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Stakeholder Participation (Part 1)

January 28, 2010

Originally posted on 1/26/10

For nearly every client I’ve worked with, securing balanced stakeholder participation is the most often overlooked aspect of projects. Normally, the stakeholders involved are chosen as much by chance as any other factor: they’re the folks who absolutely must be involved, combined with a smattering of others who happen to be organizationally or functionally related to the sponsor (or who have a personal relationship with them).

What results is equally up to chance: if the organization has processes in place to ensure that the right resources are involved or the sponsor has successfully engaged them (or both) the project has a higher likelihood of success. If, however, such processes are not in place or the sponsor has not engaged the right resources, the project is very likely to fail, if not in terms of completing on time and on budget, then certainly in terms of meeting the needs of the larger organization.

Let’s look at a simple example that occurs regularly at organizations: requisitioning a shared drive.

The implementation team at a health care provider has a shared drive that’s getting out of control, both in terms of size and how content is organized. Folks in the department have so much trouble finding documents that they resort to “phoning a friend” to find out where the document they’re looking for is, new hires need constant hand holding to navigate the drive to learn their jobs, IT is unable to meet their backup and disaster recovery SLAs because of the sheer size of the drive…and anyone outside the department (such as legal, compliance, audit, or internal investigations) has to work one-on-one with implementation resources to begin to find anything at all.

Implementation decides that the answer is a new shared drive where they can “start fresh” with a better organizational structure. Because it’s impractical and undesirable to bring over all the old content, they plan to bring over only final-form documents required for the implementation process–the rest of their documents will remain on the old drive for now. They fill out the required forms, a line-level IT operations resource sets up the new drive for them, and they are up and running.

Let’s assume that the implementation team (1) defines a workable content organization for the new drive and (2) follows through nearly 100% on their plan bring over all the old, final-form documents to the new drive and to store only final-form documents there. The initiative will have failed to meet the needs of the larger organization in one significant way: E-discovery. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allow for opposing counsel to request more than just final-form documents, so the drafts, working docs, etc., that remain on the old drive are discoverable if the final-form docs are–the new drive has thereby increased the cost and risk of e-discovery at the organization.

Now, this is assuming that the implementation team followed through almost perfectly on their plans…something that we know rarely happens. More often than not in this situation documents would be missed and left on the old drive, not all documents moved from the old drive would be deleted from it, and multiple “final” versions of documents would be kept on the new drive as last-minute changes got made during implementations. In this case, there are additional negative side-effects for the organization:

  • Records Management. Final-form documents are not the only ones subject to corporate records retention schedules, so the division across drives combined with inconsistent application of the plan for the new drive makes it more difficult for records management to ensure that documents on the drives subject to the retention schedule are retained and (especially) disposed according to it.
  • IT. The unintended duplication of documents across drives will eventually reverse any storage reductions gained and make backup and disaster recovery more difficult than with the old drive alone.

This is a relatively benign example. In the case of more serious ones–such as acquiring a SaaS application (e.g., sales/CRM or e-discovery tools)–the potential for risk and cost to the organization can be enormous.

In part two, we’ll examine what balanced stakeholder participation looks like and how securing it can improve the chances for project success at an organization.

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