Dealing with Meddling Stakeholders


By Mark Kozak-Holland, PMP, IPMA-D


As project managers we have all seen it before – stakeholders meddling in projects. A project can get quickly out of control when stakeholders start to meddle.

By definition, “meddling” means:

  • To interfere in or busy oneself unduly with something that is not one’s concern. (Source: Merriam-Webster – The Free Dictionary)
  • To intrude into other people’s affairs or business; interfere. (Source: TheFreeDictionary)

But what happens when stakeholders usurp the role of the project manager, start to make decisions, and steer the project in a new direction? As a project manager, what do you do? What contemporary case studies can we turn to? The answer is: we can’t-there are practically none. What organization would disclose these types of project issues?

Alas, there is an alternative: to look at well documented projects from the past. For example, the project to build the Olympic-class ships Olympic and Titanic, where you may not expect to see stakeholders meddling in one of the most famous projects of the twentieth century. The project provides strong learning lessons in what could go wrong in projects-even today. Even though this happened a century ago there are many strong parallels to modern project failures.

So what can we learn from this project?

First, we need to examine the project that designed, built, and launched the famous ship through the modern lens of project management and of the PMI PMBoK® Guide’s knowledge areas. White Star initiated and planned a project to outpace its competition with three super liners, using the latest in emerging technologies. The sponsor’s determination “to create the ultimate passenger (first class) experience” became the project mantra and was not out of line with the business case and the overall project objectives. The priorities were esthetics and functionality.

Second, we need to analyze each of the project stages and refer back to the knowledge areas, especially scope management. The principal stakeholder or sponsor Bruce Ismay was concerned about any requirements that could negatively impact the project mantra. There are several examples illustrating this…


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About the Author

Mark Kozak-Holland

As the founder behind the “Lessons from History” series, Mark Kozak-Holland brings years of experience as a consultant who helps Fortune-500 companies formulate projects that leverage emerging technologies. Since 1985 he has been straddling the business and IT worlds, making these projects happen. He is a Project Management Professional (PMP), a certified business consultant, the author of several books, and a noted speaker. As a historian, Kozak-Holland seeks out the wisdom of the past to help others avoid repeating mistakes and to capture time-proven techniques.  http://www.lessons-from-history.com/

Mark’s latest book is Meddling Stakeholders: How poor Project Management really Sank Titanic, published by Multi-Media Publications, September 2012. ISBN: 9781554891252; soft cover – http://www.mmpubs.com/catalog/meddling-stakeholders-how-poor-management-sank-titanic-dvd-p-483.html

Multi-Media Publications Inc. is an independent publisher focused on delivering high quality books, ebooks, audiobooks, DVDs, courses and their interactive learning solutions. Using technology to its fullest advantage since 1988, Multi-Media Publications has been a pioneer in digital content delivery, offering many of its titles simultaneously in print and several ebook formats. www.mmpubs.com

More about books in the Lessons from History series can be found at http://www.mmpubs.com/catalog/lessons-from-history-c-4.html.