Project Management Book

"A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on."

Chapter 8 - Stage Agreement

We are about to begin a stage. We have built the plan and we have verbal agreements from resource owning managers to supply the people and other things (hardware, office space...) that we need. Why bother to write it down and get written commitment, don't we trust their word?

People have an amazing ability to 'forget' what they promised verbally. Put it in writing in a Stage Agreement and get resource owning managers to sign it.

It is completely unreasonable to expect a project manager to commit if he has no way of securing firm commitments of the resources he will need in order to deliver.

It's easy for a senior manager who sits atop an empire of 300 people to promise the 6 people a project manager wants. It is quite another thing to get the immediate managers of those 6 people actually to release them.

Before the project manager commits he must be confident that the resources he needs will be available. Getting the IT team members committed to the project is relatively easy: they exist to do projects. It is usually much harder to get business users' time committed to the project: they've got other things to do like run the business.

A stage agreement is first and foremost an agreement between the project manager and those who must provide resources for a project stage. It's a bit like a mini PDD - a PDD for a stage but with the added ingredient that resource providers sign it.

Stage agreements also help resource owning line managers. If you are a Marketing manager with 20 people reporting to you and you're providing people to 5 projects you will have signed 5 stage agreements and it will be clear to you what you've given away and therefore what's left to carry out your department's day to day work.

A stage agreement should be no more than 2 or 3 pages and should contain:

If you know how you'll manage risks, report progress, control change, etc summarising it in a stage agreement won't take very long. If you don't know how you'll do those things you're not ready to start the stage. The ability to sit down and write a stage agreement in an hour or so is a revealing test of readiness.

Let's write a stage agreement for Stage 1 of the project on the right.

Project Definition


User Functions

IT Technical

Build and


  Stage 1

  Stage 2

Stage Agreement for Stage 1 of Project XYZ


Description of stage

Deliverables and sign off

Stage completion criteria

Stage success criteria

Roles and responsibilities


A full risk register for Stage 1 and for the whole project can be found at The main risks threatening the success of this stage are:

Resources needed for this stage

The attached week by week, person by person plan shows precisely who is needed and when. In summary, resource owners will supply the following:

Cost of stage

Key dates

The attached plan shows milestones in red. The major milestones are:

Management, reporting and communications

Quality management

Outlook for later stages

A real stage agreement wouldn't have many more words than this one. This document is not your entry for the Pulitzer Prize, it is a summary of what is already known by and agreed to by all parties.

Project Management Book
Copyright M Harding Roberts 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 2024
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