“Springboard” your change initiative

Don’t wait until a project is over to reassess the process


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You’ve probably at some point in time been involved in a project on which a “post-mortem” has been conducted. This is the process whereby a group seeks to identify elements of a project that well and those that went badly, so that practical knowledge can be applied to the next project. The problem is, it very rarely is.

To capitalize on insights a post-mortem would bring, as a management consultant I make it a habit to conduct a “springboard” exercise prior to starting a new change initiative. In this way, both best practices and identified risks are purposefully brought to bear, creating a springboard from which a successful project can be launched.

This is how it’s done. First, pull the project team together for a meeting. Ask the members to envision that hypothetically the initiative you are about to begin has failed. Ask them, “What caused us to fail?” Rather than pointing to details of actual past projects, encourage the team to think about weaknesses on a broader scale, as you want to avoid sharing specific information about past projects lest it appears to assign blame or judgment and derails the discussion. However, in reality, many of the issues raised will be based on the team members’ past experiences in the organization and this will give you insight into particulars of this organization’s process management. Document each issue for the group to see.

Keep the interactions flowing, ensuring ideas aren’t blocked or discouraged. Ask questions to encourage input. When discussing issues, also listen for input as far as how these risks can be addressed. As a facilitator, be sure to listen more than you talk. Next, walk the team through the moving parts of the new project to elicit more input. Depending on the size of the team, the meeting may take about two hours.

After that, meet with key individual team members one on one. This process is helpful to gather details, as well as to encourage input from those uncomfortable bringing issues to light in a group setting. In these sessions you’ll identify more enablers and risks, as well as which elements are most important to each person. In addition, ask each person to articulate which areas they believe they own, to uncover any overlaps or gaps in roles and responsibilities.

The primary benefit of the springboard exercise is for you to identify risks and ensure you address them when you create your project- and risk-management plans. Another benefit of the exercise is to help the team feel cohesive and predisposed to positive collaboration for a successful outcome; early buy-in from all constituents is tremendously helpful to an initiative’s success. Lastly, team members feel their concerns have been heard and will be managed.

Next, of course, is to fold the information you’ve gathered into your project- and risk-management plans. Plan to gather the group together again to present these plans. Point out how you have addressed the team’s concerns and answer their questions. As your initiative progresses, maintain frequent communication and watch out for red flags.

Each organization has its own strengths and weaknesses, and by using the Springboard exercise to identify these early, and then staying attuned to progress, you’ll make a big leap toward your initiative’s success.

Candice Benson, an internationally recognized management consultant and CEO of Benson Consulting Inc., can be reached through LinkedIn.

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