Can We Just Start Please?

by Lawrence Brock and Laurence Haughton

My client wanted to redesign their website. I gave her my overview of the process, we began discussing the first stage of the project. I saw immediately she was frustrated. Then she blurted out, “Why do we have to waste time? We know what’s wrong. Can we just start please?”

It’s not the first time I’ve heard a client pleading to get on with it but I’m hearing more and more… Can’t we just start?

My instinct was to tell her the facts.

Fact 1

Strategies fail half of the time (in website redesign it’s more like 85%)!

Fact 2

They didn’t fail because they were bad strategies, but because the process is screwed up in two out of every three projects.

Fact 3

Those screw ups are known and obvious. Managers skip first steps, they’re unclear, they take short cuts, it’s a lot of ready, fire, aim…
Let me get this right...

But I didn’t say any of that. I put myself in her position. There was enormous time pressure. They had tried to do this redesign already without me. I was called because it hadn’t worked before (which only added to the time pressure). I was supposed to be an expert. I’m sure she thought, “If he doesn’t know how to solve this problem fast… then what good is he?”

I realised it was just like the commercial, she had a big, big headache and she wanted fast acting, strong medicine… not a long diagnostic and an array of tests.

My strategy was to be helpful and say you’re right… you’re right. And then figure out how to marry what was needed for flawless execution with her demand that we start and show progress really really fast.

So here I am, how can I do that?

I started a list. I needed answers to these questions:

What is the problem that prompted us to take action?
When we successfully solve the problem, what will be the impact on the organisation?
Who are the most senior people who care about solving this problem?
What criteria will those people use to determine success or failure?
There is large amount of research published on why we set ourselves up to fail. For example in paper entitled “Surprising but True: Half the Decisions in Organizations Fail” the authors note “The motivations to be pragmatic are stronger than the urges to be innovative. This is unfortunate because failure has less to do with the risk of innovation than how design is carried out.” (Emphasis is mine.)

Design is important, because the first step is to design your project approach based on the information you have and the information you know you’ll need to collect.

Albert Einstein was once asked how he would spend his time if he was given a problem upon which his life depended and he had only one hour to solve it. He responded by saying he would spend 30 minutes analysing the problem, 20 minutes planning the solution, and ten minutes executing the solution.