Building confidence and buy-in from the very beginning of a new innovation or design research project is important to its overall success. Every good project manager knows this, but that doesn't mean it always happens.
Even the most veteran leaders among us can lose sight of the bigger picture once a project starts. This can lead to a whole slew of problems: misaligned goals, project stagnation, disengaged team members, angry stakeholders, empty insights, concepts without champions, rushed results, you name it. Don't let these common pitfalls happen to you.
Instead, be a champion and get the dynamic buy-in you need to succeed by starting your next big project with these four leadership strategies:
1. ALIGN THE ALLIES
Choosing your team is one of the most important decisions you can make before beginning a project. Great coaches know that there's strength in a deep bench that includes lots of skills and specialties. But every team succeeds when all of those players are united behind the team goals and not just on showcasing their skills and talents.
So when thinking about project goals make sure you diversify your team, but also make sure you're engaging like-minded allies. Diversification can come in many flavors:
- Do you have a broad spectrum of different personalities and backgrounds?
- Do you have too much redundancy of skills?
- How can you engage people with different spheres of influence?
- Are all of the department who will be affected with this outcome represented?
Once you have diversification handled be sure to consider enlisting like-minded allies. Think about those who not only support others' initiatives and feel connected to the needs you're addressing, but also those who know how to champion a great idea when they hear it - regardless of the author.
Getting your ducks in a row for the right team make-up means forming a cross-functional team. By bringing together different personalities and organizational perspectives you receive a fuller view of the problem and open up a wider range of possible solutions. When this kind of team is focused on a common goal the results can be powerful.
2. INITIATE A STRATEGIC KICK-OFF
It's easy to get started on a project. It's harder to get started properly. Preparing for a successful kick-off meeting is one of the most overlooked aspects of project management. A strategic kick-off meeting not only builds enthusiasm from the beginning, but lines out specific markers along the way that will help sustain energy and engagement throughout the entirety of a project.
In addition to laying out the project's basic scope and timeline, it is imperative that this kick-off meeting provide time for the group to discuss current knowledge, surface assumptions and align on the gaps or blind spots in user behavior and motivation they seek to fill. In this way, the groundwork is in place for mutual understanding and constructive challenges to the going-in project scope are managed at the appropriate time – at the beginning and not mid-way through the research.
Mutual understanding needs to also be made in understanding roles. A great start to a project includes defining roles strategically, exploring areas for collaboration, identifying gaps or blind spots, and aligning the focus to the overall objectives. By doing so, you create a deeper connection for your team, centralize needs, and help hone the project's overall efficiency.
The most important part of a successful start to a project is providing clarity about how the project will end. It is important to ask, "How will we know we are done?" or even, "How do we expect to feel when this project is complete?" Feel free to also ask, "When will we know to put the champagne on ice?"
3. SET MEANINGFUL MILESTONES
After a great strategic setup, it is easy to get wrapped up in all the excitement. Enthusiasm is great, but it is important to remember that successful projects require endurance. There will be emotional highs and lows throughout, and it is important to proactively plan for the long journey ahead.
After a strategic kick-off meeting, make sure to get clear about the multiple milestones and strategically-timed collaboration opportunities. Breaking projects up into phases is a great way to ensure everyone is working together and leveraging the team's different perspectives before moving on in the sequence of planned events. Create time to facilitate meaningful meetings to capture the team's output and synthesize progress.
Setting milestones throughout the project helps build confidence, and keeps your team enthused and focused on what is meaningful instead of what is simply "done." In addition, having multiple points in place to share insights and progress creates greater project transparency, allowing for both the team and shareholders to build on emergent themes, mitigate challenges, and manage expectations.
4. BE PRESENT
You can have the perfect team, a great kick-off meeting, and all the strategic planning in the world, but if you lose your team's commitment to staying present, curiosity is the first thing to go. If curiosity is gone that creates room for assumptions and "same old" thinking which completely derails project innovation.
Keep the momentum and engagement alive throughout the entire lifecycle by committing to being present at all times. Lead by example and require others to follow. Consider these rules of engagement as rules FOR engagement:
- Check your phone at the door.
- Harness the power of user stories.
- Design immersive and interactive engagements.
- Don't allow partial meeting attendance (avoid meeting parachuters who drop down in the middle of the meeting and insist on being caught up).
- End each session with just one question like, "How can the new information change the story we tell ourselves about our customers and our products?" Regardless of the question, ending a meeting with a stepping back question can keep the organic and experiential elements alive.
Use your leadership to get the dynamic buy-in you need to succeed. Getting the project started right is just the first step, but successful leaders know that every detail needs to be held accountable to the goal of the project. Tell us how you became the champion your next project!
Want to continue the conversation? Follow us on Twitter and don't forget to tag @ConiferResearch!