Shared Outcomes
One way to avoid conflicting requirements

Caught between a rock and a hard place?

So, on the one hand you have "Team A" who want something. On other you have "Team B" who might be able to deliver it. Whose side are you on? Here are some very quick notes on this episode:

  1. Find some common ground that both sides can agree to.

  2. Get the sides together to negotiate and commit.

  3. Remind them of their shared commitments when the going gets tough.

Sounds obvious? Listen, watch the media or read the transcript below to get practical examples and understand the tips on what this means in practice to make sure you don't get caught out. 


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So imagine the scene, a business client of yours wants to put in a new web portal because they're launching a new marketing campaign, a new product, and it's going to be going live in three months. Now you are a representative of the central technology team, and you are already thinking to yourself, well, this isn't such a hard sweat, because we've already got three web platforms that they can take their pick from. So it's just a selection exercise and the job is done. Now you take down some requirements. You find actually there are some quite tricky elements to this new product launch, and you think to yourself, well, actually, there might not be a 100% fit on the existing free solutions. And do you go outside and find another one, solution number four? So anyway, you take this requirement back to the central planning team, and you find out that actually they're going to be putting in place a new global platform for all of the business units, and then migrating all of those business units across, onto this global platform.

And it starts next year when you're thinking to yourself, well, actually, I've got some pretty hefty requirements, so going live in three months, and I can't go back to my business client and say they've got to wait at least a year before they, they can see their product being launched. So what do you do? Do you on the one hand, say, look to the client? Well, you're just going to have to wait. Two, do you say, okay, well, let's try and find a compromise. Maybe we can use one of the existing platforms in the short term and then do a migration later or three, do you let the business go rogue and they can source their own solution? 

So to answer this question, one, two, or three, there we go from one side of the equation to the other. Let's take a step back and I, I'd like to illustrate this with another example. I got a phone call the other day from a recruitment friend of mine, and he said, John, I'd like to put you forward for this exciting role, doing exactly that representing an IT function to a business unit as part of this global corporate company. And I said, okay, I'm curious, let me know. And he says, well, look, I'll send you over a job description and you can have a look at it and tell me what you think.

I went, all right, now I read the job description and the first line it was really for me encapsulates the challenge of being caught in the middle between say, a business unit and a central technology function. Now, the line that stuck out for me was this key to success is the quality of your relationships with the client company, and also aligning then to the activities with the central planning team. And you thinking, okay, so what's the problem? Well, the context is really centralization. So after doing a bit of digging around on this company, I found out that they'd just invite on this kind of standardization strategy. You know, obviously they a lot of organic growth. They wanted to reduce costs and they wanted to be able to consolidate and refine the, service offering and obviously trying to bring all of these different business units on board as part of the journey, really.

So there's an element of persuasion really. So to try and go to the business sponsor and say, well, look we are offering a service. We're trying to reduce costs, and we're wondering whether you'd be interested and, you know, what are your needs? And can we fit those needs into the roadmap that the central technology team are offering? And indeed, what is that roadmap - can we find that balance? Now the trouble is in those kind of conversations you kind of, on the one hand there's a prerequisite, you're going to have a good relationship. And on the other, you know, you're going to have alignment on a roadmap at the end of the day and unfortunately, both cannot converge. You can, you can probably have one thing or the other and I'd put it to you that actually

Business clients, they value the relationship in terms of what you can do for them. So if you are representing a technology function and they're saying, well in fact we're on a go slow, we can't see your request for another 18 months. It's not exactly going to do a lot for them, and you're not going to be you know, employee of the month if you're going to give them that kind of bad news, you see? So you can see where we're going with this. Now, if in that one statement you've got both to contend with, you're already seeing a potential failure mode, you, you're going to be on the hot seat already. So key to the issue around this is expectations on the role you're supposed to fulfill and whether you are enabled for success in executing that role. So a bit of the roundabout way to sort of say, well, look, if you're operating in that context, it can be easily there may not be the opportunity for success to negotiate the require, the conflict conflicting requirements between two different parties.

Alright, so now coming back to the specifics of this type of question, you know, how do you fulfill this web portal request? You know, there's no right answer. I I'll say straight off, so I'm sorry if you are hoping for this golden nugget of informational insights. It depends, and it depends on a lot of things actually. It depends on the culture of the organization, it depends on the people involved. Depends on who's prepared to budge in terms of their agenda. It depends on really who has authority. It depends on how the different teams involved, whether they're seen as inferior or superior, whether they actually have a seat at the decision making table or not. You know are they told just what to do, you see? So you can have either teams being in inferior or superior positions, and you can be in course in the middle between these, you see?

So it becomes a very difficult place to be and quite political often. Now the training program that I offer deals with a lot of these kind, kind of aspects and I try and clear the wood for the trees and give you the space to reflect on your own circumstances and how best you can succeed in them. So rather than list out all of the different course modules I'm giving you the opportunity to sign up for this two week free trial. However what I want to do today is give you some actionable steps that can, you can take away and start implementing immediately. 

So the key theme I want you to take away today is shared outcomes. So, goals, objectives, oh, we can argue about the nuances between all of them, but shared outcomes I think is something that you can start thinking about between the different parties involved. The business unit, on the one hand, the central technology function on the other. Now I suggest try and find what they have in common and write them down. And so let me give you an example. A shared outcome is not something like to reduce cost and grow revenue at the same time because in quite a few contexts that outcome may not be achievable. So you're lucky if you happen to come across the circumstance where it can be, you get all the points but in quite often, in many contexts it's actually a conflict. You can either do one thing or the other.

So let's change the dynamic a little bit. So we can move away from ensure that you've got a satisfied customer whilst adopting a global standard. That could be tough. You know, that may actually, you might annoy quite a few of your customers by moving onto a global standard. Delays, you know, you might see the reduction in features because of this new standard might not, you know, be so bespoke, for example. Anyway, let's focus on something where they could agree to something like, for example, to jointly find solutions that's can enable both sales growth and cost reduction at the same time. Okay? Now we can commit to that, right? We're going to all collectively endeavor, put some effort in and try and find something that can work, try to find something, okay? Another example will be to find a short term solution that to me, the imperative operational requirements by in this year, and then migrate to a longer term solution next year that can be negotiated and agreed.

So that's a example of a shared outcome. And the next step, step two, will be to discuss those shared outcomes. And I mean, obviously there's going to  be more than one, right? But the point is this, you've gotta start discussing with both counterparts. The best case scenario is you get them both into the room at the same time and, you know, negotiate. You facilitate the conversation and say, well, look, on the one hand, we've got this complex problem here, but you know, it'd be great that if we use this as a case study, we can find a solution and adopt the principles that we find from working together on this a solution that

Can a way of working that can last for the long term. So you've got them in the room, we've had that conversation, you've got some agreement, great. The third step is, well, what if we do nothing right? They need to recognize that without either party acknowledging or agreeing to these outcomes. Then it becomes very difficult to find an equitable solution for all concerned. You're either compromising too much or you're having to give ground on one side of the fence to the other so that you're seen by the other party is playing for the other team.

So it's trying to get the balance of being picket in the middle. May, may be too difficult, you see? And they need to recognize that because there's an an implicit assumption that by magic, this person who's having to negotiate between two parties can deliver that they can't. And they all need to work clubs together collectively to do so. And if once you've got those outcomes established, the next time you're caught in a tricky dilemma. Now this, the first thing you can do is remind people of those outcomes, and that helps frame the context of the conversation, moves away from a potential political argument, whose team are you on, and then you can start focusing on how you achieve those shared outcomes. 

So stay tuned for another episode of Tales from a Portfolio Manager. Thank you.

Shared Outcomes
Baxter Thompson Ltd, Jon Baxter
7 March, 2023
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9. Achieving Alignment
A podcast with Adam Lacey from assembleyou