Monday, June 30, 2008

Big Wheels Keep on Turnin'

Well, summer is finally here in Massachusetts. And for me, that means I will get to spend some time on Cape Cod. Cape Cod is a beautiful arm-shaped peninsula of land that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, offering miles of beaches and dunes, salt-water taffy, bike trails, interesting birds and sea life, crazy traffic, and it serves as a holiday destination for people from across the US and Canada and increasingly (with the favorable exchange rate) Europe and elsewhere.

It also brings me into an area which is swirling (you'll get the pun later) in some controversy. At issue is a project called Cape Wind, and there is a real lessons-learned here for Project Managers. The lesson is regarding identifying your stakeholders properly. We hear a lot about managing your stakeholders - but guess what? You cannot manage them if you don't know who they are first.

If Cape Wind is successful, it will generate about 3/4 of the energy consumed by Cape Cod with renewable, clean energy. It will generate 600 to 1,000 jobs in the area. But it is not loved by everyone.

Observe this snippet from today's issue of Business Week: "the first large-scale effort to harness sea breezes in the U.S. hit resistance from an army led by the rich and famous, waging a not-on-my-beach campaign. For almost eight years the critics have stalled the project, called Cape Wind, which aims to place 130 turbines in Nantucket Sound about five miles south of Cape Cod. Yet surprisingly, Cape Wind has largely defeated the big guns. In a few months it may get authorization to begin construction. "

The entire article - worth a read - is attainable right here.

Eight years! The project lost eight years of delay and millions and millions of dollars spent in advertising and studies, and continues this battle today.

My point, whether you agree with the Cape Wind supporters or the people opposed to the effort, is that as a PM we need to identify all stakeholders up front and focus not only (as is tempting) on those who will support the project but to think as broadly and deeply as possible about all of those who might stand in its way.

In this case, Cape Wind was surprised, and ill-prepared, in my opinion, about a very unlikely (but in fact plausible) collection of organizations who came together to oppose the project - environmentalists, landowners, fishermen, birders - people you might think would normally amd naturally support a green effort (I think I am showing my leanings here). I think that they should have thought longer and harder at the beginning of the project about identifying how these individuals (some of whom are very powerful, with surnames such as Kennedy) were stakeholders in this effort and how they may have aligned against it.

Take a lesson from Cape Wind. Identify your stakeholders - even opponents, maybe even especially opponents - early on, and manage them continuously.

Ask yourselves:

--Who might be opposed to my project?
--What are their relationships with us?
--What are their spheres, and levels of power and influence?
--What are their relationships with each other?
--How might opponents work together in unexpected ways to impede progress?
--Are there ways to arrange a win-win?

Asking these questions now - and knowing your stakeholders and their needs - will improve your chances of "clean energy" on your project.

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