I was recently working with some relatively young (well, pretty much everyone seems to be younger these days) software developers beginning to make a transition into project management. As we were going over some of the PM responsibilities and tools, one of them asked, “A lot of this sounds like selling. Don’t we want to stick to the hard facts?”
Whoa. For a moment I was floored. Was I telling them to sell? Was I, a hardened and cynical manager, being squiffy? Didn’t I ask these very same questions a long long time ago?
Before my brain re-engaged, one of the engineers spoke up and essentially said, “I have to sell my ideas all the time, otherwise I end up doing dumb things.” Immediately, another developer responded, “But it’s such a waste of time! If we would just spend the time to lay out all the facts, most decisions would be obvious.” Then the discussion took off with at least two camps representing those views.
I am a big fan of facts. Without them decision-making may become a strange game and less about achieving effective solutions. On the other hand, three things occur to me:
1) You never have all the facts (ok, never say never, but you get the gist)
2) It is our perceptions that are real to us
3) Since there are so many people involved in most of our projects, “soft” facts can be just as important.
So, while I can empathize with the need for more facts, we will be making decisions without all the facts — many times the available facts will still leave us with significant uncertainty. One of the key transitions a lot of have to make is to let go of our analytical need for more “perfection.”
Even if facts did “speak” for themselves, different people are likely to “hear” different things. We all bring a different perceptual “window” that feeds into our cognitive processes. So, I think another key transition we make is the realization that we need to spend more effort in shaping perceptions. I do not mean misrepresenting. I do mean that if we expect support from our stakeholders (and can we really expect to succede without significant support?), we typically have to influence how they think and feel.
Hey, maybe that’s the problem: the word “selling.” So, no, I am definitely not telling PMs to sell. Just spend some time and effort to have conversations with your stakeholders so that they can “see” and “hear” the facts. We might even find that jointly we come up with a superior set of facts.
Alan has a management consulting firm that is totally dependent on its great customers.