Skip to content

Stakeholder Management

Project Lessons from Aviation (Part 4): Aviate, Navigate, Communicate

Cockpit of airplane
Image Credit © bennymarty, Fotolia.com #93453181

In aviation, I gather, the mantra ‘Aviate, Navigate, Communicate’ has been a staple for pilots for many years.    I first heard this expression a few years ago, speaking to a fellow BA at a conference who also happened to hold a private pilots licence.  According to the FAA website, the mantra provides a useful aid-memoir for the pilot-in-command, particularly in emergency situations:

 

Aviate: Keep the aircraft in the sky, and keep it under control

Navigate: Monitor location, and navigate to the intended location

Communicate:  Speak to others (presumably this would include those outside the cockpit, e.g. air traffic control and also the passengers on board).

 

When I first heard this mantra, I was struck by its succinctness but also its usefulness—it is a concise shortcut that helps prioritise activities, especially when time is short and when the pressure is on.  It also struck me that it is an interesting model through which we could consider a project.  But perhaps, for a business and project environment it might need some adaptation…

 

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate?

The Role of Emotions on Projects

When carrying out Business Analysis, it is very tempting (and often considered advantageous) to highlight our objectivity.  As professionals looking ‘in’ on a business situation we are, it is said, able to see the ‘wood from the trees’ and work with our stakeholders to co-create solutions that they may not have found on their own.  Indeed, this is one of the major benefits of business analysis—we bring a fresh perspective, challenge and a range of techniques that help ensure our organisations meet the outcomes that they are desiring. Yet, whilst appropriate detachment and separation is useful, I am beginning to wonder if objectivity has its limits. 

 

Stressed businessperson with broken mechanism head screams
Image Credit © alphaspirit – Fotolia.com #97226946

We talk a lot in the analysis community about stakeholders—how to identify them, how to engage them and how to understand their perspectives. We might even talk about how to ‘bring people on the journey’, and how to understand the reactions that people have to change.  You are probably familiar with at least one theoretical model that charts the typical emotional responses to change (e.g. ‘SARAH’).  Yet in talking this way, are we assuming that as practitioners we have no emotions? That, like Spock in Star Trek we somehow experience no sense of fear, excitement, joy or regret?

 

I am sure we are not trying to imply that at all, but I wonder whether it is useful for us to consider our own emotional ‘state’ more.  After all if we are going to engage with a situation, with the stakeholders, doesn’t that involve being engaging?  And whilst there are of course techniques that can help with this, if we ignore our own emotional state then we are going to likely find ourselves giving out incongruous messages.  Like the customer service agent who says “uhh, yeah, probably”, we risk sounding seem half-committed—and as crucial practitioners who lead-from-the-middle it is so important that we ‘walk the talk’.

 

A Different Perspective: “Change Changes the Changer Too”

‘And Then The Magic Happens’: What BAs Can Learn From The World of Magic

  • Adrian Reed 
  • 2 min read

I’m very pleased to say that my recent presentation at the BA Conference Europe entitled ‘And Then The Magic Happens’: What BAs Can Learn From The World of Magic was recorded.   You can view the presentation below, complete with slides and audio — in total it’s just over 45 minutes long. I hope you find the… 

Project Lessons From Aviation (Part 3): Avoiding Communication Overload in a Crisis With “NITS”

Airplane Seats
Image Credit: © “hxdyl”, Fotolia.com #79427647

Whenever I’m travelling by air, I’m always fascinated by the layout of the equipment on the plane. As a fairly regular traveller, I suspect I often notice things that other passengers don’t, and probably end up reading signs and notices that are intended for the crew rather than passengers.

 

After a couple of hours on a recent short-haul flight, I decided to freshen up and so headed toward the “washroom”. As is fairly normal, there was a queue, so I was standing in line for a few moments. While waiting, I noticed that there was a cabin crew jump-seat next to the WC, and just behind the seat there were a series of (what appeared to be) laminated emergency scenario cards. Now, as much as I would have loved to have a good rifle through these, I didn’t because (a) I suspect the crew would have soon stopped me and I’d have been banned from flying with that airline again and (b) seeing emergency procedures from a crew’s perspective probably would have scared the life out of me!

 

However, I did see part of one of the cards, and my eye was drawn to an acronym which really stuck with me. So much so, that I wrote it down when I got back to my seat:

NITS:

Nature
Intention
Time
Special Circumstances

Now, I can only guess what the relevance of this acronym is in aviation (so if there are any pilots or cabin crew reading, I’d love to know if my interpretation is correct), but I can imagine two potential uses:

 

Cartoon with a person spotting a problem surrounded by others hassling them

What Projects Could Learn From Aviation (Part 1): Declaring “Pan-Pan”

Cartoon with a person spotting a problem surrounded by others hassling themAlthough I don’t watch a lot of TV, one of my “guilty secrets” is that I am fascinated by the “Air Crash Investigation” series. This factual TV series catalogues a range of near misses and miraculous landings, as well as some very unfortunate and tragic air disasters.

 

Over the years, the commercial aviation industry has become safer and safer—and the fact that every mistake, disaster and near-miss is scrutinised in detail has undoubtedly led to a culture of safety (see the fascinating book ‘Black box thinking *‘ by Matthew Syed for more about this).

 

I was recently catching up with an old episode of the show, which focused on a case where a skilful pilot successfully landed a plane with almost every automated system failing. Many things fascinated me about this case, but one thing that really stuck with me was when the pilot described the concept of declaring “Pan-Pan“.

 

Pan-Pan: We’re dealing with an emergency, leave us alone (for now)!

It turns out, that when a pilot is dealing with an emergency situation (which doesn’t yet require a ‘mayday’), they will declare Pan-Pan to Air Traffic Control.  According to the pilot on the show, and articles I’ve read elsewhere, this has several useful functions:

 

1. It prevents Air Traffic Control from communicating or relaying any non-urgent radio traffic. They leave the pilots to focus on resolving the emergency,

2. Air Traffic Control can clear the way and be prepared if a ‘mayday’ call is subsequently made.

 

When you think about this logically, it makes sense. When the Captain and First Officer are desperately trying to diagnose the problem, referring to the in-flight computer and completing emergency checklist after checklist, the last thing they need is constant interruption. I cannot even begin to imagine the intense focus that must be required on a flight deck in such circumstances, and have the greatest of respect for those that work in the aviation industry.

 

If a project was a plane…

As I listened to this case study, it struck me that on projects, a very different approach is taken when potentially dangerous news emerges.  When bad news emerges on a project, it is all-too-common that the following things will happen:

Did You “Show Up” Today?

Not long ago, I was walking passed a parked van, and the signwriting on the side of the vehicle attracted my attention.  The van was advertising a small business that helps people to lift and shift heavy items, and it’s possible to hire the van and a driver for a fee.  The part which attracted my attention is highlighted below:

Van with the words "We Show Up" on the side, amongst other signwriting

 

The phrase “WE TURN UP!” was displayed proudly in capital letters on the side of the vehicle.  I stopped for a moment.  I found it amazing that the van owner felt it necessary to mention the fact that if a booking was made, she or he will actually show up.   Surely that is something that could be taken for granted?  Surely this is a fundamental part of the job and something that a customer can expect?

 

When Showing Up Isn’t The Norm…

Death by Bullet Point: The Antidote

Picture of man snoozing/sleeping whilst standing upImagine the scene. It’s 5pm on a Friday. It’s mid-summer and the air is humming with heat – but you’re stuck in a hot, stuffy conference room with no air. You’ve been up since 5:45am, and are only surviving because you’ve downed 17 cups of coffee and 3 energy drinks throughout the day. It’s been a long day and you hope it’ll be over soon. You’re sitting in an uncomfortable chair watching a visitor give a presentation. You’re trying to stay focussed, but your attention is wandering… your eye is drawn out of the window to a colleague getting into their car and heading home for the weekend. “Lucky”, you think to yourself. You start to think about what you’re going to have for dinner. You start to think about the traffic on the drive home—“I wonder if those road-works have finished?” Your mind is wandering. You make a mental effort to focus.

 

Your attention is drawn back to the presentation—the presenter is speaking in a monotonic voice that can only be described as ‘dull’. They are uncovering bullet point after bullet point after bullet point—and really they are just reading their slides. They move to the next slide and an undecipherable and unreadable diagram is displayed. They look at the diagram, and turn back to the audience:

 

 “I know you won’t be able to read this diagram as it’s too small—but let me talk it through it”

 

They proceed to do so. Your eyes drift in and out of focus—you are trying to stay awake. You notice a number in the corner of the slide “25 of 118”. It’s going to be a long evening…you take a final swig of coffee.

 

Recognise this situation?

 

I bet we’ve all been in that conference room. We’ve all experienced that mind-numbing and spirit crushing pattern of death by bullet point. I suspect that many people reading this will have experienced it many times. And, if we’re truly honest, probably most of us have been on both sides of the podium. We’ve probably all given presentations that have lost the audience’s attention as well as endured them…

 

Communication is crucial

The Art of a Difficult Conversation

Two children ignoring each otherImplementing any kind of meaningful change in an organisation is rarely easy. Even the most successful project is likely to hit a rough patch now and again where something unwelcome and unexpected happens. Good risk management can minimise the problems, but even with this in place there can be unanticipated situations that hit us from the left-field.

 

Colin Powell is quoted as saying “Bad news is not like wine. It does not improve with age”.  In situations where problems occur, it’s crucial that we assess the impact, understand the available options, engage and communicate with our key stakeholders, sponsor or client. This can often be a difficult conversation – but much better to have a difficult conversation early than an awkward conversation later! Bringing issues to the table early allows us to discuss a range of options that might not be available if we hold fire until the fire burns out of control. The longer we wait, the more time we burn – and the options we have start to evaporate.

 

However, when working as an internal business analyst, or even when working for a vendor or managed service provider (MSP) delivering a solution for a client, situations can be complicated. Some environments can be politically charged, and there might be the perception that speaking openly can be rather career limiting. When working with an external client there may be the added risk of losing an entire series of contracts—which would not land well!

 

Yet, in most circumstances it is best for us to heed Colin Powell’s advice. A diplomatic, open and honest conversation now, while the news is fresh, is better than an awkward and embarrassing conversation in six months’ time when the situation has festered.

 

So how can we ensure that these conversations are fruitful? The following tips can be useful:

Avoiding the Blame Game

In a previous article, I wrote about how outsourcing and utilising the skills of specialist firms, vendors and managed service providers (MSPs) can be an excellent way of gaining access to additional capabilities and expertise. It avoids the need to develop all capabilities in-house, and can enable focus to be retained on those areas where… 

Understanding Your Customer’s Customer

Jigsaw puzzle with arrowsWhen implementing a change in an organisation—whether it’s a process change, an IT change or even an organisational change—it is good practice to map out the stakeholder landscape and understand who the key players are within the organisation. I’m certain everyone reading this article will have read many useful articles in the past about how to identify, categorise and manage stakeholders. This discipline encourages us to think about who is impacted by a particular change or initiative, and who has some kind of power or control over it.

 

When identifying stakeholders in this way, it will inevitably be important to identify the customer.  Clearly the end-user of the product or service being developed or changed is paramount. Yet who we class as the customer might not be clear-cut, and is likely to require additional thinking. In fact, there may be unforeseen pitfalls awaiting us if we don’t consider this thoroughly. Take the following example scenarios: