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A project team is collectively tasked to deliver … something.  It could be a new building, an IT application. And when the project is closed down, the project team will be disbanded. They will *not* be the caretakers, the people required to look after what was delivered and what must now become operational.

So look at your project and think – who will be the Operational Caretaker for what you are delivering? The project team is the conscience for the Customer’s needs during the project – who is the conscience for the Customer’s needs after the project?   Obviously, it behooves you to speak with these people before the project is finished. To really make your project shine, though, engage them early – right at the beginning of the project.

My experience is the people accountable for  ongoing care eagerly participate in my project meetings. They also represent the Acceptor – the person who will accept the product or service produced by the project team and will be responsible for the operation of the product or service.  Sometimes they are smiling at these meetings, which gives me the message they have probably been ignored in the past, engaged at the 11th hour and surprised  – not pleasantly – by what was being handed over.  And who likes these kind of surprises?

I’ve also experienced PM Methodologies that formally did not engage the Operational Caretaker – the Acceptor – until well into Execution. We have ignored this and approached those managers early during Planning. They have to live with what is produced. They have knowledge that is incredibly valuable in helping the project team define a solution that better lives with the Customer. What is the point in delivering to the Customer’s needs, if it turns out to be a pain to live with and take care of afterward? And who better to provide that knowledge than – the Acceptor, the Operational Caretaker.

In your project, identify who the Acceptor is for what you are producing – it is not necessarily the person paying the bills, or the people using what you have produced – and engage them as early as possible in your project to really make your project shine.

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