Eliciting the Reason for the Project

Author: Geri Schneider Winters

Any project that is started is started for a reason. There is some problem to be solved, or some opportunity to be met or a challenge to overcome. No matter how you word it, there is a reason for this project. Along with the reason, there is some person or group of people who have that reason for wanting this project to happen. In this tip, we will look at the use of imagination to elicit the reason for the project.

You may think this is unnecessary. If the project exists, there must be a reason for it. Ah, yes. But is that reason well-defined? Does everyone agree on the reason for the project? If the purpose of the project is not written, it is very likely that different team members and stakeholders will have different ideas of what the project is about. And sometimes those differences will be so radical, that you will have no chance of project success unless you resolve those differences.

You may find that the reason for the project is described in a document that was used to get approval for funding the project. This could be a Request for Proposal or an Initial Project Request. But the information in that document is not necessarily accurate, detailed, or complete. It is a place to start to get information about the reason for the project.

Another thing you can do is ask the various stakeholders what they think is the reason for the project. Then you can write what they tell you in a Project Vision document. But what do you do if the stakeholders disagree on the purpose of the project, or if you do not know who all the stakeholders are?

In this case, you might invite the stakeholders you know to come to a meeting of 1-2 hours duration. In this meeting, you will invite the stakeholders to use their imaginations to describe the project. As they share results, you will encourage them to discuss and come to agreement on the reason for the project. You may find by the end of the meeting that you have additional stakeholders to interview.

Be sure to include a meeting facilitator and a scribe in the meeting. You want to make sure to capture as much information as possible while you have the stakeholders together.

Here are a couple of ideas for stimulating the imagination to find out more about the reason for the project.

Ask the stakeholders to play a Future Think kind of game. They are to think to the future when the project is complete, and write a press release describing the product that is just being released as a result of that project. Here is a template:

<some future date> – <location of your company> – <company name> is pleased to announce the release of <product name>. This product has been created to <Benefit to the directly affected stakeholders> With this product <who and the problem being solved>. Further, <Benefit to indirect stakeholders>. Ultimately, <Benefit to the stockholders and end customers; financial benefit>.

Here is an example press release:

“August 28, 2010 – Seattle, WA – Wyyzzk, Inc. is pleased to announce the release of Gee Whiz. This product has been created to eliminate the need for washing clothes. With this product, anyone who spends time washing clothes will no longer have to do so. Further, there will be no need to buy a clothes washer or dryer, nor to go to a laundrymat to wash clothes. And this is good for the environment because there will no longer be the need to use water and soap to clean the clothes. Ultimately, this will save a lot of money for consumers, will protect the environment, and will generate substantial dividends for our stockholders.”

Another idea is to ask the stakeholders to pretend they are sales people who have to convince someone else to buy the product that was created in this project. Now when you are in sales, you have to think about the other person. So the stakeholders have to identify who they are selling to, what their problem is, and why this product is the best one to solve that problem. Remember there are always competing solutions, so what are they, and why is yours better?

You can play this imagination game by having the stakeholders write a sales script, but even better, use role playing. Have one stakeholder take the role of sales person and the other take the role of a skeptical customer. You can use a recorder or video camera to capture the dialogue, then review the recording later to find out exactly what was said.

These games provide a lot of insight into the thoughts and ideas of the stakeholders about the project. You will usually get much more detailed information from these kinds of exercises than you will get by asking a direct question such as “From your point of view, what is the purpose of this project?”

Have you tried any of these kinds of exercises on your projects?

If you are working on a project where the reason for the project is not clear or the stakeholders disagree on the reason for the project, try one or more of these techniques for resolving the differences.