Understanding and Achieving Consensus: Best Practices and Pitfalls to AvoidRolondo Rene Talbott | Director of the Project Management Office, Pomona College
The days of IT being contained in windowless facilities, behind a technology curtain of ambiguity, are no longer. Likewise, the days of IT implementing seemingly complicated and convoluted systems or changing processes with little to no communication while expecting blind adoption and compliance from an assumingly “technology-averse” population, are all but forgotten.
Today, IT professionals recognize the value of being valued partners to the rest of the corporate community. But in the ever-evolving industry that is IT, the ability to conduct implementations and change processes must be completed as expeditiously as possible. None of this is possible without the ability to build consensus in an effective manner, which has become our core capability of high-functioning IT groups.
Consensus, by definition, means agreement. However, it is important that the product of consensus-building be a purposeful effort to meet the underlying needs of all stakeholders. Consensus building, therefore, becomes the catalyst by which everyone can reach an agreement with the understanding that every effort was made to address all interests. This process results in stakeholders who now have skin in the game.
In other words, stakeholders now have a vested interest in the success of the implementation or process change, as they will become the direct beneficiaries of said change.
The Major Players Driving a Project Forward
Project management best practices dictate an examination of both upstream and downstream processes to determine the effect a project can have on an organization. Through this analysis, the people who should be involved in such a project are not only identified but also categorized according to their role or involvement.
There are, however, essential personnel that should be part of every major IT project team. The executive sponsor (individual or group of individuals) grants the authority (and budget) to conduct the project.
The business sponsor (individual or group of individuals) represents the beneficiary of the project and serves as the authority that validates project success.
The project manager is the person with the responsibility for managing the project to a successful conclusion.
Finally, functional leaders or subject matter experts provide guidance on day to day operations.
Best Practices to Help Build Consensus
IT leaders are tasked with creating consensus among diverse groups, often with competing interests. While there are many things that IT Leaders can leverage to create consensus, there are many best practices and tactics IT leaders can leverage to create that consensus. IT leaders also recognize that the quality of that consensus is directly proportional to its value and longevity.
First, the ability to develop deep and meaningful partnerships is the cornerstone of successful consensus building. IT leaders recognize that building relationships transcends well beyond the ability to complete projects with diverse groups. IT leaders must seek to become trusted partners which requires intentionality and countless hours of effort establishing that trust
A second key component in developing a relationship and becoming a trusted partner is the ability for IT leaders to value and demonstrate transparency. Transparency in its basic form dictates that IT leaders dismantle the stereotype of IT “secrecy” that often plague IT organization. While there are many ways of accomplishing the establishment of transparency, establishing IT steering committees consisting of members from the corporate community or, IT “roadshows” or open houses provide valuable insights to the community.
3. Redefine (and Own) Success
Finally, IT leaders who embody and foster an entrepreneurial mindset understand that they are in a privileged position to proactively offer insight, innovation, and guidance to their corporate partners. This mentality dictates that IT organizations own their success and that success is no longer solely measured by fiduciary means but also through client satisfaction and a fundamental understanding of the value of IT.
Pitfalls to Avoid in Consensus-Building
In contrast, there are many pitfalls that IT leaders need to be cautious of, otherwise their best efforts to build consensus may fail.
While each organization’s culture may differ and how they respond to the tactics employed to build consensus may vary, in general major pitfalls stem from a lack of introspection regarding their IT organizations and an inability to see themselves as a service organization.
1.Lack of Stakeholder Analysis
Not making a deliberate and intentional investment in understanding the needs of their client base, ultimately degrades the IT leader’s ability to know how best to engage in consensus building. Known as stakeholder analysis, the IT leader’s inability to dedicate time and resources into analytically and anecdotally understanding the core challenges others face, not only does them a disservice but can also have a negative effect on the entire company.
2. Lack of Accountability
If a key component in building consensus is establishing trust, nothing is more antithetical to that than a lack of accountability. IT leaders that cannot reconcile that to their clients, “perception is reality,” even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, demonstrate a lack of accountability and undermine their leadership.
3. Lack of Empathy
Lacking empathy for their clients not only strengthens negative stereotypes about IT but also serves to create roadblocks that reveal themselves at the most inconvenient moments. Not being able to put themselves in other person’s shoes and understand their perspective conveys a message that the IT leader is not interested in forming any real consensus.
Author Perspective: Administrator