The Good, the Bad and the Kool-Aid Drinker: The 3 People You Meet on a Project


Share on LinkedIn

Before we start, yes I realize that you generally meet more than three people on a project. The ones I’m talking about are the people that play key roles that you’ve never thought of. Intrigued? Of course you are so let’s get started.

Before you parachute into client territory, it’s important to ensure that your instincts are primed and ready. Your team can enter with a great strategy, tactical plans and skills that would dazzle any client, but this does not guarantee success. Unless you want to suffer the same fate of those who came before you, you need to think of yourself as a detective. Most of the time, a crime has been committed. The Customer Experience is being held hostage and your project team’s job is to solve the case before it’s too late. The key to this endeavor lies in your ability to identify credible witnesses.

After working on many projects of different types and sizes in various verticals, I have a theory. There are three people you meet on a project. These three people are ones that you need to identify and be cognizant of but not consumed by. They are chess pieces. While they are generally tasked with playing key roles from Key Stakeholders and Project Managers to Subject Matter Experts, Developers and Business Analysts, they have an impact to the project outside of their assigned team role when it comes to the success of the engagement.

They are:
• The One who “Thinks” They Know Everything
• The One who Actually Knows “Nearly” Everything
• The One who Will Benefit from the Project Failing

The One who “Thinks” They Know Everything
“The One who ‘Thinks’ They Know Everything” is not a malicious person. Let’s get that straight. This person has been successful within the company (or may simply be a legend in their own mind). What they tell you from their perspective is absolutely true. This project resource is trying to be helpful. Of course you need to keep in mind that everyone, including me, sees the world filtered by their own experiences. The difference is, the consultant at play works at walking in each actor’s shoes (from each customer type to each internal role type) in order to achieve the client’s business goals.

There is no specific level where this person resides within the organization. This person may be your Project Sponsor. The good news here is that this person should be receptive to hearing about the risks and the mitigation strategy since his or her career (success) may be on the line.

If you find this role is a primary stakeholder, you may have your work cut out for you. Welcome to EGO-Palooza. Love these people because they make projects interesting. There is always something to learn from those with an endless supply of self-confidence and Chutzpah. This is where the art of consulting truly comes into play.

When this role is filled by a Subject Matter Expert, you simply have to learn to take the words with the grain of salt. This is why identifying this person and being cognizant of his perspective on things is important as you elicit information. In a word, “validate” however you can.

The One who Actually Knows “Nearly” Everything
Generally a mid to lower level employee, this person has played the role of the unsung hero of many projects and is one of the most “credible witnesses” you’ll find. She’s reliable, a diligent worker, and likely a tactical executor of other people’s strategy. This is the person who knows where the bodies are buried, who buried them and why. Finding this person and building a strong relationship will help you to navigate the political waters, learn from other vendor / consultant mistakes, and find the internal resources who will give you the information that will help you execute successfully. You know the saying about the three different perspectives (yours, mine and the truth)? You need to learn what is really going on. The network of the “One that Actually Knows ‘Nearly’ Everything” will help you to learn about the true internal challenges and areas of previous and current success.

We all know that it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. If you want to know the style of communication that works best with each key resource, this person is your YODA. With this information, your strategy in this chess game, and make no mistake it can be a bit of a chess game, will be more successful. This person helps you build your brand on the project and thus the chess piece that you will be. The goal: don’t be the pawn. No one in power listens to the pawn.

This person is genuinely altruistic, which keeps her at a mid-management level. This person knows the pieces but doesn’t play the political game. You are the instrument of the game for this kind soul. Most importantly, this person will help you because of the relationship you build with them. These days, people are loyal to one another, not to companies. This somewhat altruistic person, who takes pride in being part of a job well done, will feel strength in numbers and positive about helping the right things happen. The key is she must trust you, and if you say what you mean the right way and follow through on what you say, that trust will be yours.

The One who Will Benefit from the Project Failing
There is an element of evil in “The One who Will Benefit from the Project Failing.” Generally the grand master of chess or the Padawan (student of a Jedi Master), this person may be direct about his concerns and try to steer the initiative. More than likely he is the one with the smile and support who, behind the scenes, is a master at lining up the dominoes and making others give a gentle tap that starts the cascade. The result can be project implosion or the ever popular “hold” on the initiative. If your project were the show “Survivor,” “The One who Will Benefit from the Project Failing” is the strategist who plays to win and does it with style.

Of course, there are times when this person plays the hero genuinely looking at out for the best interests of the company, with personal benefit as an ancillary affect (but it’s a rare occurrence).

Be Cognizant of the Three but not Consumed by their Existence
Why do you need to be cognizant of these people? You are tasked with successful execution that will have positive results for the company. You and your team are judged purely on execution. The more barriers you can knock down or avoid, the better the outcome and the quality of life for your team. While you need to know who they are and what they mean to the dynamic of the project and your day to day existence, do not be consumed by them. They are just one part of the overall strategic approach you and your team apply to the project.

Cindy Campbell
Independent Consultant
For over 15 years, Cindy Campbell has counseled companies and provided comprehensive business strategies to overcome business challenges. As an independent consultant, Cindy has provided leading-edge customer-centric solutions to organizations from start-ups to blue chip companies.


  1. If you only learn one thing from this article, I recommend identifying this person as soon as you can on any project: The One who Will Benefit from the Project Failing. Cindy’s description of him/her is dead on:

    More than likely he is the one with the smile and support who, behind the scenes, is a master at lining up the dominoes and making others give a gentle tap that starts the cascade.

    You may not spot this person the first time you encounter the “domino tipper” on a project, but once you’ve lived through the experience once, the lessons learned are in your muscle memory and you’ll not miss him/her next time.

  2. quite true until you are on the project where no one knows anything…ha. If you’re the consultant and you know more than the room. You aren’t charging enough….

  3. This person might not really have any skin in the game and may only be an observer. But he/she loves to tell you and everyone else within earshot all the things that won’t work and why. Of course, no concrete suggestions of what to change or how to do better are ever forthcoming.

    Beware the person who only stands to benefit by saying “I told you so” when the project fails. He/she will crow about it for years.

    Great post! Experienced project consultants could tell war stories on this topic for hours.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here