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Managing Expectations: The Politics of Success Factors

Blais FeatureArticle Nov27Critical Success Factors (CSFs) are those outcomes that the project needs to deliver so that everyone appraising the project will agree that it is successful, at least in terms of delivery. (A critical success factor may be the time of delivery.) We define the primary critical success factors by defining the real problem, the vision, and the acceptance criteria.

There are also those aspects of the project that are assessed by individuals or groups within the stakeholder community. These individual stakeholder expectations, which may be concerned with a part of the outcome, how the product is developed, or even how the project is executed, will lead the affected stakeholder to consider the project less than successful regardless of the overall success of the deliverable. These aspects are called Political Success Factors (PSFs). You can solve the problem perfectly well without satisfying these factors, however, the stakeholder will not deem the result successful in his or her eyes.

While you must meet all Critical Success Factors as a business analyst or project manager, Political Success Factors are optional, usually based on the political clout of the individual voicing that factor. 

The project manager has two challenges regarding political success factors: determining which of the project constraints are Critical Success Factors and which are Political Success Factors, and then deciding whether to satisfy the Political Success Factor. The business analyst can lend invaluable assistance to the project manager in managing expectations by identifying the political success factors as early as they are voiced or suggested.

The business analyst may pick up the PSFs during problem investigation. When stakeholders suggest (or demand) a particular solution, they are expressing expectations, and more importantly, their success factors. If you are unable to disabuse them of their infatuation with a particular solution, they will expect their solution to be used regardless of the success of the product when another solution it used (one way to remove the expectation of a single solution is to offer alternate solutions until the stakeholder agrees that there may be other ways to solve the business problem). The project manager should be informed and a decision made as to what solution to execute. It is entirely possible that the Director of Marketing might actually have the best solution to the business problem. If not, then the Director’s expectations need to be managed and the earlier you manage those expectations, the better. 

The longer an expectation remains unaddressed, the more solidified and real it becomes until it is no longer an expectation, but a demand.

The political success factor may not be the entire solution but a part of the solution, an item at the edge of scope, or a request that would normally be taken out of “Needs” or “Wants” and placed in the BS category (BS stands for ‘Blue Sky’), but without which the entire solution is considered less than successful by the requestor. Then the decision is whether to include the requested element or not.

Many times the PSF conflicts with the CSF and the decision is easy. When the VP Marketing wants pictures on the website, but in doing so the download time exceeds the maximum acceptable for the product, pictures are not included. However, this will not make the VP Marketing happy and she might think the project is less than successful. On the other hand, taking an extra week to write more code might get the pictures down in a reasonable time. If the deadline is not a CSF, the project manager might consider including the pictures. Then, of course, there might be an issue with the VP Sales who wanted the website up a week earlier to boost sales figures for the month. Now the VP Sales does not think the project is that successful. We are, after all, talking politics here.

In all cases with PSFs, you need to make a decision whether to include the requested element in the final solution. You may decide that the solution you define is best for the organization, and you are willing to live with the political fallout. You may determine that the requester simply does not have enough political clout and you can ignore him. Or you may put the extra time and effort in to include the request in the solution.

Managing PSFs is a critical part of managing expectations. Remember that the primary PSF is the same as the primacy Critical Success Factor: solving the business problem. Regardless of the importance a businessperson or problem owner puts on a particular PSF, it is still negotiable. Some PSFs are simply not reasonable or feasible. You cannot implement a completely brand new business process without incurring some transitional loss of productivity. In the end, the tradeoff for the stakeholder may be to solve the problem completely and correctly, or include that particular personal PSF. Determine this as early in the solution life cycle as possible so that the appropriate decisions can be made and expectations managed.

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