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Bacon and Eggs: Commitment vs. Involvement
By Susan Peterson

There’s an old analogy that can be applied to project participants. In describing the efforts of the “project team” that ultimately ends in a plate of bacon and eggs, the pig is totally committed while the hen is merely involved. Some team members come to the project with enthusiasm. However, others figuratively “sit in the corner” with folded arms and a facial expression that seems to scream, “You may have my body but not my soul”. This article focuses on one of the greatest challenges that a project manager faces — getting a team and other stakeholders to be totally committed to a project.

“I’m behind you — a long way behind you”

Typically, senior management will provide initial backing for major projects. This backing may take the form of an email, a memo, a kickoff meeting, or some other method of letting people know that there is support from the top for the project. While this effort is welcomed by project managers, the real need for executive support continues throughout the project. The project manager not only needs to keep executives aware of progress (not status) but also needs to incorporate their ongoing visibility at critical points in the project. Many times executives will participate if asked, especially if they are provided with the “right words to say”.

“WIIFM?”

The acronym, WIIFM, translates into “What’s in it for me?” There are many different appropriate answers to this question, but it is not that “one size fits all”. Team members have to feel that they are personally getting something out of project participation. Project managers need to know their team members well enough to provide the right incentives, or this technique can incur cost without reaping desired benefits. Some possible recommendations for incentives include the following:

  • Money — be certain that the incentive basis actually promotes effective project team behavior
  • Visibility in front of senior management

  • Promotional opportunities

  • Lunches, parties, and other events that involve food

  • Time off

  • Saying “thank you”

“I want to make a difference”

Many projects include provision for communication plans, meetings to obtain “buy-in”, and other methods to let people know what’s happening on a project. However, there is a tendency to foster only one-way communication from the project manager to the team and other key participants. Effective communication not only needs to be two way, it also needs to demonstrate that the communication was actually heard. For example, if a meeting is held to allow mid-tier managers to assess elements of a strategic plan, the project manager should be certain to let those managers know how their ideas/comments were actually incorporated into the plan.

A project is only as good as the commitment of its stakeholders. A relatively small team of committed members will always out-perform a horde of members who are merely involved.

© 2012 Susan Peterson, All Rights Reserved – No part of this article may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission.

Susan Peterson, M.B.A., PMP, is a consultant who manages diverse programs and projects in both the private and public sectors for individual organizations and consortia. She also conducts enterprise assessments of project portfolio management practices. Prior to establishing her consulting practice Susan led major efforts for Fortune 100 organizations throughout the United States. She teaches the Project Management Simulation capstone course as well as the Project Portfolio Management course in the University of California, San Diego, Project Management certificate program and is a member of the curriculum committee. She can be contacted at susanada@aol.com.

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