The Yellow Brick Road – What Do Your Stakeholders Expect?

Projects are like company earnings. Beat expectations and everybody is happy. Perform below expectations and you’re doomed.

Or in different words. A happy stakeholder is a productive stakeholder. An unhappy stakeholder is giving you headaches.

Stakeholder management is that part of a Project Managers’ job that makes sure that the stakeholder expectations are in line with reality and vice versa. “Stakeholder management is the process of managing the expectation of anyone that has an interest in a project or will be effected by its deliverables or outputs,” as Project Smart defines it.

The first part of the process is to identify the actual stakeholders. This is exactly what you do when you are drawing Stakeholder Adventure Maps.

But having this part of the map is only a small slice of the story. We need to talk about The Yellow Brick Road.

We come to see The Wizard.

When the project is done, something has been created, a problem solved, an opportunity taken, a goal reached. You either want to get back to Kansas or have a real heart or courage. You are not walking down the yellow brick road for nothing.

You come to see The Wizard.

But what actually do your stakeholders think is the end result? What are their expectations of the situation after the project is finished? What, in their minds, does “done” look like?

Before you can manage the expectations, you need to know what they are. The Yellow Brick Road technique has an incredible novel and high tech approach: get them in a room and ask. You can phrase the question like I just did in the previous paragraph or use this list of questions. Just ask, and make sure you understand what they are saying. To record the session, create a mind map of the expectations.

No one walks the Yellow Brick Road alone. By getting multiple stakeholders in one room and getting them to discuss their expectations you can identify and address conflicting expectations. You don’t have to resolve a conflict right away. The purpose of this session is identification and awareness.

Working My Way Back To You.

The trip along the Yellow Brick Road is long. With a lot of turns and twists. And mountains that block your view. From where you are standing you cannot see the end. How do you know you’re on the right track?

When I was a kid my family drove every summer from The Netherlands down to the south of France. I loved those three day road trips. Navigation systems didn’t exist back then (yes, I am that old) so my father had written down detailed instructions on how to find our way to the Cote d’Azur.

The drill went like this. He had written down checkpoints we should cross. Like a crossroad, a town, or a specific highway. I would set in the back of the car, leaned forward between the front seats and looking for the next checkpoint. Seeing a checkpoint made me happy. Waiting for one made me anxious. Looking at an expected crossroad provided the confirmation that we were heading in the right direction for our summer holiday.

On a white board draw a yellow road, with turns and twists and obstacles blocking the view from one turn to another.

Ask your stakeholders what they are expecting “to see” along the road. Start with the end in mind and work your way back. Before they go to production, what are they expecting to get? (Did someone just think “acceptance criteria”?) Use project phases to indicate “checkpoints”. Use absolute calender time. Use budget scales. What are you’re expectations when 50% of the budget is gone? How do you know you’re expectations are met?

The Yellow Brick Road is not about creating a firm committed plan. It is about the stakeholders current perception of the journey.

Image by Quatro.Sinko.

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1 thought on “The Yellow Brick Road – What Do Your Stakeholders Expect?”

  1. Reading your blog, I have an irresistible urge to start singing the songs from The Wizard of Oz! “Oh, I could tell you why the ocean’s near the shore . . . ” – Scarecrow No, seriously, Bas, with so much written about project management, it’s refreshing to have a playful and creative look at the journey through the eyes of a wizard like you. Thanks for sharing!

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