The Time I Wore a Bulls Eye
The Time I Wore a Bulls Eye
Facing a hostile meeting, learn how a stop to a local toy store helped relieve the tension and lead to a productive requirements gathering session.
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While working as a consultant early in my career, I was tasked by the corporate division to build a new application which would not only track our billable time, but also feed the ERP system with billing information for the hundreds of consultants located across the United States.
While I took an iterative approach with the development and design, this project pre-dates the implementation of Agile adoption. My product owner was the CIO with C-level directors and vice-presidents acting as stakeholders. All were focused on getting an up-to-date handle on the costs and revenues associated with the professional services division of a large conglomerate.
Within a relatively short time period, a fully functional system was put into place. I worked with a couple of corporate trainers who built a short training program which was used to train the end-users of the system.
Those who work in professional services report their time so that invoices can be generated for their billable time. In all of my years of being a consultant, the biggest challenge is to keep staff motivated to enter their time promptly. As a result, one of my primary objectives was to make it quick and easy to enter time—on a daily basis. The application had a link which allowed time for the day to be entered within a few mouse clicks and input fields. This functionality was designed for those who worked for the same project day-after-day, which covered about 80% of our professional services at the time.
While I was able to make things easier for the professional services teams, the middle management layer above the consultants, but below the stakeholders, were not completely happy with the new application. The prior time tracking system had several manual processes in place to extract and transform the data for use by that level of the organization. The problem was, the CIO (and other corporate stakeholders) were not aware of this need—nor was I, as a professional consultant working for our list of clientele.
It wasn't long before their frustrations were directed toward me. A few weeks later, during a time when all the middle managers would be congregating for a meeting, they asked me to join one of their sessions.
Facing a Hostile Situation
Several email messages found their way into my inbox, asking how they would be able to perform their job with the new system in place. I could sense the frustration they were dealing with and figured the meeting is going to be somewhat hostile in nature. Perhaps, not to where my personal safety would be at stake, but where the emotions would be high. After all, a portion of this group's salary was based upon the success of the professional service teams they managed.
When I relayed this situation back to the CIO, his initial reaction was to push back on meeting their needs. His thought was that the system was designed to benefit the corporation and provide a direct connection to the ERP system for billing purposes. However, after some discussion, he agreed to listen to their needs and figure out what is possible to include in the new system to help meet their needs.
I knew the meeting was going to start off in a tense state, so I felt like I needed a good ice-breaker.
Toy Store Visit
On my way to the meeting, I decided to stop by a toy store that was on my way to the meeting location. While there, I was able to locate a roll of kite string and then I asked for directions to where the bb and pellet guns were located. I wasn't planning to arm myself. Instead, I found a small package of bulls-eye targets that were big enough to cover my chest area.
When I arrived at the meeting location, I found a hole punch and some clear tape. I removed a target from the packing, added holes into each corner, then used the kite string to make it easy to attach the target over my chest. My ice-breaker was ready, I would enter the meeting wearing a bulls-eye on my chest.
The best part about the meeting, was that my segment occurred in the last section of the morning session. I waited outside until it was my time to meet with the group of middle managers, which was when the prior presenter left. As she left, I walked into the meeting—wearing the bulls-eye in plain view.
"Hello. My name is John and I developed the new engagement management system." I announced as I walked to the front of the room. I paused, closed my eyes and acted as if I was the target of an old-fashioned firing squad.
It seemed like forever, but it was probably only about ten seconds before the group started laughing at my ice-breaker. Which seemed to break the tension that I was expecting to face during the meeting.
I started by explaining the reasons behind the new system and the original goals that were being met. From there, I talked about conversations that I had with the CIO which put us into the position to where we can figure out how the needs of middle managers can be met.
I don't believe the majority of those in attendance knew the backstory for the application. As a result, the session that was likely to be a hostile situation, instantly transformed into a pseudo JAD session, where their needs were being heard and understood.
Conflicting needs can often result in frustrations across different classes of application users. While I knew I was merely the developer of the application—meeting the vision of the product owner—I also realized there was a high level of frustration for a class of users whose needs were no longer being met.
I found that using the bulls-eye as an ice-breaker, I was able to relieve a bit of the tension, projecting an understanding of their frustrations. This wasn't the only time I have used an ice-breaker to break the tension, but it was certainly one of my favorite stories to tell.
Have a really great day!
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