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Driving and defining project success: Key questions for aligning stakeholders at the outset

Defining project success in software development has long been the subject of debate. Because of the interconnected dimensions to project success, it can be difficult to agree on a clear definition for success vs. failure.

Two of the primary factors that typically define success are Project Management—where the criterion for success is delivering the project based on the objectives—and Product outcomes—the amount of value the project’s deliverables bring to the company once the project is complete.

After the development team is gone and the project deliverable have some time in production, the perception of the value that the deliverable provides may change with time and with users. The value that the solution once provided to users may wane or it may increase significantly five years down the road.

These differing perspectives mean the project’s relative degree of success vs failure may change over time as well, which is why stakeholder buy-in for project success is so important.

After the development team is gone, it’s the buy-in from everyone that will help align these changing perceptions and aid in user retention for the solution. Establishing stakeholder, IT, business, finance, internal and external partner buy-in will create a unified vision for the solution’s usage and re-align everyone’s expectations and the importance of the solution. Upfront knowledge of the investment of the project—as well as transparent communication within the stakeholder group—can help mitigate surprises and create alignment within the team.

To create buy-in, it’s important to acknowledge the needs of each group or, in other words, stakeholder alignment. If you are on or attached to the project, you are a stakeholder.

Below is an overview of the expanded stakeholder group, in addition to the executive sponsors, and the key questions and concepts that can ascertain stakeholder buy-in during the entire project process— from pre-sales through any tough times and years after implementation. Everyone must buy-in and be accountable.

Key questions

Overall Technology Group — Is everyone bought in to the project? Is everyone bought in to the technical direction/architecture? Is everyone prepared for the tough times and committed to getting through them together?

Finance Partner — Are they bought in to the true spend? Are they committed to the success of the project?

Business Sponsor — Are they bought it to the true details? Are they willing to learn and understand the technology concepts and the complexity of the project? Do they have the ability to drive the non-negotiables? Can they work with the tech teams to shape the paths through the “this can’t be done” phases?

External Partners — Does the team understand urgency and the importance of the project? Is everyone committed to learning the client’s business? Are they willing to commit enough to see the potential impact of new technology through the client’s eyes? Is there enough trust from both sides to be transparent about where the team is stuck?

“A few years ago, I was on a call with a former leader, Scott Moore from the Naval of Special Warfare Development Group, aka SEAL TEAM SIX,” said Dan McLean. “It was a fascinating conversation, and one of his statements that has stuck with me is that they didn’t care about consensus, they needed buy-in, albeit his verbiage was much stronger and more colorful.”

As Scott so emphatically stressed, getting buy-in is the most critical component in driving and defining success. By asking the right questions to the right people on the outset, you can unify all stakeholders, create a clear vision for the solution’s usage, and align everyone’s expectations—all of which will payoff greatly down the road.

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