The Project Notebook

Strategic Thinking to Improve Expectations and Innovation

Much of project planning requires an ability to think strategically, yet this is a step often left out. It means we need to think not just about our immediately desired outcomes, but look at what some of the other options are going to be.
According to the Philadelphia based Center for Advanced Reasearch (CFAR), “Strategic thinking focuses on finding and developing unique opportunities to create value by enabling a provocative and creative dialogue among people who can affect a company‚Äôs
direction.”

There is an opportunity to substitute “project’s direction” for the last two words in this quote. After all, in a projectized company, the projects and products (which require projects for creation) are what contribute most to success. There are opportunities in planning to look at what all the possible solutions are.

Recently one of my client projects hit a significant challenge. It looked as though what the client wanted and what the product was able to do were 180 degrees apart. The last thing you want to do is drop communication with your client while you look at the alteratives. This will decrease their engagement in the project which would not be to your benefit. When you encounter such an obstacle, here are some concrete steps which will allow you to meet the client needs, set expectations which are appropriate, and then move ahead.

1) Determine what you CAN do with the project or product. Be sure you’ve thoroughly explored the client expectations from all angles as well as what is currently realistic. Show what that solution might look like, even if it doesn’t satisfy all the needs. Make this a concrete solution which could be demonstrated internally.

2) Without showing the “offending” solution to the client, frame additional questions to probe their needs and your solution. Show the solution to the product developers so they can see what the pros and cons are.

3) Identify any low hanging fruit. If there is a possiblity to move the client ahead with a part of the “as is” solution, start them down that path to keep up engagement. If not, you might evaluate the possibility of bringing the client into the process and identify an appropriate step.

4) Brainstorm all the possibilities without judging the solutions. These may not even involve the product, but you want to be sure you are looking at all the potential solutions which could benefit your customer. You want to explore the solution from both sides of the equation — what if I could change my client’s expectations and what if I could develop an alternative solution.

5) Quickly develop the top contenders one step further. Are they feasible? What would the costs be?

6) With all your ducks in a row, schedule your client review. Show them your initial solution and explain your dissatisfaction with it. Show them your top alternative(s) so they can see the difference. Get client feedback.

7) At this point, the process may become iterative. If the client immediately sees the benefits of your alternative, great! There may be some additional rounds of discussion to justify costs and clarify outcomes. More likely there will be more discussions of the alternatives and the client will review their expectations as well.

After a few iterations, you will hopefully have a clear path to move the project forward. You will have continued to engage your client, and will possibly identify an innovative solution which will benefit not just this client, but future clients as well.

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© 2010-2012 Ray W. Frohnhoefer, MBA, PMP, CCP