You need to become a Project Trusted Adviser!

I was taking part on a discussion started by Rob Lambert on the SoftwareTestingClub where he talked about “hitting a brick wall”.  By this he meant the all-too-familiar feeling that regardless how much you raise your voice and warn all the project stakeholders about the imminent danger of following a certain path, they decide against your advice and follow it anyway.

Who hasn’t gone through this before?
I’ve certainly been in the same situation enough times myself, and over the years I’ve learned some tricks and developed a couple of techniques that help me avoid such situations, or at least reduce their number significantly.

1.  I make my homework before the meetings
I always try to talk about the important issues with the project stakeholders One-on-One before the actual meeting where the decision will take place.  This way I can spend the necessary time to thoroughly explain the issues and go over the repercussions it may have for each person and team individually; this also gives them time to think about the issue quietly and ask additional questions if necessary.
If possible I also try to understand from the people I meet what’s their position and thus I know what’s my status before going to the meeting itself.

2.  I make my objective to become the Trusted Adviser of my project Heavy-Weights
This one is easier said than done, but it is the most effective method.
In principle it means that you need to create a reputation for yourself that will make people listen whenever you speak your mind.
How to do this is a science by itself, and it’s definitely not something that happens overnight.
Personally I try achieving this using the principles of Testing Intelligence: “By providing correct and timely visibility into the product and process, that helps my Organization’s Stakeholders make the correct tactical and strategic decisions.”
An additional good approach is also to map your project heavy-weights (the stakeholders who usually carry the most weight in the important decisions) and start by becoming their trusted advisers, as soon as the other stakeholders realize these guys are listening to you they will start doing so themselves.

3. I’m open to change my mind when I understand new things about the problem at hand
Don’t be a hard-head and learn to change your mind, this is the reason I make a point of really listening to the other side when I’m arguing.  One of the dumbest mistakes you can make is to continue fighting for an argument even when everyone realizes you are not right.
The most common cases are when someone presents a new argument you were not aware off (e.g. customer pressure, market reality, etc) and you need to understand that the good of the Company and the Product require the team to take the path you did not support initially.
Smart people need to be smart enough to know when to change their minds…

4. I learned to pick my fights
Since I cannot fight over every decision, I make sure to choose what things are worth fighting for and what battles I need to conceive in order to concentrate on the important stuff.

5.  Learn how to communicate
Maybe the most important, and yet one of the hardest to things to achieve.  We all need to learn how to transmit our messages clearly to the other side.

To summarize, there are many things you can do in order to confront and even succeed on these kind of situations, and all of them start by recognizing you have additional human beings in front of you.
Try to think what you can do in order to help them understand your argument and your point of view, then you will have no choice but to let them make their own decisions.

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3 Responses to You need to become a Project Trusted Adviser!

  1. Rob Lambert April 20, 2009 at 11:19 am #

    Joel,

    Superb blog posting and thanks for the references!

    I think all 5 of the points are spot on, particularly point 2. If you can make yourself trusted, respected and reliable then that is half of the battle won when it comes to adding value. I’m working on that now..

    I’m learning to pick my fights also, however, that is at home with my little boy. He is very much showing me that it is not worth fighting every battle and that sometimes it is worthwhile just opening my mind, accepting and moving on.

    Great post.

    Cheers
    Rob..

  2. Joel Montvelisky April 24, 2009 at 11:08 am #

    Hey Rob,

    I echo you on picking your fights with the little ones at home, I got 2 of my own that take me through that training on a daily basis.

    I guess there are more things we can learn from our interactions with kids… Great my idea for my next post!

    Thanks!

    -joel

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