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One of the main issues of my kind of projects seems to be the participation. Since these projects run beside the people's daily business some people only spend so much time in the project. This makes release dates often unrealistic even though it is a business critical project. Even C-levels often cannot provide enough support or mass to help going forward.

What methods and tricks can you share?

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There are several soft techniques for trying to beef up participation that I am sure others will elaborate upon. I am going to restrict my answer to how you should handle it if you are unable to get traction with your participating resources:

Resources that need to participate in a project to make it work are almost like external resources (e.g. raw materials), if not enough of them are provided, then the project cannot deliver to its objectives.

This situation should be managed in the same way as external resources running out or not being available, i.e. through your active risks and issues management.

If you know this is a problem in your organisation then raise it as a risk in your risk log right at the start, and ensure you are sharing and reviewing your risks with your Project Board/Steering Group/Sponsor/Manager/Whatever.

Plan your project knowing about the scarcity of these resources and include contingency time for delays caused by lack of participation and cite the risks you have raised as the cause of the contingency planning.

As participation dwindles, increase the profile and likelihood of the associated risks and continue to actively manage and review those risks with the appropriate authorities. Seek assistance from your authority to help mitigate the risks by (with any luck) applying pressure from above- use your Project Board to help you solve the problem.

If participation dries up, close the risk (or change it) and definitely raise a big fat issue on your issue log. Immediately notify your Project Board (or other authority) of the issue and its effects, i.e. to go into contingency mode and commence re-planning based on lack of the resource- If you no longer have the raw material your delivery date must start to move to the right.

Do all this publically (whilst obviously observing political sensitivities), openly, factually and without emotion playing a part. All that happened is that a resource over which you have no control failed to materialise, you are not responsible for that, you are only responsible for reporting its effects and trying to mitigate it with other project actions, such as seeking alternatives and re-planning delivery dates.

Risk management is your friend. Use it. All the time.

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  • Thank you. I can certainly do that to point the board to the risk/issue. But since in a certain project I even had board members not spending enough time on the project I am also interested in more political/psychological ways to improve participation. Any thoughts on that too?
    – Tate83
    Jul 17, 2015 at 9:01
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Organizations prioritize based on importance to mission up against available resources. If you are finding your company is standing down on your project, all the way from leadership to its workers, then what you have is an indication--a very strong indication--where your project stands.

That said, you have an obligation as a PM to do the best you can despite the lack of sponsorship you are apparently receiving.

Commitments, contracts, Memorandums of Understanding, whatever you want to call it. Get them signed before your project is scheduled to start. Get them signed at all levels, e.g., your sponsor signs, committing x number of resources from y and z organizations; the leaders of y and z organizations sign them committing x number of their resources and by name; and then each person named in x and y resources signs them committing to whatever percentage in the week to do the project work. This signing to a contract has a tendency to cause people to stick to what they agreed to. It is a common intervention parents use with troubled adolescents and it has been shown to work to a good degree. I cannot quote the studies behind it at this time but if you look up studies associated with cognitive dissonance within social psychology you may find something to support this.

You can also try to have some type of financial reward tied to their salaries and wages, but I think that has only limited benefits. Money is not as strong a motivator as it intuitively seems to be. But, if you could get the money approved it may help a little.

However, as I wrote in the first paragraph, you are getting a huge clue on where your project stands in the organization. It will not bubble up to the top until it becomes mission critical, which may be late in the game.

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