The Whys of Stakeholders

“As far as I can tell there are two inviolable truths about people and projects:
– There’s a reason behind everything that everyone does on, to, for with, or against a project.  No one does anything without a reason.  In a stakeholder’s mind, no matter what they are doing on, to, for, with or against a project, it makes complete sense to them.”
– Kenneth T. Hanley, Guerrilla Project Management

Staying in a constructive state of mind is critical to being effective as a project manager.  You want to be able to be

  • Creative
  • Open to new ideas
  • Free enough to address conflict instead of feeding it

I’m sure we all have days when stakeholder behavior might make that a bit challenging.  When you’re on the edge of slipping out of a constructive state, it can be helpful to have a gimmick or ‘circuit breaker’ to keep you focused.  A fellow PM has come up with a new way to use a familiar tool.

Instead of using the Fishbone Diagram to identify root causes of defects, Kenneth T. Hanley in his book Guerrilla Project Management, demonstrates a way to use the Fishbone diagram to help you understand the stakeholder.  Typically used in Six Sigma or Change Management efforts, the Fishbone or Ishikawa diagram, helps teams analyze the root cause of a product defects.  From Hanley’s point of view – it can also be useful in understanding internal and external stakeholders.

Starting with the situation, you should continue to ask why it is occurring until you have broken out the behavior to one or more root causes.  You may also see it referred to as the 5 Whys.  See Wikipedia for more details.

My only concern with using the Ishikawa diagram is that you might use the information to try to ‘fix the problem’ instead of trying to support your customer in achieving her goals. Similarly, If you’re seeing conflict with internal stakeholders, it’s important to stay out of troubleshooting mode and keep your focus on understanding why.  The point of all of the mental gymnastics is to put you into a more constructive and empowered state of mind so that you can be more effective. 

Keeping your cool is easier when you understand what concerns are driving the behavior.  I never thought of using the Ishikawa diagram to drill down into stakeholder behavior, but it looks like it might be a useful tool you can use to craft a creative response.

Let me know if you have used tools/ techniques from other areas of Quality/ Project Management in unusual ways.  Leave a comment or send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.


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