‘Another conversation!’ said the project leader with raised eyebrows. ‘We are having conversations every day about this project – we talk about nothing else!’ he added.
‘What this initiative needs…’ continued the project leader ‘…is for those people who have been assigned to the project to get their finger out and commit time to actually doing the work’. Without pausing to take a breath the committed project leader continued: ‘The project also needs senior management to put its shoulder to the wheel, demonstrating its commitment to the project and backing that up with the allocation of time and resources’.
‘I don’t think another conversation is going to help’ concluded the leader in a tone of frustration.
‘I understand’ said the experienced coach in an empathetic tone. ‘But, I am not recommending another conversation, but rather a strategic conversation’.
‘Let me explain…’ continued the coach. ‘I suspect that there is a conversation that is not being had in respect of this project – a strategic conversation. In the absence of such a conversation people are sitting on the fence, not quite ready or able to commit’ she explained.
‘Yes, I’m sure there are lots of conversations happening every day about the project – lots of emails and instant messages too, but I bet you that most of that focuses on the day to day (action items, schedules and so on). I bet these conversations are dominated by what is urgent and what needs to be done, while the big questions and the bigger picture don’t get addressed.
How do you know if there is a conversation that is not being had?
Pause for a moment: How many, if any, of these factors apply to your project or initiative.
Most conversations focus on the ‘How’ of the project – it is assumed that the ‘Why’ is clear to everybody concerned. This is a very dangerous assumption, and it proves to be wrong time and time again. Yet, it is so prevalent that it has its own name – Project Myopia – where projects lose sight of business needs.
There are many reasons why strategic conversations don’t happen in respect of critical projects.
What do you need to have a strategic conversation? Well, perhaps the topics or key questions is all your need. With this in mind, we have created a tool to help project leaders and sponsors to engage key stakeholders in a strategic conversation regarding their initiative. Called the Project Chassis it illuminates 9 strategic aspects of a project – those factors that make a project strategic and link it to the strategy or vision for the business.
When people don’t ‘take their finger out’ or don’t ‘put their shoulder behind the wheel’ it is often because the link between the project and the needs or priorities of the business are not clear. There is confusion or ambiguity regarding the business need, business impact, business urgency, business investment and so on. Any ambiguity or misalignment requires a conversation on these issues – that is a strategic conversation.
Chassis conversations are strategic conversations they engage the C-suite and connect project success to business success, the project plan to the business strategy and the project team to the executive suite.
Note this is a conversation rather than a presentation, or a pitch. Rather than starting with statements such as: ‘Here is the business need that this project addresses…’ or ‘Here is the business impact this project is likely to have…’ a strategic conversation starts by asking questions such as: ‘What do you see as the principal need addressed by this project/initiative?’ or ‘What impact do you believe this project can have on the business?’.
Replacing statements with questions takes courage as well as curiosity. However, it turns up the level of engagement as well as the level of challenge in the conversation. The conversation then becomes a revealing test of the level of engagement, commitment, and vision of those involved.
How do you know if there is anybody ‘sitting on the fence’. Well, it is by asking questions such as:
If you, your team or any of your stakeholders struggle to answer these questions, then there is a ‘strategic conversation’ that needs to be had.