Tech Manager—Collaborating When Your Path Has Potholes

There are times when you are collaborating with a team, but you do not have enough information to define the best route. There might be missing information, wrong information, speculation, rational and irrational concerns or other perspectives that impact your progress… but you have to predict the future and clearly define a path forward.

When the outcome of any given occurrence, purchase, tech path, policy, procedure, or protocol is fuzzy you may encounter resistance to move forward or enticement to forge ahead without a care. I hinted at this topic in the articles I wrote on speeding up or slowing down a decision. There may come a time when you just have to make a call when risk is involved.

I have been in team meetings where the group struggles with coming to agreement on which way to go. When facing the unknown, people tend to move toward the extremes. Your team may be saying things that are very far apart, from “nothing is going to work”, to “what could possibly go wrong”. Some think it will be an overwhelming success and others, a colossal failure. The team is split. One side is cautious and it is crippling progress. The other side is gung ho and would move forward even if others are not on board. You need to unify the team. That is done by defining the issues, quantify the risks, alleviate as much risk as you can and getting things back on track.

When the fuzziness of the future does not seem to be clearing, I tend to frame a discussion with the naysayers by stepping through the discussion points below. Talking them out, and coming up with a plan to move forward with caution. By moving through this list, you narrow it down to the ones that really do impact your advancement. You can talk about them quickly, and it can be done over and over for each concern that comes up.

Possible – might it happen? Well, in reality almost anything can happen. If we limit ourselves to eliminating every negative eventuality, we would spend all of our time just prepping for the worst and never getting to the best. Yes – anything is possible - and when someone brings something up, you may need to just say “Yes, that can happen”, but just because someone brought up a “possible” negative, does it mean that we cannot move forward until we neutralize the threat? Move to the next item on our list and don’t let a “possibility” freeze you in your tracks.

Plausible – is it even in the realm of believable? To move past what is “possible”, you have to ask if the pothole is “plausible”. Is it really something that might happen? Is it a concern that can derail the effort?  Ask questions like “has that ever happened before?” or “Have any of you had to deal with that in prior efforts?” This tends to flesh out some of the items as having slim odds. People will hopefully say “I have never seen that happen”. But if they persist in thinking that the worst might unfold, then move to the next step.

Probable – it really might happen? As the objections drop away after the first two discussions above, you come to this one. Does most of the team think it might actually happen? Is it “most likely” to be something that impacts your progress? Yes, others have seen this happen. It is a viable negative issue that could come up. If that is true, then try to eliminate the risk or plan for it. Even if it is probable, you can still work through it.

Next, we move to quantifying and reducing. By this time in the conversation, the risk has been defined and may eliminate quite a few potholes that the team might bring up. If something makes in into the “probable” category, then you need to know a couple more things to face then head on.

Predictable – Is it pothole foreseeable? If we know that something probably will happen, can we anticipate it? Can we identify what has to align to avoid this eventuality becoming a reality? If you can predict when problems may arise, during what portion of the project, then you can watch a little closer, slow thing down or bolster support team’s readiness to react.

Persistent – if it happens, is it a one-time event that you can fix and you can continue down the path, or will it be recurring? If it a quick fix, define the approach for dealing with it quickly and stand ready to put it in place. If it will be recurring, then planning on how it is addressed will need more thought. Think about setting up warning alerts that something is starting to go wrong. Or a plan to check on progress from time to time to prevent a derailment.

Percentages – what is the percentage of expected success, failure, or breakage. This is key if the risk has passed through all the above and still exists. Again, you are trying to quantify the risk. So, ask each person what they thing the percentage Or it happening will be. Is there a five percent chance? Is it fifty percent? The average of the group will define how much effort will be needed to alleviate the risk. Striving to totally eliminate a 5% risk may take more time that just fixing something when it goes wrong. Addressing a 50% risk is of greater need and extending the planning phase may bring better overall results.

After asking all of the above, you or the team may have to make the call to move on or change paths. Sometimes you will need to move forward in the face of a little risk, but other times you may need to move to what can be done if the negatives carry the day.

Plan B – do we need to abandon this effort because the rick is too great? The final “P” is when an issue goes through every one of the above discussion points and still exists. The risk percentage it too high and cannot be reduced, planned for or eliminated. This is a deal breaker and time to move in another direction.

This whole effort of defining and discussing potholes that you might encounter in your path makes the outcome more predictable (sorry, stuck in a rut of “P” words). If the discussion help eliminates risks and produce a better product then your team can be confident in their collaborative energies. By defining the issues, quantifying the risks, trying to alleviate as much risk as you can you can get things back on track (or go to Plan B).

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