“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles”
— Sun-Tzu, The Art of War
In my last column I announced a New Year’s resolution to spend more time planning in my projects. In this column I am going to pass on to you the best advice I have ever received on effective planning.
About four years ago, I was preparing for a meeting and my boss (and mentor) gave me a fresh perspective on how to effectively plan to get the meeting outcome you desire. He went on to tell me that whenever he is going to present some ideas that need buy-in, by the time he has walked into the meeting, the outcome is already guaranteed.
His tactic is to ensure that he has talked to all the key players before the meeting. Get them on board before you air your ideas in a public forum.
In other words — pre-sell your ideas.
His approach was to talk one-on-one with the key movers and shakers. This did three things:
First, you uncover any uncertainties or uneasiness privately and thus avoid being flogged publicly in the meeting.
Secondly, you give yourself a chance to learn a different perspective, which better ensures you understand all points of view.
And lastly, talking to someone before the meeting gives you a chance to form a partnership so that person will support you in the meeting.
So what has all this to do with effective project management?
Well in my experience this could knock about two months of waiting-for-a-decision time off an eight month project — as it did for me last week.
Ask yourself how many times you have been trying to get a decision made so your project can proceed?
How many times have you seen e-mails flying back and forth, people trying to get their point across?
If only you could have talked to them one-on-one to understand what was important to them. If only you could have made them feel that you represented their interests. If only you had known your enemy and seen the world from their eyes. Then you could have entered the meeting being the one who understood and respected everyone’s perspectives.
The catch is, that pre-selling your ideas takes time. In my case it took days of preparation and positioning to get to the point where I understood everyone’s point of view.
Even with all the homework done you still may only get one opportunity to have the big meeting that gets to the solution. Even when think you understand what people really want, having a meeting to try to facilitate a decision can be a game of high stakes poker. A lot can go wrong.
But people like to be part of the solution. Start your meeting by announcing, “We are here to find a solution that can be put forward.” Keep the meeting ‘solution focused’.
If a fix can’t be found, ask the meeting participants to recommend who can be brought into the meeting to find a solution.
And by the way, if you can’t find a way to solve your problem in a well-planned meeting, then you have failed. You have failed to bring the right people together. You have wasted everyone’s time and you have not prepared enough.
And you have learned that next time, with more pre-selling and more up front one-on-one negotiating, you might be prepared just enough to get the meeting outcome your project needed.
Robert Black is president of Project Masters Inc. and has 22 years experience working in the IT sector.