Thursday, 30 December 2010

The Law of Unintended Stakeholders

Recently I was chatting with a family friend and quite by accident we discovered our common interest in Ma’aseh Bereishit (“the workings of Creation”), an early school of Jewish Mysticism focusing on how the Universe was created. I also recently came across two related articles on this topic by Head for Red called “Sorcery’s a Dangerous Game” and by Strategic Sorcery: “On Secret Identities” that caught my attention.

From a Project Management point of view what this looks like is what I call the “Law of Unintended Stakeholders”. Which basically means that someone or group of people takes an interest after find out about something, in this case that the person is a sorcerer, theurgist, voodoo practitioner, pagan, mystic etc. (or all of the above).

Definition of a Stakeholder

First we need to answer the question of what the definition of a stakeholder is? Then we’ll take a brief look at how to manage stakeholders and finally some advice on how to handle stakeholders who have an interest in the occult.

According to the PMBOK Guide (Project Management Institute Body of Knowledge, 3rd Edition, pp.376) the definition of a stakeholder is:

“Person or organization (e.g. customer, sponsor, performing organization, or the public) that is actively involved in the project, or whose interest may be positively or negatively affected by the execution or completion of the project. A stakeholder may also exert influence over the project and its deliverables.”

In plain English a stakeholder is someone who has an interest and may have influence over projects that you’re running. If for example you’re a vampire, then a stakeholder is quite literally someone with a hostile interest in your continued existence. Perhaps a better example is the 2012 Olympics in London, everyone living in the city is a potential stakeholder as they may be affected by the Olympic games. However, as a Project Manager you’re aware that there are different scales of interest and influence by your stakeholders and it’s important to manage those carefully.

On Managing Stakeholders

Fortunately this is where the “Lazy Project Manager: How to be twice as productive and still leave the office on time” by Peter Taylor comes to the rescue. There’s a LOT of literature written on managing stakeholders, but Peter’s book has some very helpful diagrams.

“Lazy Project Manager: How to be twice as productive and still leave the office on time” by Peter Taylor pp. 38
This diagram is actually about the Sponsor (i.e. the person providing funding) of the project. However, I believe that it can be stretched to include all stakeholders.

What the diagram shows is that those people who score highly on influence and interest should get the most effort to keep informed and satisfied. The interested should be kept informed and the influential should be kept satisfied- which leaves the least effort for the ones at the other end of the interest and influences scales.

Law of Unintended Stakeholders

OK, so let’s bring this back to the original posts quoted by Head for Red and Strategic Sorcery.

Sorcery’s a Dangerous Game” and
On Secret Identities

What happens when someone in your circle of family, friends, colleagues, or other contact finds out that you’re interested in magic, mysticism, paganism, etc? If they express any interest in this, then they have unintentionally become a stakeholder due to their interest. The next question is: how much influence do they have on your life?

Once the assessment of how much interest and influence they have has been done; then the next step is to use this to determine your communication strategy and risk management of this issue. As the diagram above shows, people with little interest or influence do not require much, if any, management. People with only an interest and little influence can be managed by either keeping them informed or not. If you don’t keep them informed, their interest may fade over time.

It’s the people who have high influence (whether very interested or not) that are the main concern. So here are some approaches to handling this issue based on PMBOK (3rd edition) section 11.5.2 “Risk Response Planning: Tools and Techniques”, pages 261-263

.1 Strategies for Negative Risk or Threats
“Three strategies typically deal with threats or risks that may have negative impacts on project objectives if they occur. These strategies are to avoid, transfer, or mitigate.”
.2 Strategies for Positive Risks or Opportunities
“Three responses are suggested to deal with risks with potentially positive impacts on project objectives. These strategies are to exploit, share or enhance.”
.3 Strategies for Both Threats and Opportunities
These strategies are (hopefully) self explanatory. To give a little more help I’ve included some examples of how to use each one and leave the rest up to your initiative and creativity to come up with solutions of your own.

  • Avoid – This can be taken quite literally to have less contact with that person or to avoid this topic. If you can skillfully navigate away from this topic, then the stakeholder may get the hint and realize that it’s not something you want to include in your conversations. You may need to tell this to them directly.
  • Transfer – Point to another source for more information. This can be another person, online information or books, etc. It can even mean getting another person or group to engage with the stakeholder to answer their questions and get them to take the brunt of the interest whether positive or negative.
  • Mitigate – This means reducing the impact and can be done by for example down-playing the importance these topics have such as “Oh, I’ve only read a couple of books on Kabbalah. I’m by no means an expert and only do some breathing exercises.”
  • Exploit – On a more positive note, this may be an opportunity to learn from someone else. They may have knowledge and experience whose benefits you could learn from.
  • Share – If the person has an interest in other areas you could each agree to share such knowledge each with the other. One example of this is Doing Magick’s article on “The Rabbi Speaketh"
  • Enhance – This means increasing the likelihood of something positive coming out of this situation. Proactively seeking to increase the chances of success, such as for example starting a blog to better interact with other initiates around the world.
  • Accept – passive acceptance means doing nothing about it. Active acceptance means moving on (if possible) to somewhere that their influence is unlikely to have an adverse affect on you.