project is complete.

So, who better to run your project? Why not a stakeholder who understands the needs of the project?

Literally anybody else. Unless your stakeholder is a former PM, she is not trained to make the hard tradeoffs that a successful project requires.

I once had a major project. It was a two year project that required 10 dedicated developers. We knew the required release date: September 1, 1999. We also knew the budget. We had a $40,000/month budget. That’s pretty small, actually. And we knew our feature set.

Well, we thought we knew our feature set.

And every week I met with the stakeholder and every week we had more features. He literally continued to add features, sometimes entire pages of them on a regular basis.

And the problem was that we were building a rafting reservation system. The stakeholder knew the industry. I didn’t. My developers (most fresh out of college) didn’t. So, when the stakeholder said, “We have to have this feature,” I had no response. I understood the schedule, but the release date was non-negotiable.

Had I been a more experienced PM, I would have approached the situation differently. We did release on time. We didn’t include all the features the stakeholder wanted, we included more than I felt comfortable with.

It may have been coincidence, but the stakeholder (who was also the sponsor) dissolved the company shortly afterward and I found myself out of a job.

I did learn many valuable lessons from that project and that stakeholder. But, the most important lesson was:

A stakeholder should not be the project manager

Just try to avoid having him also be the sponsor.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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(c) 2018 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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