About the right mix of detail and polish

Some time ago I was leading a project that was pitched as an enabler for improving communication and exchange of information. I assembled a team representing different parts of the organization. We had a challenging and fun time defining what our task actually was. Or in other words what problem was to be solved?

We went back to the project sponsor and to the people asking, “what are the things bugging you?”. That formed a picture which is best described by “5 feet of separation”. In other words, people who were in close proximity were working – usually – well together, knew where they were up to and talking regularly. People who were seated apart further had usually no idea to which degree the other person had progressed on a task. That was true even when they were part of the same bigger project or team.

Rough layouts sell better

Now we went to work and then illustrated this and our solution idea to the project sponsor. This wasn’t a detailed art of work but consisted of drawings, stories and graphs. The whole idea was to ensure we were on the right track and give everybody the chance to get involved. This worked well as we could refine and were getting the buy in before delving too deep into a solution.

Later I was reading an article by Paul Arden. He said,

if you show a client a highly polished computer layout, he will probably reject it. There is either too much or not enough to worry about. They are equally bad.
If he doesn’t like the face of the girl in the rendering, he will be unable to see the big idea. He sees the girl’s face and thinks, “I don’t like her, that doesn’t feel right.”

Without intention we did the right thing when we presented our sketches and stories. We were probably lucky and hitting the nail with the graphs we were using. Those. Old have gone the wrong way. In the end getting the client or stakeholders involved and making the solution their own is what counts.

If you get stuck use a different pen

Weeks later we were discussing possible implementations. At one point we had rejected the industry standard option as it didn’t seem to fit easily our particular situation. However, a number of stakeholders felt this being a very strong contender. So we built a case around that option and presented it.

It got rejected. I was – admittedly – happy because it didn’t feel right to me. In hindsight, I ask myself if my presentation was destined for failure because of that.

The second business case was presented months later. It involved 3 different test installations and as many consultants. At the end the business case had close to 60 pages and got accepted after the presentation. This second presentation was very different to the first one. It was tied back very closely to the original problem illustrations and related information. Instead of focussing on technicalities it showed what it would look like and how it could be achieved.

There are 2 lessons in this for me.

  • believe in what you do and that you can do it right. Don’t sell what in your heart is the wrong thing. If your client wants what you can’t deliver don’t make it work, give it to who can.
  • when your first approach fails, review how you’ve done it. Often the tool, approach, or idea that served you well before didn’t gel in this case with either the client or the product. Use a different pen!

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