Time is Relative…
As you may be aware, we are in the process of starting a software company. It is early days but things are starting to take shape; this said, deciding on the actual specification of the product hasn’t been a straight forward one.
We have taken our time and meandered from one idea to another allowing the product specification to grow along the way. This was a conscious decision designed to give ourselves time to consider the specification in detail; this seemed to be working well…Until – Bang! You suddenly feel overwhelmed by the sheer size of the task ahead of you and there seems no point in continuing, as you won’t have the funding needed to complete the project anyway.
This is where we were a couple of weeks ago; from a fairly simple original design the project seemed to grow in multiple directions at once. Now this isn’t a problem if you have infinite funding and resource, or are able to plan this out in sizeable chunks, but at one point or another you need to come up for air and realise that the development of the ‘minimum viable product’ is the object of desire.
We all started from the same point of aiming to design a product that will deliver on the organisational strategy, but as things develop ideas change due to an obvious opportunity, so you tweak the strategy a little and then again, and again…suddenly things aren’t aligned anymore.
When considering the future business strategy and how you are going to deliver it things can get really complex very quickly; perhaps this is why so many companies shy away from creating truly strategic objectives and focus on operational ones?
You don’t set out to make things complex I might add, they just happen! Through ever intensive discussion you sift through the business requirements looking to make every ‘i’ dotted and every ‘t’ crossed, this opens up another level of detail. Before you know it you have identified another ten markets that could use your product and further features which will give you access to even more.
All this said this is a healthy state of affairs; you are challenging your thoughts in a progressive manner, thinking about the positive and negatives of the idea. You are considering the very rationale testing and re-testing its vulnerability. A disadvantage of this approach is that you get lost in the detail; every small challenge needs to be agreed before moving on, and it is slow, taking considerable time to get anything done. But the biggest problem, as we witnessed, was losing focus on the reason for being, the overall purpose why we were discussing the project in the first place.
So, how did we regain control? Well we sped things up!
If you acknowledge that the process of defining a product specification can be a complex one, and that it is reasonable that ‘people think and understand in different ways’ and at ‘different speeds’ then it isn’t too great a leap to appreciate that it is possible to go too slow, as well as too fast.
This is where we were! The discussion was enlightening, invigorating, taxing, stimulating, frustrating and rewarding, but not fulfilling the task in hand. We had fallen into the old committee trap of discussing everything but deciding on very little, trying to accommodate all options. We weren’t being selective enough.
This happens, especially when you are considering a complex subject matter; take a look at V.Ryans image below to get some idea of the complexity of conversation required to agree a product design. It isn’t simple.
Ok, we sped things up; instead of focusing on one subject matter per meeting we moved to complete four or five, or until we became snow blind and couldn’t think straight. This forced us to make decisions based on the information available. In general terms we agreed that a meeting shouldn’t last longer than 3 to 4 hours, by this time we are frazzled.
This was not about increasing the speed of discussion for its own sake, but finding the speed in which all members of the group communicated effectively.
In terms of conducting the meeting, I have laid out some thoughts on an approach which was conducive to a positive experience for us. You might find them useful?
A practical guide to getting through stuff with a mixed group.
- Get everyone to prepare; everyone must attend with their thoughts ready for discussion
- Take your time, it’s easy to say I know (!) but jumping from topic to topic too quickly can lead to missing things
- That said, keep momentum, if you have not achieved what is needed or are unlikely to move on; you can always come back to a subject later
- Listen to what’s being said, the comment might mean something totally different; ask questions to ensure correct understanding
- Be heard, if you have an opinion then don’t be afraid to share it
- Try and Align your thoughts to the person who is talking, it makes it easier to understand their opinion if you are coming from the same perspective
- Keep your cool, not always easy I can assure you, but sometimes when someone isn’t getting it then it isn’t there fault
- Slow it down when necessary and take a break as much as you need;
- Don’t meet for too long; it is draining discussing a single topic for more than a couple of hours, give yourself plenty of time
- Make decisions; it doesn’t matter if these are short-term whilst you work something out but make one
Through speeding things up everything has become much clearer and simpler, with the path to achieving the launch of the product clearly visible. It was a case of ‘can’t see the wood for the trees!’ and could have easily led to the dropping of the project if we weren’t strong willed individuals.
In simple terms it isn’t about going too fast or too slow, it’s about finding the right speed of the group. Appreciate this fact and you can’t go far wrong…
*All comments are based on my personal experiences and given freely. That said, you need to make your own choices. I can’t and won’t accept liability for you employing any recommendations. Business is all about risk. It’s your choice.
Nigel stone has, over the last fifteen years, started, led, consulted and nurtured both UK and European businesses to achieve quite outstanding results. Please feel free to drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Other articles in this series can also be found on my blog http://www.nigelstone.wordpress.com
Part 1 – The Start of Something,
Part 2 – A Vision, The Mission and Core Values…
Part 3 – Whats in a Name?
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com