Important projects can easily get caught in a downward spiral if key stakeholders start questioning the project’s progress and withdrawing support. Savvy executives should be aware of common issues that can cause stakeholder skepticism — and take action to avert the “cycle of doubt” before it takes hold.
Your project began with a bang. The launch created positive buzz, and you have a solid plan to deliver on the initiative’s value proposition. Stakeholders who will drive the project forward are squarely behind it. What could go wrong?
Plenty, as it turns out. But some leaders are unaware that great projects with strong starts can stumble and fall into what we call the “cycle of doubt,” when support wanes or dissipates, delivery is imperiled, and objectives go unmet. Others may recognize the potential for diminishing post-launch support among key contributors but are not attuned to the telltale warning signs, nor do they have safeguards in place to protect a project’s reputation and momentum against a downward spiral.
Consider the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) NextGen satellite-based air traffic system initiative, which has a broad network of contributors crucial to delivery, including the FAA, airports, airlines, and aircraft manufacturers. Project advocates emphasize the technology’s value in modernizing and improving the efficiency of the entire U.S. National Airspace System. Despite its compelling raison d'être (and the fact that the FAA has been on time and on budget installing advanced towers for tracking aircraft1), the multibillion-dollar NextGen project has fallen into the cycle of doubt. If the FAA’s ground towers are to achieve their intended purpose, the U.S. airline industry must update the technology on its aircraft, at a cost of billions of dollars.2 However, many airlines have been less than enthusiastic about proceeding because they lack faith in the FAA’s ability to ensure timely delivery of related aspects of the project (such as training for controllers) that are necessary for its success. Why?
According to an executive with the trade group Airlines for America, “There’s history here. … We have equipped our planes at great expense, and then it takes the FAA three years to train controllers and design processes where we can benefit.”3 Because of such doubts, most carriers have been slow to implement the new technology. In 2015, the FAA agreed to allow airlines to apply for extensions of the 2020 installation deadline to as late as 2025 for some satellite navigation upgrades.4 Meanwhile, in 2016, a U.S.