What to say when your stakeholders try to rush the discovery process

I’ve received a few questions from readers on a post from last month: 3 Ways to Improve Your Approach to Problem Solving. A few people have asked for some advice on what to do when stakeholders, leaders, or partners dismiss the need for problem understanding and rush the discovery process. I don’t claim to have all of the answers, but based on my experience, here are some answers to a few common arguments I’ve run up against.

“We don’t have time for that!”

When things are moving quickly or there’s an impending deadline, it’s normal for everyone to feel the pressure and want to push forward. So, before you challenge others to think differently, it’s important to acknowledge the emotions triggered by urgency. But, here’s the deal: if meeting the deadline is more important than getting the solution to stick – there’s a problem. In the end, it only means you’ll be back working at the same issue again, instead of moving on to the next opportunity. It’s not a bad thing to go back and make changes, but there’s a difference between small adjustments and getting it wildly wrong. To be clear, I’m advocating for understanding the underlying root cause of a problem, not for getting it perfect.

“We already know what the problem is!”

If you’re joining something already in-flight, this one is super common. The project team may feel like they have a good sense of the problem already, but if you’re new to the game, the biggest risk to your success is making assumptions about what they have and have not done. Assumptions can get in the way of everyone being on the same page and can slow down progress if you’re all moving in different directions.  Everyone needs to have the same understanding of the problem to win. Additionally, if you’re coming in with a fresh set of eyes, that should be welcome by everyone, but stick to open-ended, non-leading questions to further your understanding and theirs: what have you done so far? What have you looked into? How did you come to that conclusion? What data led you to say that? Etc.

“We can’t bother the client again.”

I’ve heard this one many times before. Would you rather cause a slight annoyance now by asking additional questions or risk a major fire drill later when you deliver a faulty product or a solution that doesn’t stick? When the project wraps up, clients will be glad you took the time to get crystal clear up front, rather than fail to address the root cause of the problem. Show that you care about their goals, time, and resources by trying to get it right the first time.

“Let’s just try stuff and see what happens.”

To be clear, “trying” is always a good mindset. And, by all means, start with a minimum viable product when you can. However, to be effective, we need to be more thoughtful than just simple trial and error. Even the simplest test requires a thoughtful hypothesis and an understanding of the facts. The “let’s give them something” approach may allow you to check a box, but it won’t yield lasting results.

It’s critical to engage your stakeholders throughout a project and, if you’ve built up your relationships, challenge them when appropriate. When in doubt, stay positive and laser-focused on identifying the root cause of the problem.

Thanks to everyone for sending emails, tweets, and posting comments. I love hearing and learning from you. Keep it coming!

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