Home » Change Management » Project Management Choose Consensus or Speed?

“We develop skunk works projects, taking an idea from concept to working model or prototype.  We then put the prototype in front of our management team and use it to help the team understand the value of our idea. And then I face the dilemma:  Either be patient and build consensus, or move ahead without the full team’s support. My sense is that it’s time for a change in approach — time for more personal risk-taking and less conventional wisdom.” “Speed To Market Battles Consensus-Building,” John McGreavy, Information Week,  May 16, 2011, pg 14.

Project Management Speed or ConsensusI’m not a great fan of “speed to market trumps all else.”  I’ve seen this used to produce some pretty poor products and justify some pretty poor management practices.  Fortunately “John McGreavy” (Information Week’s “Secret CIO”), while concerned about speed to market, presents some great insights into how he goes about innovating to achieve speed to market as seen in the quotes above. I am a great fan of piloting and incubating ideas and techniques before turning them into projects to improve the organization (or product).  This helps ensure ideas are well understood and provides a core of experts to help get them into use.

McGreavy is concerned, however, about it taking too long to get a consensus and get the innovation into use.  He seems to be drifting to the “dark side” and considering pressing on without everyone’s buy in.  My advice?  Just do it.  In my experience, taking the risk to innovate trumps patience. The drawback, again in my experience, is that it generates a lot of “what the heck are you doing” and “why are you not being a team player” negative feedback.

The impatient, let’s just do it, approach is not necessarily fun unless I am looking back on what we have successfully accomplished.  During the effort it can be painful and it may feel like too much of the organization is rooting against us.  Our most senior managers may not be objecting, but they are strangely silent and watching as we push forward.  Innovating just seems to have that effect, primarily because people are often resistant to change (that they don’t initiate).

Making the big change is rarely safe and painless.  If we want to be leaders in such a change, we will often be taking on a lot of personal risk.  Being smart about innovating, and even a little impatient, can be a great project management tool for taking our projects or organization to the next level of performance.

How did your organization’s last great innovation get started?

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5 thoughts on “Project Management Choose Consensus or Speed?

  1. Comments from around the web:

    A little clarity. Your comment assumes consensus is the opposite of “speed.” Your comment implies consensus is slower than other “speedier” decision processes. In general, I would agree consensus is slower……”Initially”. After all, you are bringing more people (opinions) into the process that will contribute to deciding the future effort’s outcome.

    I do not believe you are asking the right question. Using consensus, or some other decision mechanism (Type 1 – Decision made by lead, Type 2- lead makes decision with input or Type 3 – Consensus), comes down to understand your PPM requirements. A PPM lead has to know his/her role and operating conditions. Does this person have the right to decide when they can use type 1 – 3 decision processes? Under what conditions does the lead have authority to make different types of decisions? There is no “silver bullet”, or common path, in making all decisions during the length of a project/program. It is a crucial mistake for a PPM lead to believe there is “only way to go” in making PPM decisions. They are being paid for their PPM expertise and discernment in knowing how to deliver project deliverables effectively. They need to know when to apply the right decision process/types to the right level of program issues in order to deliver the best overall result.

    Consensus decision making gets a very bad rap for being slow. With 30+ years in IT and NPD Engineering leadership roles, I have found consensus decision making incredibly positive in delivering results under appropriate conditions. Does it take more effort by the PPM lead to build agreement in the early stages of a PPM engagement using consensus? Absolutely! However, after the relative slowness associated with building the initial coalition, consensus decision making can be incredibly successful in delivering future PPM stages at light speed. Why? Everyone is on board with the key elements of what will make the PPM initiative successful….True collaboration has been established. Players should not get hung up on the “small” (personal preference) issues that typical bog down PPM initiatives in their later stages….when delays are so, so expensive.

    Bruce, to conclude, my answer to your question, “…be patient and build consensus, or move ahead without the full team’s support…”, is YES. You have to deal with both. It is not “consensus or something else”. It is both. Without using consensus in some form, directly or indirectly, your chances of PPM initiative success are much more limited…..

    Let me know if I can help with related details…I would love to help….
    Posted by James Lake

  2. Mike,

    I had to learn the art of “looking like we are doing something” while we were still figuring out what we really needed to do. I love to find the elegant solution that is clean and simple. Too often when we rushed in to fix/change things it turned out to be ugly and something we had to continually tweak over time. Unfortunately, many cultures reward the splashy activity over rock solid, but boring, changes.

    Good observation.

    Bruce

  3. I think that speed without the thought process just gets you to the scene of the accident quicker.
    It also penalises those folks who like to think before they act – they appear to be falling behind, when, in fact, they may be miles ahead in thought.

  4. Art Garcia says:

    Bruce,

    Always enjoy your articles – keep up the great work! My comment concerns the risk associated in hard-wiring my PM mind/team/organization to one position or the other concerning the speed vs. consensus debate. I believe the PM is challenged to know his/her customer, project team, and supporting organization well enough to select a prudent course of action within acceptable risk & resource limits. I figure that’s why we get paid the big bucks, right?! Leveraging that analysis, I expect the PM as leader to decide and launch a winning course of action.

    1. Art,

      Agreed. The art is finding the balance between going from one extreme to the other. I’ve often found I have to take a team and lean one way or the other based upon how things are going at the time. Early on in the project I may be leaning them one way, and then later on in the project, leaning them the other way.

      ” I figure that’s why we get paid the big bucks, right?!”

      That’s exactly the case!

      Bruce

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