A the initial phase of a complex project (or the “fuzzy front end) it’s crucial that you don’t think you know more than you do about what the real problem is, just because you’re an experienced consultant or manager. Project management expert Bob Gill warns against developing the project plan before you’ve built the community around it and let the perspectives of different stakeholders converge into a meaningful understanding of the problem. As you invite them into the work of defining the problem, you’ll soon realize that the community affected by your project is much larger than you originally imagined—and you need to start using your recruitment skills immediately. As you get to know a stakeholder, try to find out what the project looks like from his or her perspective: what’s in it for the stakeholder. Consultant David Schmaltz says that “the week or two you spend at the outset just having conversations with people is far from useless, despite its appearance.” The goal should be to “constitute a benevolent conspiracy of people committed to figuring out how to make the project work.

Harvard Management Update, June 2003