What separates successful implementations from unsuccessful ones? Consensus.
In my experience, successful projects nurture consensus among stakeholders at every phase. Everyone needs to be brought along. Everyone needs to reach the top of the mountain. If this doesn’t happen, you’ll look around at implementation time (i.e., when it’s time to reach for the summit) and realize – ” hey someone’s missing” – the people that actually have to make this work!
I really love this definition of consensus from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School:
“Consensus means overwhelming agreement. And, it is important that consensus be the product of a good-faith effort to meet the interests of all stakeholders. The key indicator of whether or not a consensus has been reached is that everyone agrees they can live with the final proposal; that is, after every effort has been made to meet any outstanding interests. Thus, consensus requires that someone frame a proposal after listening carefully to everyone’s interests.”
– A Short Guide to Consensus Building
It may seem that we are setting the bar very low here – can everyone live with our proposed solution? But to me, this treats everyone like adults, acknowledging competing and sometimes conflicting interests openly and without fear. It can be helpful to have an objective party on hand who can help the group frame the topic in a neutral way.
“A chosen facilitator can help consensus by keeping the discussion on track, encouraging good process, and posing alternatives that may resolve differences.”- Mark Shepard , “Coming to Consensus”
Consensus is the key to a successful implementation Know who the implementers are going to be. Keep checking in with them. Can they live with it? Listen carefully! To everyone!
Consensus vs Quality?
But wait – what if the group is willing to settle for a less than optimal solution just because it makes everyone comfortable? What about exert guidance? Best practices?
“In an effort to please everyone, the decision may satisfy the least common denominator but not produce the best outcomes.” -Boundless Management, “Techniques for Reaching a Group Consensus”
How to avoid this trap – take some time to educate the group. Show them how others have solved similar problems. Present examples of the state of the art, the leading edge. Create a baseline commitment to a few guiding principles like referring to external benchmarks and reaching for a standard of excellence. In short, create consensus around quality.