16 October 2009

How to Get Buy-In for Project Conclusions and Recommendations

In a recent discussion with a client in the telecoms sector he told me that one of the biggest differences he sees when comparing his internal project teams to the top-notch consulting teams he sometimes uses, is the latter's ability to ensure buy-in for their conclusions and recommendations. His two questions were why the internal teams were not capable of achieving such buy-in, and what could be done about it.

Luckily, there are simple answers to both questions. In my experience, the main reason why internal project teams do not get buy-in for their conclusions and recommendations is that they do not know that a communication process is required. Usually, when I ask the team what went wrong, the answer they give is along the lines of "Nothing went wrong. We carried out the project, and presented the results to the steering committee. What else should we have done?"

This way of looking at the problem is based on a combination of factors. The first factor is related to the scope of the project, as the team has often not been explicitly told that getting buy-in for their conclusions is part of the project deliverable. Secondly, many teams (especially those with a strong technical representation) have a low understanding of the political issues related to their projects. As a consequence, they believe that "the facts will speak for themselves". Thirdly, team members who are not experienced in working on complex projects will typically develop final presentations that focus on the process that the team has followed, rather than the conclusions that they have made. This often means that the conclusions and recommendations are not clearly communicated. Finally, the project team does not usually have any experience in dealing with the group processes that typically take place within a steering committee, nor do they think about also presenting to other stakeholders who may not be represented in the steering committee.

There are three main activities that I tell my clients that need to be carried out to help the project team get the required buy-in and acceptance for project conclusions. The first of these actions needs to take place at the beginning of the project when the sponsor must clearly communicate that the project team bears responsibility for getting the required buy-in and acceptance. The second and third activities by the sponsor takes place at the beginning of the final phase of the project, when the sponsor should force and help the project team to develop a communication plan and must help the team to develop a structured final presentation (using a tool such as the Pyramid Principle). The final point will not be covered in this blog.

When I help teams develop a communication plan, we begin by making an overview of all relevant stakeholders that have an interest in the conclusions and recommendations being developed by the project team. Stakeholders who are expected to be negative towards the results are the most important to identify. For each stakeholder an overview is developed of their "hot buttons" and the dimensions of the solution to which they will need to agree. A detailed plan will then need to be developed outlining how these key issues will be communicated to the individual stakeholders.

The individual members of the steering committee should also be seen as stakeholders. This means that 1-on-1 meetings are planned with them before the final steering committee presentation. In this individual pre-meeting the SteerCo member have the opportunity to ask specific and detailed questions which then do not have to be raised in the overall meaning. In addition, any specific issues that the SteerCo member has raised in the 1-on-1 meeting can then be addressed in a structured manner in the overall presentation.

Carrying out these fairly simple and straight-forward activities aligns the internal project team with the overall methods used by top-tier consultants, and have resolved most of the issues related to the internal team's ability to get acceptance and buy-in for its conclusions and recommendations in the projects that I have carried out at my clients.

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