Last week I was asked a great question: “What strategy do you have when, amongst a small peer group, you are the only one barking?” This was in reference to my previous article "Silent dogs, scouts and beacons"
An important first consideration is that there are probably several reasons why the rest of the pack is silent; the most common simply being a lack of engagement coupled with a narrow perception of the relevant scope.
So, essentially, the focus needs to be on nurturing engagement and incrementally broadening both participation and scope.
It can be difficult for stakeholders to fully engage with the nascent stages of a development program if they have a limited understanding of the emerging solution. A lack of fluency in the solution space will necessarily constrain their attempts to understand the impact in their own domain and will compromise their ability to add value.
It is essential, therefore, that a progressive process of ideation, simulation, mock-ups, models, subsystem prototypes and preliminary working systems are developed and tested to seed the necessary interaction. It is also important that the communication channels, language used and topics discussed address the varying needs of the participating stakeholders. None of this is new; as anyone familiar with NASA’s Apollo program (1963 onwards) can confirm.
Many people will have experienced the ‘mental block’ of a blank sheet of paper or an empty whiteboard but how quickly does that vanish once a ‘straw man’ is proposed? We are very good at both critiquing and enhancing the work of others and this process can rapidly evolve into a more creative and forward-looking endeavour once it gets going.
In the case of the lone barking dog, the first step should be to involve the other stakeholders more fully. This can be accomplished through presentations, participative demonstrations, user-group forums and the formation of working groups actually tasked with parts of the process. Early discussions about acceptance testing usually stimulate lively debate and the allocation of accountability quickly promotes higher levels of engagement. At the end of the day, if you want interaction (and you should) then it is necessary to frame it, ask for it and facilitate it.
Initially, the focus should be on the familiar – beginning with the activity that the solution (product or process) will address. This might be captured in sketches, formal requirements, use-case analysis, assessment of current functions & performance and alternative solutions from elsewhere. It is important to get beyond the ‘what’ and into the ‘why’ in order to gain an understanding of the choices being made as this can unearth key drivers from a number of differing perspectives.
Once the collaboration has some traction then the focus can shift to consider the ‘what-ifs’. In this area you may need to paint the picture for your audience and describe possible futures that highlight the impact of decisions being made now. It is essential that any such envisioning be presented using ideas and language familiar to the audience; citing well-known, analogous examples can often help with this.
Once the dialogue becomes more visionary it can provide a platform for the involvement of stakeholders initially considered more peripheral. In this way both the depth and the breadth of contributions can be grown.
A number of well-known supporting doctrines can help keep the messages alive and the bases covered: Visual Management, Concurrent Engineering, Design for Manufacture & Assembly (DFMA) and Integrated Logistics Support all have a part to play. Additionally, application of the key principles of Change Management can help guide the process of gaining buy-in and support; the Prosci ADKAR model is an excellent tool in this respect.
An innovative process, like product development, is definitely a situation in which a chorus of barking dogs is a good thing – it’s just a matter of channelling their energy effectively. Don't bark alone - recruit the rest of the pack.