journeyHave you ever been assigned a project, investigated the current situation and concocted a remarkable solution that would increase profits by 10x, only to have it rejected outright when you present the solution to the project stakeholders? Well, maybe it hasn’t happened at this scale but it probably has happened. This post will tell you why the best idea can still be rejected, and how to avoid this by bringing your stakeholders along the journey.

The best idea can lose if you haven’t involved your stakeholders

If we continue with the above scenario, you have a remarkable solution fully documented and ready to go but as soon as you put it up on a screen during a presentation to your stakeholders, the comments of rejection start. Even though your idea may be excellent, the stakeholders will likely be feeling:

  • I haven’t been consulted about this at all; the project should be asking me how I want the solution to work.
  • The project team doesn’t know the details of my business
  • How can they impose a solution on my business without seeking my input

Instead working out the finer details with you, the stakeholders will be thinking of reasons why your solution doesn’t work and everything will be an uphill battle from here on.

How can we avoid this and encourage our stakeholders to rationally select the best idea? There are four key themes that will help: 1. Involving your stakeholders from the start; 2. Guiding them towards your solution; 3. Being patient and persistent – expect that you will need to repeat your idea to many people, many times in order to gradually get them across the line; and of course 4. Being open to changing your own ideas.

1. Involve your stakeholders from the start – Bring them along the journey

This is probably the key concept to avoid the situation above. It relies on having properly identified all the stakeholders and also end users of the product first. Once you’ve done that, engage these stakeholders and find out about their business first:

  • ask about their current processes
  • ask them about the issues they are facing with their existing tools
  • ask them if they have ideas about what they want to change
  • ask if there are other projects in-flight that you should engage with

Once you have this understanding, then you can start discussing your planned approach to the project, including your initial ideas and the benefits you see those ideas delivering to your stakeholders.

Even if you have done a lot of analysis work and have a good idea of the problems and your solution already, going to the business and presenting your solution for feedback in the first meeting is most likely going to get rejection. So keep your idea in mind and strategically guide them towards your solution.

2. Guide them towards your solution

This is not to say you should go into your meetings and workshops with no idea what’s going on and expect the business to give you the solution! That approach will lead to disaster in the end. You still need to have done your research, know what you’re talking about and have anticipated the questions that you’ll be asked.

When you go to a workshop with the goal of discussing your ideas with your stakeholders for eventual approval, start by talking to them about their current state and try to work your way towards the solution you had in mind.

Get your stakeholders to design the future state with you. If your idea is in fact the best idea, this will eventually lead your stakeholders to the same conclusions that you have made. Leading them in this way will ensure they’re on the same page and instead of getting a rejection, the stakeholders will feel like your idea is also their idea. They’ll have a sense of ownership of the idea because it will be as though they have come up with it collaboratively.

I saw a TED talk by Nancy Duarte once that discussed the makeup of a great speech or presentation. The idea was that to bring people to a new way of thinking, you can follow a pattern where you alternate between showing ‘what is’ and ‘what could be’. Repeatedly changing from discussing ‘what is’ which represents the current state and all its problems, to discussing ‘what could be’ which represents your idea in the future state and how much better it is. The goal being to get people to thinking about ‘what could be’ in the same way you are.

3. You will have to repeat your idea many times, to many different people

During your project there will be many groups of people you need to buy-in to the solution. To engage each group and give them the same sense of inclusion that will pay dividends in terms of support for your idea later on, you’ll need to repeat this process.

You should expect this and be prepared to spend a lot of time communicating your idea to different people. Each group will have their own perspective and their own input to provide. If you consider each and tirelessly communicate your idea to each group, involving them from the beginning and bringing them along the journey, you’ll build up a strong support for the project.

Change management is becoming a more and more important part of projects and is a big focus for the senior management of organisations. Make change management part of your thinking when designing solutions for the future state and consider it part of your role as a project practitioner to communicate and re-communicate your solution to different audiences.

4. Be open to changing your idea

Of course you probably haven’t been working in the business for years and years like your stakeholders have, and you might not have visibility of changes in the industry or other in-flight projects. This means your idea, although great, may not be the best as you wouldn’t have access to all the information that your stakeholders do. Hence while you are bringing your stakeholders along the journey, make sure you remain open to changing your idea. In fact incorporating the bits of wisdom from your stakeholders will result in an even stronger solution.

Using the above concepts, rather generating disagreements, a bad relationship between the business and the project team, and a sub-optimal solution, you’ll be leading your stakeholders to the best outcome for the business and the end users of the product.

What works well for you to bring your stakeholders along the journey?