Should you ‘endorse’ or ‘discuss’?
Many project managers think that they should prepare papers and recommendations for the Governance Team/Steering Committee to ‘endorse’.
Often these papers and recommendation make sense and, unless the recipients have some violent objection or a particular viewpoint, they are ‘endorsed’ and the show goes on.
The problem here is that a rational argument that is seen to not be controversial and appears to make sense can be endorsed without those making this decision really understanding the issues and downstream ramifications of those decisions.
Reading a submitted paper only engages the conscious brain. If it makes sense then it is seen as okay and you get an unthinking decision that can later be revised causing rework and wasted effort.
You need to engage the non-conscious brain
But if you have to discuss the paper, this engages the non-conscious brain where the bulk of your knowledge is. Now you need to ‘think’ about what the topic is and the recommendation. You can ask questions and make statements that challenge the initial thinking or someone else’s thinking. You can explore the topic in more detail and identify the real issues.
Now there is a convention that “You should never bring problems to management, only solutions.” True to an extent. Management does not want to be saddled with all of your problems and have to work out some solution, often ‘on the fly’.
But similarly, management does not want to be steamrollered by your arguments when alternatives exist or the downstream ramifications need to be understood.
It is fine to present a paper/presentation or whatever with recommendations, but your submission needs to be discussed.
“This is what we’re talking about (the paper's desired outcome).
These are the areas of importance that you need to consider.
This is what I want your agreement to – are you happy with the language, the emphasis and that you understand the decision and its impacts?”
You are inviting a discussion. You want the recipients to get their brains involved and think about what is being discussed. More heads are better than one and the discussion can often tease out information that no one had known before as one person’s brain makes connections that were previously unknown and therefore not taken into consideration.
Be specific to avoid the 'super-project manager' syndrome
Now there is a danger that this approach will invite those on the steering committee who want to be ‘super-project managers’ to revisit all aspects of the topic and second-guess every decision made to date, and so on. This is where your paper's desired outcome needs to be clear and specific. What are you trying to achieve with this discussion?
For example, if you’re presenting a staff skills assessment form, what you can be discussing is how to objectively identify each staff member’s strengths and weaknesses and opportunities for growth and development. The specific topic may be the list of skills and level of skill categories but your end outcome could be an increase in staff productivity. Comments on the skill categories then need to be framed in this ‘productivity outcome’ context.
What this means is that each topic for discussion with the steering committee needs to have a clear, specific and measurable ‘desired end state outcome’ that you’re trying to achieve so that the discussion is controlled within this context.
If you don’t know what you are trying to achieve with any topic then you should not be presenting it. At times you’ll be surprised at what you are really talking about vis-à-vis the topic of the discussion. For example, a BA manager thought he was seeking a discussion on the role of his department. What he discovered when he defined his desired outcomes was that he was really seeking a career path for his staff and a means to measure his staff’s contribution to the organization. A very different discussion.
Seek a specific discussion, not just an unthinking endorsement.
Unspoken fear leads to non-decision making
Many project teams complain that their governance teams are reluctant to make (sensible) decisions. This is often because they don't know why they are there or what they truly accountable for. They really need to educated and trained so as to know what to do, when, why and how.
Governance education leads to better, more informed decisions.
It really is that simple.