Delivering the Wow Factor

If You Really Want to Amaze Stakeholders, Get Them to Dream Big from the Start

By Amber Simonsen, PMP

Your most recent project came in on time, on budget and within scope—and stakeholders were satisfied. But something still seemed missing—you have a gnawing notion that your project checked a box instead of changing the world. What else could have been done to elevate outcomes?

To go beyond delivering a by-the-book project, I use what I call the “Wow! Statement” technique. When employed during the planning process, it helps draw out the hopes, dreams and aspirations of my most important stakeholders—and provides clarity to my teams about our end state. The technique lets me go beyond core project metrics, which shouldn't necessarily dictate the outcome of your project. After all, a project can be late, over budget or deviate from the original intent and still be deemed a success. Project success ultimately depends on how much value the most important stakeholders think a project delivers. Here's how my Wow! Statement stakeholder management approach has worked for me—and can work for other project leaders.


Project success ultimately depends on how much value the most important stakeholders think a project delivers.

Recently, I had the privilege of leading Alaska Airlines' first major rebranding project in 25 years. After the company determined the new brand strategy, I set up a planning session with senior leaders from across various departments (e.g., brand experience, corporate communications, e-commerce) to plan the execution of this massive effort. I took them through the four steps of my approach:

1. Identify: We identified our stakeholder groups (customers, elite loyalty program members, employees, etc.).

2. Prioritize: We prioritized the stakeholders, ensuring we had clarity on the most important groups.

3. Ask: I asked each of our stakeholder groups a core question, and we crafted answers starting with the word “wow.” In this case, our core question was, “What do we want stakeholders to say on launch day?” We wanted customers to say, “Wow! My favorite airline keeps getting better.” We wanted employees say “Wow! It's fresh, modern and honors the past. I'm even more proud to work here.” We repeated this process for each of our stakeholder groups.

4. Revisit: Finally, we made sure we had identified our top three or four stakeholder groups and that the participants agreed we could deliver on the Wow! Statements.

There are two benefits to using this technique. First, it creates a set of short, memorable goals that can be used throughout the project. Second, the act of creating such goals puts your team in a positive frame of mind. As author and psychologist Shawn Achor explains in his book, The Happiness Advantage, people are more creative and produce more innovative solutions when they have a positive mindset.


Once our most important stakeholders articulated their goals, we moved into planning the project scope. This involves determining what we would need to do for the goals to come true. In my project, for the employee Wow! Statements to be true, we needed to ensure that everyone felt invested in the new brand. This led to a robust change management plan consisting of road shows at different corporate offices and large airports, a live webcast of the reveal, an intranet takeover and branding key employee workspaces.

As we got closer to the big reveal, we had to make tough decisions regarding scope. For instance, we discovered that the complexity of hiding a Boeing 737 meant we couldn't paint more than one plane in advance of the launch day. We checked our Wow! Statements and realized that as long as we had good photography for the media and had one repainted plane at the launch, we would still be able to achieve the desired impact.

All 12 major projects comprising the brand program were complete when launch day arrived in late January 2016. Glowing reports from employees, the media and our executives poured in—reports that essentially matched the statements we'd hoped they would say. We achieved success not because of good metrics, but because our most important stakeholders were wowed.

All project managers have the ability to drive teams to go beyond delivering on time, within budget and within scope. We must lead our teams to uncover the true aspirations of executives, customers or employees. Only then can we really deliver projects that wow. PM

Amber Simonsen, PMP, is a senior project manager at Alaska Airlines, Seattle, Washington, USA.

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