I’m back from New Orleans and I brought home with me a few good tidbits on technology mapping and developing new products for emerging markets. It was a good conference and as usual, the main benefit of attending was the networking. I was one of the last presenters and I was pleasantly surprised to find myself speaking to a pretty full room. As I mentioned in my previous post, my talk was on the topic of communication. I presented three ways that leaders can support their teams as they move through the fuzzy front end (FFE) of product development. The 30 min talk was sectioned into three parts. First, help teams communicate progress in a way that is meaningful to people outside of the team. Second, ask the right questions using words that motivate and encourage the team. Third, be the voice for innovation in parts of the business that are not directly connected to the team and their activities. It would be interesting to know if folks that listened to the talk were able to take away these key points. I was nervous and I found that even though I practiced the talk prior to presenting I still rambled a bit. I always look back on my presentations and think, would I have wanted to sit there and listen for 30 min ? In this case I’d give myself a solid B. I think I could have been more to the point in places and if I had another crack at it I think I could have been a little more prescriptive and a little less preachy. But on a whole I was pleased with the way the presentation flowed. One of the best parts of this particular conference was that the audience was made up of executives and innovation managers. I was lucky enough to be able to talk directly to the people who could most benefit from hearing the message.
As promised, I’ll share here a bit of the takeaways from my presentation. Today we’ll talk about communicating progress. Communicating progress to people outside of the team can be a huge challenge. Team leaders and champions need to build and maintain momentum for their teams keeping in mind that it’s a marathon not a sprint. Communication should be planned carefully so that the team has support along the entire project route. One of the easiest ways to achieve consistent support is to give regular updates to the people who are depending on the project’s success. Don’t wait for the gate review to share ! During these updates the team needs to focus on sharing how they are making progress. My suggestion to teams early in the development cycle is this, communicate your action plan, communicate your accomplished tasks and how these tasks have moved the team forward and then communicate your next action plan. You talk TASKS so that they can have FACTS to share with their bosses. The more tasks you accomplish the more facts you’ll have to share and the more facts you have the closer you’ll be to a direction and scope for your project. Laying out your plan for leadership does three things. First, it gives them a framework for talking to others about the project. They can communicate FACTS, “the team is currently out in the field gathering voice of customer data and then they will be summarizing that data using a KJ anlaysis” . Second, it gives them a road map to follow. They can not only talk about where you’ve been but they can also talk about where you are going next. Third, and probably most important, it gives them a sense of flow for the project, that essential feeling that you need them to have, the feeling that the team is moving and making progress. Talking about what you are doing and why can be just as important, if not more important, than the results especially in the beginning of a project.
If your team is struggling to communicate progress (getting lots of phone calls from your boss asking you questions about the program?) you may need to step in. Ask them to lay out their plan and list out the tasks to be done and what will be done with the data from those tasks. Then help them create a communication plan based on explaining the tasks to be done and sharing the results. Let the team leader send out the communications to build confidence in their leadership with the stakeholders.
A side benefit to this type of communication and leadership is that you always know what’s going on with your team, eliminating those embarrassing situations when someone asks you how it’s going and you have nothing to report. It also gives you the ability to help steer the team without looking too heavy handed. Rather than dictating a direction, you can simply suggest adding a task to the list.
Communicate early Communicate often Communicate results.
Looking for a great Discovery/Idea/Concept Phase road map? I recommend Gijs van Wulfen’s FORTH method. He’s got 2 books on the subject and a great strategy for getting teams through discovery phase. http://www.forth-innovation.com/ What I like most about using FORTH is that it sets up your discovery tasks and lays out a time frame for reporting back in your results. It’s an especially good process for teams with brand new project leaders.
Soldier On !