I walked into the the conference room, and even with warm handshakes, you could feel the tension. This group had been working for months to pull their work together and launch a new product that was based in some great work that their advanced R&D team had completed. I had been asked to come in and provide help with a diagnostic to help them regain their momentum.
It’s a phenomena I see in only 100% of the firms I get to work with. To use a sailing analogy, they can’t see the harbor they departed from and they are too far from their destination to see it yet. I was looking forward to this day, because we would have some fun, and most importantly, because I knew that behind that tension was a deep desire to regain their footing.
To get there, we needed to get through that haze – the murky middle – the place where good projects can easily be abandoned.
Setting the Stage
Before we had a chance to meet in person, I had spoken to several of the key project leaders, sponsors and operations team peers via short phone calls. The goal of these calls is to get a strong sense of the individual talent and perspective available to move the project forward, as well as to understand what unique “lens” they view the project through. Each team member has a unique perspective-based personality and experience (see here for more on this topic).
These brief calls are always very useful in accelerating the on-site day so that we can get right to work. By tapping into everyone’s unique perspective, I was able to develop a “semi-custom” game plan for the facilitation that would help the team re-discover its identity and momentum.
The Roll Up Your Sleeves Work
Once in the conference room, we quickly got right at it. We first took a few minutes to establish the foundation. Simply stated, why is this work important to the firm’s downstream client, upstream partners, the firm itself and each of us personally? I’ve found this to be a commonly overlooked but very important step to building a mutual agreement that will help work through the inevitable conflicts that lay before them.
Once we had that in hand, we got very clear on the from, to and toward of the project. The purpose of this work is get very clear on what we have in hand, and what specifically we need to have for the most simple and uncomplicated solution. We know we have this right when everyone in the room can state the changes clearly, including the non-technical staff.
Now for an unexpected twist: I invited the team to turn on their inner curmudgeon, and get it all out. This allowed for a full-on brainstorm of all the areas (both real and perceived) that will resist us in delivering this solution. We covered internal and external factors and no stone was left unturned.
The Diagnostic Work
Once the foundation was established, we turned our efforts to a checklist planning tool that I’ve curated and built in the course of doing this with dozens of other firms. This tool looks at dimensions like the product clarity, team makeup and the work structure in a comprehensive way. In short, do we have the right project, the right team and the right plan?
Combined with the curmudgeon brainstorm, we identified a rich group of issues, friction points and needs both real and perceived.
The “Secret” – Use Your Momentum Wisely
With the above completed, it’s time to recraft the things we have identified into a precise list of next actions that are brought into focus based on risk. I’ve designed the STRIDE framework to be a secret weapon for teams undertaking significant (new to their firm) products and services. The tool only takes a few minutes to understand at the conceptual level, yet when it is used to communicate and allow deeper planning, it has a powerful effect by bringing focus to the right work in the right order.
The framework contains the blunt realism that there are always unknown unknowns, however, the planning work is laser focused on identifying, and then bringing the whole weight of the team to remove this “fiction” from their program first. This allows the team to have increasing confidence in their work, milestone by milestone. Once you get a “virtuous cascade” of these events, and remove the risk and friction in the program, it allows both group members and the firm as large to move toward support. Bottom line, the program becomes a pull rather than a push.
We always end the day in a summary, action plan and after action review. We assigned a scribe to capture the notes, and set a communication plan for the team members to go and debrief with their leaders and peers.
In the conference room we landed on the “Top 3” issues to be worked that will begin driving up the confidence needed to regain the momentum. We also did a quick after action review, summarizing three things that went well and three things we could improve. Lastly, we set a date for a follow up cal
You’ve Just Laid it All Out – Why Don’t We Just do This Internally?
My mission is to see firms thrive, and honestly, if you can take my writing and do that, I’m honored to serve you (do let me know how you are doing). The truth though is that while I can give you the notes, it’s much like trying to learn the fly a plane by reading the operating handbook: the stakes are way too high to go solo without some real-time coaching.
If you do the math on how much that stalled team is costing you (per day), you will quickly see the ROI in having an experienced strategist assist you. I’ve spent several thousand hours with more than 100 clients since starting my firm five years ago and since that I’ve time, I’ve learned the craft behind asking just the right question, injecting a bit of levity and guiding that flip chart marker.
What it’s not: This work is not AGILE, SCRUM or PMI/PMP mechanics. It is best utilized when you have complex interactions of technology, business model and go-to market channels that are causing your team to hit the proverbial wall.
This was a glimpse into what it’s like to have me work with you on a diagnostic. If you are about to launch a new effort, or like my client above are in “the soup” and would like to explore what a jump start would look like, please give me a call at 847-651-1014 or use this link to set up a 20-minute (no strings attached) consult.
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