Force-field analysis is a tool used by project managers to understand a project’s external environment. The results of t,he analysis are two lists of forces-positive and negative-that may impact the project. In many organizations, force-field analysis is completed prior to project design. If the negative forces aligned against a project are immense, the project never enters the design phase. See if a force-field analysis has been’ completed before starting your own analysis.
Unlike the risk/contingency analysis, a force-field analysis is not task-oriented. You may want to complete the force-field analysis on your own, with another project manager, or with your immediate supervisor. The tool is simple: create a two-column list in Word, Excel, or on a sheet of paper. Label one column Positive; label the other Negative.
In the Positive column, list the forces that will support or assist with the project. In the Negative column, list the forces that will oppose or resist the project. The force-field analysis for our sample XlY Branch Office Training project is
With formal force-field analysis, the next step is to estimate the strength of each positive and each negative force, using a scale of 1 to 10 or 1 to 100. The positive and negative columns are then totaled and compared. If the positive total vastly outweighs the negative total, then the analysis indicates that the project will succeed. If the negative total outweighs the positive total or if the two are close, the project is not likely to succeed. This leaves five possible courses of action:
• Redesign the project to eliminate negative forces.
• Cancel the project.
• Bolster the positive forces so they significantly outweigh the negative forces.
• Weaken the negative forces so positive forces significantly outweigh them.
• Develop strategies that bypass the negative forces.
Many project managers, including your authors, are more comfortable with a less quantified use of force-field analysis. Accurately naming the forces that impact project success is difficult. The “value” of the strength of the organizational and societal forces
identified in the analysis often becomes little more than guesswork. Assigning a numerical importance or strength to each force creates a false sense of precision that can drive poor decisions and wasted effort.
After developing the list of positive and negative forces, we suggest that you view the positives as forces to be maintained and leveraged through the life of the project.
The project manager has plenty of opportunities to recognize and strengthen positive forces. For example:
• Project reports can recognize and reinforce the positive forces. In our sample project, one of the positive forces is XYZ Corporation’s involvement in Total Quality Management. We could integrate information about our company’s TQ 1 efforts in this project into our project reports.
• Information about how this training project reflects the industry-wide movement for training and certification could be easily integrated in a project proposal or project evaluation.
• Informal communications can strengthen and build on the positive forces. We could send personal notes to our trainers to remind them that their expertise is valued and recognized.
Negative forces are often the outgrowth of personal concerns about job security, quality of life, or power within an organization: individual issues can become larger than life as the project progresses. Rather than declare war on negative forces, the project manager can look for ways to downplay or address negative forces without compromising the project plan:
• One of the negative forces is Out trainers’ concern about extended time out-of state for training at the branch offices. We could counter this concern by recognizing the concern and asking how we can make the extended time out-of-state more palatable.
• To neutralize the resistance of branch offices to main office initiatives, we could contact each branch office manager to solicit their input about training and training design-and send a handwritten thank-you note after the conversation.
Force-field analysis isn’t the most important tool in the project manager’s toolkit. Used wisely, though, the analysis identifies the strengths you can build on, and the weaknesses that need to be understood and neutralized as the project progresses.