Addressing critical project risks

“That's not going to work for us. We can't wait for the integration delay.”

In working with a client recently, we had cleared the integration delay and it's impact with most departments,

and this was the last department we needed sign off from. As we spoke to them, there was immediate concern about the impact of the delay to their process. If they didn't sign off on the integration, we would be confronted with delayed release dates, additional integration complexity, and a severe impact to other business units that we would need to circle back with to approve the modified solution. Hearing such a strong opposition certainly shook some members of the team and had people worried about the impact.

In moments like this, it is essential not to overreact. It is not uncommon to jump straight into a new solution, argumentative politics, or otherwise panic. We as humans have a tendency to get out of the uncomfortable feeling of conflict or tension, by proposing solutions. But if you sit in that tension and try to really understand it, the tension will ease and the solution will become clear. This means empathizing with the users so they understand that you care about their concern, and then asking questions that reveal the facts that are driving the strong generalizations they are giving you:

  • We don't want to move forward with a solution that is going to hurt your process. Can you help me understand the specific use cases that will be affected? Where would the delay cause an issue?

  • How often does that situation occur?

  • How many users will be affected?

  • If we went live with the solution as is, what would you have to do to overcome the problems presented?

With the answers to questions like this in hand, you can present options to the stakeholders, or potentially escalate to include the executives they report to so that a more global discussion can be had. What is the cost of changing the solution vs. moving forward? What is the real impact to those users? What workarounds or accomodations can be made?

Once the data is present and you are speaking in finite terms about who is impacted, how much, adn the cost involved, you can make a calm and rational decision about the best path forward. You will have deescalated the situation, and helped produce the best outcome given the constraints.

As to our client, it turned out there was only one use cases that was at risk, which occured 7-10 times per week, affecting 10 out of several hundred users. Not the show stopping risk that was initially perceived.