You’ve probably noticed that setting start dates for projects—and sticking to them—is often a challenge. Smaller initiatives may not be as difficult, but bring a large, complex, or high-visibility project to the table and suddenly the prospect of a start date can become downright terrifying for stakeholders. Everyone typically wants the project done and most people are eager to participate in the planning phase, but try nailing down a date when the actual work will start and watch the avoidance behavior begin.
Why is this? There may be a number of reasons behind people’s hesitation. Some of it is likely simple human nature, but some could be indicators that your planning or communication efforts need to be more thorough. We’ve listed a handful of common reasons for stakeholder pushback below, along with some real-world strategies to help move your team from planning to action.
1 – Stakeholders are in the grips of analysis paralysis. People truly want to realize the benefits of the project, but they may be so overwhelmed with the sheer volume of information in front of them that they aren’t sure how to use that insight to determine a start date that is reasonable and efficient.
Solution: A project management strategy that leverages task duration estimates, incorporates a dynamic schedule, and utilizes tools such a work breakdown schedule is a tremendous help when it comes to clearing the hurdle of analysis paralysis. The right methodology will give the team a way to sift through the information in front of them and identify those data points that are useful in setting a start date for activities.
2 – Stakeholders don’t understand what’s expected of them. It’s possible that team members haven’t yet wrapped their heads around what they’ll need to do to support the project. As a result, they’re more likely to drag their feet rather than work to set a start date.
Solution: Were planning efforts carried out without sufficient input from those who will actually be performing the work? If so, now is the time to step back and close the communication loop. Solicit input from a broader stakeholder base and be prepared to answer their questions on activity assignments and expectations.
3 – Stakeholders are worried they can’t uphold their commitments to the project effort. Once team members understand what will be required of them in order to successfully execute the project, they may begin to balk. This is particularly true when internal resources are lean and employees will be expected to shoulder additional responsibilities alongside much of their regular workload.
Solution: Without firm stakeholder commitments, the project will be in danger of failing before it ever begins. The team should review its labor allocations to confirm that the necessary resources are available and that workloads are reasonable and sustainable across the entire team.
4 – Stakeholders doubt the project can succeed. While this sounds like a frustrating reason for stakeholders to push back against setting a start date, it’s really an important sign that your team needs to improve on some things. Perhaps key individuals were left out of the project’s planning phase. Maybe your proposed timeline is too aggressive. It’s possible the project’s scope is too ambitious given the approved budget.
Solution: Solicit feedback from stakeholders and ask them to be candid about why they don’t think the project will be a success. You may learn that you haven’t fully communicated the project’s scope and benefits to those who aren’t yet on board, or that the data—task duration estimates, resource allocations, etc.—you’ve used to develop the schedule wasn’t accurate or complete.