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It’s flu season, so I’m guessing a lot of you have gotten your flu shot.

The flu is a concern during the coldest months of the year, but as Project Managers there’s another threat that we need to inoculate ourselves against all year round.

 This threat is called Change Orders.

Change orders occur when something unexpected or unplanned happens during a project and needs to be addressed. Change orders can slow your project down, blow its budget, and maybe even derail it altogether. They’ll leave you feeling bad, looking bad, reaching for your blood pressure meds or worse.  We all know that sometimes Change Orders are necessary, but we would like to avoid them if at all possible.  

Now, like the flu, there’s no guarantee that projects won’t encounter change. Let’s face it, some things are just beyond our control. But there are two artifacts all project managers should develop from the get-go to help inoculate our projects against unnecessary change: the stakeholder register and the project charter.

Stakeholder Register 

One of the first steps in initiating any project should be to create a stakeholder register. This is a list of all of the stakeholders, a “stakeholder” being defined as: anyone who may influence or be influenced by the project either positively or negatively.

The first few names will be easy, but don’t stop there. Dig a little deeper. You can expect to add names to your register throughout the project. 

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Who is going to be affected by this project and what are their opinions?
  • Who might have good ideas that we can incorporate into the project?
  • Who might have requirements and what are they?
  • Who might get in the way or be negative toward the project?
  • Who might be helpful?
  • Who might benefit from the project?
  • Who might be harmed?

Early on, you need to contact to all of these people! Because if you get started without their input, you might find out later– oops, we can’t do that because of such-and-such statute. Or, guess what, we got some bad press from X group because this project threatens their (fill in the blank). Or, we really should have included X as a part of the project requirements (again, fill in the blank).

Here’s a good example. Let’s say you were building a highway through a particular area. Suddenly, someone comes along and informs you that there’s no drainage in that area, and water will come down a nearby hill and flood the highway.

You didn’t consider that. Now, you have to put in a change request to dig a drainage basin in the valley before you can build the highway. That’s more time and money. Ouch. Double ouch if you’ve already started laying the pavement.

Not all stakeholders are created equally, either

If you want to know who your most important stakeholders are, you can use a simple 4-quadrant power/interest grid  (otherwise known as a Stakeholder Classification Matrix).  This matrix allows you plot your stakeholders to identify which ones have the most impact (power) and keenest desire (interest) to positively or negatively impact your project. If you’ve got names in the top right quadrant (high power/influence, high interest/resistance), you know those are the people you need to be spending the most time talking to!  These discussions should be around understanding their position, addressing their concerns, and winning their support for the project.

Project Charter 

The second document every project manager needs is a project charter. This document is basically a summary of the contract (if there is one), and details out the deliverables, timeline, budget, scope, and milestones. If there is ever a question, the Contract always takes legal precedence.  Along with stating what will be included in the project, sometimes the charter will also clearly state what is not going to be included. It’s a document you co-create with the project sponsor, and when it’s finished, the sponsor signs it. This shows that you are both in agreement on the details of the project. The document should be short– no more than 3 to 5 pages, and it could be less.

The project charter is valuable for many reasons. Here are two: 

  1. It serves to keep everyone on the team on point. It’s short and easy to reference, so you can go over it at every meeting if necessary. If issues or questions arise related to the project, the charter reduces any confusion. For example, a team member might have a great idea for an improvement, but if it isn’t part of the project scope, it should not be added until it goes through a change control process. The charter is easily accessible and helps the team identify when a change order is needed and allows them stay focused on the work at hand.
  2. The project charter gives the project manager implied authority with project team members. The truth is, many times we PMs are working with people who are not our direct reports. We may be a peer or a consultant. They may be from a different department or even another company.  The bottom line is that we may not be their boss. In short, the charter empowers the project manager to work with the team on the project and implies the Project Manager has the support of the Sponsor, who DOES have authority over the team.

Finally, change is good, in fact change is the result of every project! However, the changes we are trying to inoculate ourselves against are the change orders that come about from a lack of planning or from not doing our PM homework! The bottom line is, use a Project Charter & Stakeholder register on every project and……yes……….get a flu shot!

About the Author

Brian McBrayerBrian McBrayer, PMP®, is a Project Manager with Solarity, helping our clients achieve their strategic goals by assessing their current situation, defining their desired future state, and then acting upon an approved plan to help them reach their desired outcomes.

Before joining Solarity, Brian was a Project Manager with Tenmast Software, based in Lexington, KY. He is a member of both the global & local chapters of the Project Management Institute (PMI)®. His experience includes project management, sales management & organizational leadership in the software, public safety, & food industries. 

Brian has a degree in Marketing from Morehead State University. He is happily married and has two grown sons.

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