Do you know what the REAL project is?

Sometimes what you’re really trying to solve is a bit hidden. The customer may not see it and you might not at first glance either. But it is your responsibility to make sure you always go that extra mile to make sure you are addressing the real issue and not just a symptom that the project sponsor sees and what seems obvious to everyone.

Unknown opportunity concept as three dimensional text hidden underwater with a viral healthy tree growing on a small piece above water as a metaphor for success and motivation to search for hidden opportunities in business and life.
Sometimes there is more to a problem than what you can easily see.

It’s not always easy to truly identify what is the real project. On the surface, it seems obvious. The customer comes to you with ‘x’ need and you work with the customer on business processes and requirements and move forward with work on a solution for that customer. You have a project involves working to solve the customer’s identified need.

However, it’s not always that easy … and as the Project Manager, you must assume that the customer doesn’t always know what it is they want or even what their true need is. Identify that true need, and you’ll be building a solution that keeps the customer happy.

Get the big picture by asking the right questions

Problems and opportunities can arise almost anywhere inside or outside the organization. Problems are typically driven from within and frequently relate to improving organizational performance. For example:

Problem Solution
A department that’s overwhelmed with paperwork. Simplify procedures.
An organization that constantly faces the prospect of worker strikes. Improve management/employee relations.
An insurance company that has branch locations spread across a wide geographic region. Communicate effectively among branches.

Problems are generally regarded as negative. Opportunities may be viewed as their positive alter ego.

Opportunities are often driven by external forces. More common examples can be found in the areas of product development or product enhancement. These opportunities are often the response to a perceived need in the marketplace. In other words, sometimes a problem leads to opportunities.

Identify the true project

The term “true need” refers to the most basic problem to be solved. Identifying your project’s true need can, at times, be tricky. But it’s absolutely vital that you as the Project Manager understand what the true need is.

Why? Because many will judge you as a project manager by your ability to solve the original problem. Solving the original problem equates to satisfying the true need and you and your project team often have to dig to find out what that true need actually is. You cannot be certain that you’ll satisfy the true need unless you know what it is. The problem is that when you’re assigned to manage a project you may not be presented with the true need explicitly. Terminology can become confused: what’s described as a need may actually be the solution to a need.

One of the most reliable methods for uncovering the true need is to ask the right people one simple question: “Why?” However, as you seek to uncover the true need, you can expect to encounter some resistance.

Summary / Call for Input

If you ask questions rather than digging in and getting the project going, some within your organization may assume that you’re not moving forward. However, asking the right questions of the right people can often lead to some startling discoveries.

Readers – have you had many projects where the real need was buried and the customer was actually coming to you with a symptom? I have … and the end result would have been disastrous if my team and I had only delivered on the symptom rather than digging for the real problem. Please share your experiences.

Brad Egeland
Brad Egeland

Noteworthy accomplishments:
*20 year provider of successful technical project management leadership for clients across nearly every industry imaginable
*Author of more than 4,000 expert professional project management and business strategy articles, eBooks and videos over the past decade
*Articles/professional content receives over 40,000 page views monthly
*Named #1 in the 100 Most Inspiring People in Project Management
*Named a Top 10 Project Management Influencer to Follow in 2016
*The most read author of expert project management content on Project Times/BA Times for 2015
*Named most prolific provider of project management content over the past 5 years
*Noted for successful project management and financial oversight for $50 million Dept. of Education financial contract/program
*Chosen by the Dept of Defense as a subject matter expert (SME) to help select IWMS software provider for the largest IWMS implementation ever awarded

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