I’ve worked in a number of organizations that have a culture of consensus.
ALL parties and stakeholders (known and unknown) must agree and be happy.
Once I realize that I am working with a culture of consensus, I essentially double the time it takes to get any project done. I also warn the client that if budget is a consideration, that they will need to make sure all parties at least agree to a tightly defined scope and scope control. Otherwise, things get out of hand very quickly.
I then start praying that someone within that organization is willing to make a decision and cajole the others into following suit.
The trick is in identifying when best to use it vs that being the default in all situations.
Lidwell states that Design by Committee should be used when:
- Requirements are highly complex
- Tolerance for risk is low
- Consequences of error are serious
- Stakeholder buy-in is important.
In a culture of consensus – stakeholder buy-in is, by default, important.
Unfortunately, this default means that you are not going to be able to move quickly (or cheaply).
In my experience, tolerance for risk in these cultures will be low.
Consequences of error are going to feel serious (even if it is not life-and-death, like NASA or health care).
And, in an argumentative and silo-ed organization, requirements are often going to be highly complex and contradictory.
Time and money need to be built in for iteration. Agile methodologies help, but I find organizations still struggle with resourcing and funding these types of efforts.
There has to be a strong governance process for Design by Committee to work.
That process, I’ve learned, also needs to be agreed to by all parties. Not just verbally, but also by action.
Getting a governance process in place can often be an effort by itself.
Stakeholders politically position themselves to “dominate the process.” Be the one “in charge.”
In more passive-aggressive environments, people will agree to the governance process in the meeting, then go to the individual members of the project team and browbeat them into doing what the executive “really” wants.
Ultimately, it either takes a really strong CEO or C-level executive leading the governance for the project for this to work. That C-level executive needs to defend the project team against the other C-level executives and their reports. Otherwise, you have no governance.
I personally have not seen this work when governance leadership is at a lower level.
In each project I have been involved in, there has been at least one person willing to go over the head of the governance lead to a C-level. If that C-level is not bought in to governance or the direction of the project (or even why the project exists), forget it.
Lidwell points out that the need for stakeholder buy-in and innovation are mutually exclusive.
The more stakeholders, the more a design gets “averaged out”.
The more stakeholders, the lower the tolerance for risk.
The tolerance for risk is determined by the most risk-averse people in the room.
Innovation, by its nature, is risky.
But you still need appropriate representation of all stakeholder groups, even in Design by Dictator.
The representation needs to include your most risk-averse groups (thinking Operations, Customer Service, etc. They are, rightly, risk-averse, because they are getting the brunt of any complaints).
You need to hear all of the objections.
Determine how much fear is behind those objections.
Pull out legitimate issues within those objections and address those.
Stakeholders will be there whether you accommodate them in the project or not. You can either hear from them sooner – or later.
Later is more expensive.
Part of me wants stakeholder buy-in and innovation to NOT be mutually exclusive.
I think it may just take a special group of people to make that not be the case. I, personally, have never met that special group. Then again, most of my career experience has been in health care – where risk tolerance is rightly low – and higher ed – which leans shockingly conservative.
The design, and the project, becomes as innovative as your lowest risk tolerance.