Cracking The Nut Of Competing Project Objectives

One potential issue for project teams is the existence of competing objectives. Whether it’s an individual sponsor or an entire group of end users, there might come a time when stakeholders are focused on achieving things other than the project’s stated goals. They may be at odds with each other about what’s important, leading to unproductive in-fighting or factions putting resources into the wrong activities. Any of these practices could hinder the project team’s broader efforts.

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The specter of competing priorities can appear in many forms. Stakeholders may try to steer project discussions around to activities that aren’t on the critical path or that require only minor attention at the time. They might disengage from discussions entirely when their pet priority isn’t on the agenda. In especially difficult cases they sometimes instruct their teams to do their own thing rather than following the direction of the PMO.

For those project teams grappling with the challenges of competing objectives, determining how to get everyone working as a single unit can be tricky. Several key strategies can help PMP®s identify where priorities don’t match across the various stakeholder groups and bring progress back on track.

A good first step is to confirm that all of the project’s goals are known across every stakeholder group. Put simply, it’s possible that sponsors and end users are so tightly focused on their own areas that they haven’t even noticed what else the project is expected to accomplish. A good communications strategy will provide the foundation for ensuring this fundamental information is made available early during the planning process and that progress reports and status updates—distributed frequently throughout the project’s lifecycle—keep the entire list of objectives top-of-mind for all stakeholders.

Remember that stakeholders’ anticipated benefits might not always correlate to a stated project goal. There may be members of the various groups who are counting on positive outcomes outside the traditional objectives. For example, it’s possible that workers are looking forward to the project’s completion because they anticipate that expanded production capabilities will translate into additional opportunities to earn overtime hours. If efficiencies or other factors threaten to dampen the prospects of boosting their pay, they may not view project success in the same way other stakeholders do.

As soon as a PMP® suspects that competing objectives may be an issue, it’s important that they quickly pull the project management team together to discuss where potential problems and impacts are likely to appear. Everyone should take the time to collectively identify key points throughout the project that must be closely monitored for stakeholder compliance. Also, understand where advanced skills such as facilitation, communication, and project controls are going to play a key role in maintaining a cohesive focus on the project’s stated goals. Stakeholders are less able to use their influence to advance their agenda if the entire team is aware of the situation and has a unified plan to address it.

In addition to talking about the problem within the team, PMP®s should also have a frank, open discussion with stakeholders about their priorities and where those may conflict with the project’s overall goals. This will give the team an opportunity to discuss their concerns about how competing objectives could put the project’s success in jeopardy, and it also provides stakeholders a forum to ask questions, provide some informal feedback, or even air any grievances they may have. These candid conversations might need to happen several times as the project progresses and priorities evolve, but they’re still a powerful tool in the pursuit to keep everyone working toward a common set of goals.