Questions to Help Stakeholders Separate Wants from Needs

As you’re developing your project’s scope and timeline, you’ll likely receive requests that don’t clearly add value to the effort. Perhaps you’re working with high-level sponsors who want to throw every option into the mix, or with stakeholders who have a reputation for submitting requests that are of questionable value or are downright unnecessary. If you’re fielding a lot of asks, it can be difficult to separate the wants from the needs.

We’ve put together some questions for targeted communication that can help your project team differentiate between need-level requests that are critical for the project’s success and those that represent wants—potentially beneficial, but not essential.

What happens if this request is declined?

Wants are what one or more stakeholders would like to do, but they aren’t directly linked to achieving the project’s objectives. If there’s no clear negative effect of denying the request, then it doesn’t rise to the level of need. However, if you don’t fulfill the request and that decision prevents the firm from meeting its broader goals, then it may be a true business need.

How urgent is this request?

A time-sensitive request, even if it’s a want, may need to be prioritized over asks that are less dependent on a near-term completion date. A want that’s tied to an upcoming event, milestone, or deadline, for example, may evolve into a need later. By articulating and understanding the urgency, your team can better determine if including the want in the current project is appropriate.

Does the funding for this request already exist?

Some wants have been around for a while. For various reasons, they may not have been included in earlier projects, but there is broad agreement that they’re still worth doing. If a want meets those criteria, it’s possible there’s money earmarked to make it a reality. In those instances, the decision to add a want to the current project may be made easier because there’s no need to justify the extra budget to support it.

Has the full stakeholder team evaluated this request?

One issue project professionals commonly encounter is stakeholder frustration when a want sneaks into the project without everyone’s knowledge. By bringing all requests to the stakeholder team, you can eliminate concerns that low-priority or low-value wants are included while other more productive requests are rejected. Maintaining a consistent and transparent request review process is key to accurately and equitably separating wants from needs and ensuring alignment with the organization’s overall priorities.

Is it smarter to approve this want now rather than wait?

Consider current versus future efforts when separating wants from needs. A want may be valuable enough to incorporate into the current project if adding it to a future project would significantly increase the resource requirements. For example, if the craft labor needed to execute the want is already scheduled for onsite work, then the team should weigh the costs to add the labor for the want now against the combination of future labor plus additional fees to bring the contractor onsite.

How would the approval of this request affect project costs and timelines?

Delays to a project’s schedule often drive increased costs. This double drain on resources—longer time horizons and higher resource consumption—needs to be taken into account when separating the wants from true needs. The upfront expenditures may seem low, but those aren’t the whole story. Stakeholder requests that will take a long time to execute could delay the project’s target completion date. If that also means paying workers more to accommodate the extended timeline and/or losing revenue due to missed market opportunities, those costs must be considered.

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