Communication is – in my opinion – the number one skill that a project manager needs to have.  Going into any engagement who the project manager will be communicating with is a question mark because the project itself can be more far reaching than originally imagined.  At a minimum, that communication will be with his project team, his senior management, the customer sponsor, the customer project team, possible senior leadership at the customer site, and possibly third party vendors. 

There even may be more stakeholders than what’s included in the list I just mentioned.  And those interested parties may come and go throughout the project.  The constant, though, is that those communication skills must be there and remain engaged throughout the project.

Stakeholder interfacing

Now those finely honed communication skills are going to come in handy.  In order to determine the specific goals of your project, you’ll want to meet with each of the key stakeholders and document their ideas of the project goals. It’s also a good idea at this point to gain an understanding of their needs and concerns regarding the project.

Ask them why the project is needed. Ask what business process the project will change, enhance, or replace. Perhaps the existing business processes, and the systems that support them, are so old that little documentation exists for them. Determine if there is a critical business need for this project or if it’s a “nice to have” as we say around our office. What will be the result of this project?

Will customer service be improved, or sales increased?

Find out what prevents the stakeholders today from achieving the results they hope the project will accomplish. Ask about the deliverables and how they can be verified and measured. And always ask the stakeholder how they will know that the project was completed successfully.  This step is critical because when you get to the end solution, you need to know you can get the project signed off and paid for.  Leaving acceptance criteria vague can result in a never-ending implementation that will blow your project budget out of the water.

Identify stakeholder goals and expectations

Remember that the definition of a successful project is one that meets or exceeds stakeholders’ expectations. Understand and document those expectations and you’re off to a good start. If you feel that you don’t have a good grasp on those expectations, take the additional time up front in the project to revisit this.  And show this in your project schedule if additional time is needed.  Collaborate with your customer using a project viewer like Seavus’ Project Viewer that will work seamlessly with MS Project.  You will not be sorry.

One way to help identify project goals is to talk about what is not included in a project. For example, let’s say you’re working on a highway project to create a new on-ramp from a downtown city street. The goal of this project is to have a new on-ramp constructed and ready for traffic in 18 months from the project start date. Specifically excluded from this project is the demolition of a deteriorating bridge adjacent to the new onramp. Make sure you state this in the project overview.