Lightning, or Lightning Bug?

Project Responsibilities: Require “Stakeowners” Not “Stakeholders”

Words Really Make a Difference

Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain)—when asked whether word choice was important—is said to have replied, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

Lightning, or Lightning Bug?

Lightning, or Lightning Bug?

When planning efforts of any-size or type…using the “right” words for titles affects a project’s perceived  responsibilities.

As you peruse this post, please recall a few points regarding the POP-Approach; specifically, POP:

  • Uses the expansive term ‘Effort,’ which includes narrower terms, such as: Project, New Product Development, Strategy Development, Event/Training Planning, etc.
  • Uses the expansive term ‘Solution,’ which includes narrower terms, such as: Deliverable, Product, Result, Outcome, etc.
  • Is based on Planning System Dynamics (PSD)


A key aspect of POP’s use of Planning System Dynamics is the concept of “equilibrium.” Although you probably have a sound understanding of its meaning, you might be surprise to learn that “equilibrium” doesn’t mean what many people think it does. Equilibrium does not mean ‘static.’ Equilibrium means there are opposing forces which cancel each other out.

  • A key to POP’s success “Designing Success In” is to make sure that three perspectives (“Three Designs,” below)— representing six opposing forces—are in equilibrium…with each perspective zealously advocated by one, and only one, stakeowner.

Three Designs

In the POP-Approach, success if fostered by ensuring three primary “Design” considerations are in equilibrium; they are:Three-Designs

  1. Value Design,
  2. Solution [Product] Design, and
  3. Effort [Project] Design.

(For more information about POP’s Three Designs, see this earlier post:

Stakeowners are Single Advocates

The likelihood of success is proportional to the degree of equilibrium (or, lack of…) between information; decisions & choices; alignment of outcomes & resources; etc. A key to accomplishing this is to ensure each of an effort’s three “Designs” have one—and unambiguously only one—advocate…or, “stakeowner.”

Value Design Stakeowner

The single advocate for the Value Design is the “Economic Stakeowner” whose responsibility is to balance investment and return.

  • A too-frequent, yet least qualified person, to fulfill this responsibility is the Effort [Project] Manager. Why? Because if they had the ability to make such determinations…they would be an executive—not a project manager.

Solution Design Stakeowner

The single advocate for the Solution Design is the Solution Architect.

Why have a “Solution Architect?” Being good at one thing does not extend to all things. A good project manager isn’t necessarily (and, most likely does not have schedule capacity to be…) a functional expert (e.g., business process; product development).

Effort [Project] Design Stakeowner

The single advocate for the Effort [Project} Design is the Effort [Project] Manager.

“Stakeholders” Create Problems

Lurking in the shadows of the sub-text of the term “Stakeholder” is the implication of temporary possession. Temporary possession is an ephemeral quality that can change in a moment and without notice. The temporary nature of possession leads to preventable problems. For you see, a temporary “holder” can relinquish their grip…pass the baton…throw the hot potato. This possibility leads to impaired clarity, ambiguity, equivocality…and—a condition that rarely works to an effort’s advantage—latency.

The term “stakeholder” (the lightning bug of this analogy) implies a degree of involvement…a degree which is less than 100%. Being a ‘stakeholder’ does not carry with it responsibility for the outcome. It implies an interest, or expectation, of an outcome.

Whereas, an “owner” (lightning)— for good or bad — retains responsibility. An owner’s degree of responsibility is clear, unambiguous and unequivocal. An owner of an effort carries the responsibility to ensure the implications of the uncountable number of arbitrary choices are understood. To ensure success, an owner must also see to it that adequate investments & resources are obtained. And, an owner is responsible to ensure the envisioned valuable outcomes are delivered to the organization.

This is why the success of your efforts will be enhanced by insisting on clear, unambiguous & unequivocal identification of the:

  • Economic Stakeowner…and their non-transferrable responsibility for the Value Design and effort’s economic outcomes;
  • Solution Architect and their non-transferrable responsibility for the Solution [Product] Design and effort’s delivery results; and
  • Effort [Project] Manager and their non-transferrable responsibility for the Effort’s Design and execution.

You Decide

Are your efforts “owned” by lightning…or “held” by lightning bugs? Does the “temporary possession” of a “stakeholder” result in lack-of-clarity, ambiguity or equivocation? How about the degree of equilibrium between the Three Designs?

In the Next Post

In the next post…“Better Results with Better Planning: How You Think is How You Plan is How You Execute.”

Why do some efforts succeed against all odds while others—seemingly simple—fail miserably? The quality of execution cannot exceed the quality of the planning…just as the quality of the planning cannot exceed the quality of the thinking that went into it. In the next post…you’ll gain insights into simple, easy ways to use POP’s New Way of Thinking About Planning, Plans & Effort Execution for your advantage and enhanced professional attainment.

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