Today a friend called and asked how I was doing. It turned out he needed to get some frustration from his chest. The project he is involved in, is going nowhere.
It happens to be a habit in his organization to either do nothing or to write an extensive progress report. Doing nothing was for him no longer an option. But writing an extensive progress report, that is another story.
Personally I mostly have bad experiences with extensive progress reports to address important issues. It will be read to some extend, everybody has remarks. Mostly grammar, choice of words, sequencing ...about everything but the issue itself. By the time the report has been written, all the comments are dealt with after an extensive ping-pong exercise, the issue is 'known too well' and will no longer trigger real actions. Old news.
The quickest way I found is to put everything on an A4. Preferably presentation format (not the American version where one page pretty much contains a book, I'm talking font size 20, bullets, images). Title, brief description of the objective, three things that go well, three things that go badly and an estimate of what happens if it continues like this.
An A4 like this is quickly made. The advantage is you can easily verify it with a number of stakeholders. Because there is so little text, the feedback you get is either that of recognition or rejection. Precisily what is needed. With this it is easy to go to the project owner with the message that 'the others', not necessarily how it is formulated/worded, agree with the painted picture. Actually this is very important for the project owner to know.
The interesting thing is that this seems to work in very expert driven organizations to very politically sentsitives situations. Fast feedback is possible!
The reaction of the project owner I think is crucial. Either he will take some action, or he will thank you and goes about business as usual. Very important to know on how to proceed. If the project owners takes actions, it is important. If he doesn't, well it is not important (now). Clear signal for all how to continue.
The most difficult part of putting an A4 like this together is to find the three good things or the three bad things. It is very important that both are clearly visible. Nobody believes that all is going well in a project. Nobody believes that everything is wrong in a project. Call to action is easier when the messsage is credible.
In this particular case it was hard to come up with the positive things. Everything went wrong. But with a bit of dilligence there were some positive sides to the story as well.
One of of the postive things was that the organization was really participating in the project. A good thing to point out clearly, especially when it is kind of unusual. By pointing out these things, good behavior is rewarded!
A clear and present danger by the way is to try to be too precise. If you stick to the presentation format and don't cheat by changing to smaller font sizes, you can't but to state short and mostly image forming text. Sometimes it is not only easier but also better to just put an image to convey the message. The message must contain a lot of feeling and emotion. The right emotion and feeling will trigger the right call for action. Precision and relevance rarely (never?) go together.