Project Tips

Wondering why your teams don’t deliver what you need when you need it?

  • Why does it take so long?
  • Why do they tell you everything’s fine ... but then a deadline nears and they panic?
  • Why do you end up settling for less…since it’s more important to deliver something now than to wait until they get it right?

Don’t worry. You’re not alone.

We’d like to share some ideas that have worked well for our clients in similar situations.

Every few months we will update this section with new tips and ideas.  If you'd like to receive an e-mail when we update "Project Tips" or if you have suggestions for future "Project Tips" topics, just complete our contact form.

A team that is safe and supported, clear and committed will deliver magnificently.

Here are two of the most practical things you can do to ensure your teams deliver what you need when you need it:

  1. Create strong team-sponsor partnerships
  • each project team should have a high level sponsor
  • everyone should be aware of and understand the sponsor’s role and key activities
  1. Encourage teams to conduct probing interviews that clarify the forces and factors driving a project
  • each project team should interview its sponsor and key stakeholders
  • teams should learn and practice a proven interviewing methodology


Many teams fail to deliver or take so long because they pursue the wrong solution ... because they just don’t understand the subtle factors driving the project. Sometimes teams pursue a vague compromise they hope will make everyone happy, because they have no safe mechanism that enables them to resolve competing priorities or differences among high level managers. Teams end up delivering the wrong results and have to start over, or at the very least, waste time doing unnecessary work. That’s why it takes so long. They don’t have the information to sort out the make or break factors, decide real priorities and get problems resolved early.

Probing sponsor/stakeholder interviews are a special way of providing guidance and direction to the team so they can clearly understand the forces and factors impacting the project. The better the team understands the deep, underlying issues surrounding their project, the more likely the team is to identify and pursue the best solution, and get there fast. And a sponsor that helps a team identify and understand the make or break issues, eliminates time wasted by the team on extraneous issues, so the team focuses on the right thing ... and delivers on time.

In a sponsor/stakeholder interview, the sponsor needs to "tell it like it is" without withholding details. The sponsor should focus on openly and honestly sharing critical information with the team, such as:

  • The project’s ideal, desirable future outcome
  • Concrete, tangible essential project elements
  • Hidden political, personal, sensitive factors driving the project
  • What’s already been tried, what has worked, what hasn’t worked
  • Absolute minimum acceptable deliverables - if the team isn’t able to deliver them, then the project shouldn’t be done

The sponsor’s willingness to address sensitive issues, although uncomfortable at first, will truly improve the team’s efficiency. They will be able to overcome the typical organizational stumbling blocks – and deliver the right results on time.

The stakeholder/sponsor interview approach to sharing information with project teams is not embraced easily by all organizations. Some cultures support openness and honesty while others are not as comfortable with it. In situations where discomfort exists, we would modify the approach and ensure that it is carefully positioned.

A thorough, open, honest stakeholder interview process helps the team:

  • find out what’s wanted and needed
  • avoid misunderstandings
  • establish rapport and a foundation for a working partnership with key stakeholders

We suggest teams schedule 1-1 hour interviews with each of their key stakeholders, including their sponsor.

The basic components of a good stakeholder interview are fundamentally the same as a good consumer needs identification interview:

  • interviewers are well prepared, and have developed and practiced excellent open-ended, probing questions
  • the stakeholder understands why she is being interviewed
  • the stakeholder is comfortable, open, relaxed and honest
  • the stakeholder provides the team with detailed information, depth and perspective on factors and forces, needs and wants – not direction on what to do and how to do it.

Ideally, the entire team observes the interview with one person asking the questions and a second person acting as scribe with a flip chart so that the interviewer, the team and the stakeholder can see how the information is recorded. Unfortunately, given scheduling and other issues, this ideal is difficult to achieve. A minimum of two team member should be involved in the interview with each stakeholder.

Guidelines to the interviewer include:

  • Absorb information; don’t discuss, negotiate, sell or lead
  • Erase preconceived ideas from your mind
  • Seek to deeply understand unspoken needs, factors and forces
  • Ask open ended questions and probe gently but deeply. Listen, listen, listen.
  • Listen for hidden clues, discrepancies and make or break factors
  • Don’t pressure the stakeholder during the interview. It’s a time for reflection, openness and creativity

The interview is not a forum for debating or discussing issues – those opportunities will come later. Good listening is one of the best ways to uncover the essential needs and desires of someone. The objective is to build rapport with the stakeholder and extract as much information as possible so the team can do an excellent job meeting the stakeholders’ needs and defining and planning the right project.

Project Doctor - Under Development

2003 Erika Jones & Associates, Inc.