Wiifm – the magic sauce in project management

wiifmOne pf my core project management beliefs is that project management is all about people. Projects are delivered by people, for people and impacting people. You can know the processes and methods inside-out but if you ignore the people side you’ll end up with a mess.

Now people are funny folk. They tend to be independent and have their own views on things. And when they are confronted by change they will react in different ways. Some will resist or deny that it is happening. Others will embrace it and look for the opportunities. They all want to know how it is going to affect them. Whether it is good, bad or indifferent, they always ask the question “what’s in it for me” or “wiifm”. They may not say it out loud or even realise they are thinking it, but it will be the first thing on their minds.


Success is about meeting wiifm

What has this got to do with successful projects? Well, those project managers that continuously consider the wiffm factors of their stakeholders tend to deliver successful projects:

  • Their projects get approved quicker – they consider what information the approving stakeholders need to make the decision. They consider up front where the objections might come from and build in answers to those objections. They amplify or emphasise the positive side to supporters. They also pre-syndicate the business case 1:2:1 with key stakeholders to gauge and win support, constantly identifying and address wiifm factors.
  • The plan seems to cover everything – A good project plan doesn’t just cover what needs to be delivered. It needs to cover how it is going to be delivered, addressing all stakeholder groups concerns about how the impact on them will be managed. The plan – at different levels – is a key communications document.
  • Progress always seems to be smoother – Progress or status reporting is a key form of stakeholder communication. Understanding the audience and tailoring the message to meet their needs and concerns and then using the right media to deliver the message are key. You’re not hiding anything, but instead you are making sure the matters that are key to a particular stakeholder group are fully addressed in the communications to them. It’s the market – message -media approach I talked about a couple of weeks ago.
  • Implementation seems to be a breeze – successful implementations are all about doing the hard work before you get there. Understanding the wiifm’s of each key stakeholder group in the implementation and ensuring they are addressed through communications, training and support is the key to a smooth and successful implementation. For example: “What happens if I can’t log in to the new system” – “We will have a team of dedicated floor walkers familiar with your details on hand from 07:30 on implementation day”. Concern dealt with and addressing the users personal concern by saying “…. familiar with your details….”. It’s about meticulous planning for the implementation based on all parties wiifm’s.

So successful project managers are always wearing somebody else’s shoes. They are always looking at things from the other person’s perspective. Always identifying their wiifm factors. It’s not about trying to please everybody all of the time, or even some of the time. It’s about accentuating the positive, mitigating or limiting the negative and avoiding the stupid mistakes – you know, the ones that happen when you assume.

Understanding stakeholder’s wiifm’s is a powerful strategy. It dramatically reduces surprises, can stop arguments before they begin and can often make allies out of opponents. But it requires effort and engagement. It’s not about attempted mind reading. You may have to make some assumptions to start with, but test and validate them as soon as possible.

I discovered the importance of wiifm factors very early in my career. My first ever proposal for a system selection was well thought through and syndicated with Head Office management. But when I presented it to a global meeting of the overseas divisions I rapidly realised their wiifm’s were very different. As my boss said to me afterwards – “It was going well until they started throwing the furniture at you”.

What examples do you have where understanding your stakeholder’s wiifm has paid dividends? Leave a comment below.

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  1. […] If change is in the air, people worry about what it means for them – what's in it for them – their wiifm factors  […]

  2. […] Allen Ruddock argues that the key to a successful project is communicating to the stakeholders what’s at stake for them – “What’s in it for me?” […]

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