On a recent flight, I sat next to the VP of Sales for a large multinational company.
Their new big product in development needs a new pricing structure that requires agreement across the organization. Can he get a decision? No. He’s conducted conference call after conference call for months. No decision.
You know the problem. Three people, four opinions; eight people, ten opinions. When I met him, it was early May. They want to ship next quarter. They need a decision soon.
The first part of this decision is a date for the decision. He selected May 15.
He sent an email. “We have a meeting May 15. Be there or be square. If you can’t make it, send someone you trust.”
What happened when he announced the date? Many excuses: I can’t make it. I have another important meeting that day I can’t miss.
My seatmate stuck to his guns. “That’s fine. Send someone you trust. Delegate your responsibility for this. I’m not changing the date.”
Now, I’m not going to see this guy again so I have no idea what will happen. But, my bet is on him. What happens after that? The lawyers get to play. That’s a whole ‘nother story. He tells me, “I know the agreement I want. They’re not used to this, but I have to get this done. We have to release this product.”
The point of this story is that sometimes, program managers drive towards decisions by setting dates for the milestone. You need a decision. It might not be pricing for you. It might be some other deliverable across the organization.
You need that “Goldilocks” decision point, when it’s not too early and not too late. How strategic is your decision? How far in advance do you need to make your decision? How will your decision affect other people? Take all of those issues into account. Your decision needs to be at the most responsible moment.
If you make your decisions too early, you prevent the team from seeing good options. Make your decision too late, and you have a crisis.
Select your date, making sure you provide people enough time to participate. Invite your cross-functional team. Create an agenda, making sure there is time for discussion, problem solving, and a way to facilitate agreement. Socialize the decision around the organization, once you make it. Is pricing something that you need to consider for your product?
Do you need to release a product? Do you need other people across the organization to make decisions with you? You are acting as a program manager, whether or not you are one.
We normally think of features as the biggest risks for programs. But, unresolved decisions can doom a program just as fast as technical issues can. Is someone facilitating the core team issues, making sure those issues get done?
Cross-functional decisions are not just for technical teams. Core teams need those decisions, too. Agile and lean approaches work just as well for your core team as well as for your technical teams.
Core teams are the cross-functional business teams that help you release and ship your product. If your program needs a core team, make sure that your agile or lean program doesn’t miss its last step to release.
If you liked this article about collaborating across the organization, you might want to know about my workshops in Israel, where I will be teaching several workshops, including program management. See A Week with Johanna. This is the only public workshop I am delivering this year about agile and lean program management.
July 2, Webinar, Manage Your Job Search
Sept. 2, Webinar, Agile Program Management: Networks, Not Hierarchies
I hope you decide to join me.
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