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Posts Tagged ‘project chicken’

A few posts ago (here) Brian was describing using an influence matrix with a group of Naval Architecture students. He said, ” … they concluded (correctly) that there is stakeholder gridlock. Every stakeholder is waiting for another stakeholder to change first. A profound insight for a student group, and a situation that is rare.”

Here’s another example of a stakeholder impasse. Take a look at this stakeholder commitment chart from an innovation booster in which the UK-based problem owner and participants were exploring a new business model and how it could be “sold” to the rest of the multinational company.

Fig.1 - "We'll never get France on board"

This tool requires you to a) list your stakeholders, b) rate their impact on what you’re trying to do [note that impact of (FR) is much higher than (IT)], on a scale of 1-10, c) gauge the desired level of commitment required from them to move forward on your proposal, then d) gauge their actual level of commitment. The distance between the desired and actual levels of commitment gives you a nice visual of how difficult moving your stakeholder from d) to c) is likely to be.

After carrying out this exercise we invite participants to brainstorm ways of reducing the difficulty of getting the stakeholder on board, or of reducing their impact on what you’re trying to do. This is what they came up with:

(Dislaimer: I apologise for the way in which the French are referred to in this exercise and this does not in any way reflect how I perceive the French, with whom we have worked for many happy years. Bear in mind that you could substitute any other nationality, department, business line, competitor, etc. in this kind of stakeholder tussle and get similar levels of rudeness.)

Fig.2 - "How to get the French on board"

This is also in line with an extensive study completed in 2006, (“Silence Fails” by VitalSmarts) which gives  five core reasons why projects fail, one of which they call “project chicken”:

“This costly game resembles the lunatic practice of driving cars head-on as a test of nerves to see who swerves out of the way first—or who is more “chicken.” The corporate version is played when project leaders fail to admit they may fall short on deliverables and need more time. Instead, they hope some other group that has problems will speak up first. Whoever speaks up first will be blamed for causing the delay, but everyone who is behind will benefit.”

There are two ways I can think of to deal with this kind of situation.

  1. In the case of the above innovation booster, the team with the idea for a new business model ended up developing and implementing their idea “underground”, by creating a ring-fenced project that was able to operate below the multinational radar until the idea had reached a state of maturity, for which it has proved far easier to gain buy-in.
  2. There are a couple of critical questions we ask when we are scoping a problem or opportunity with a problem owner: “What are you, realistically, in a position to do?” and “Do you think there is a solution to this problem?” These are helpful in surfacing the existence of intransigent stakeholders and ultimately helps us decide whether there is an opportunity worth pursuing or not.
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