One of the most frustrating and common experiences in the workplace is getting work blocked near the finish line. Examples:
- A feature is developed over the course of 3 months. In the launch meeting a manager swoops in and declares it can’t be released for security reasons.
- You ask your manager for feedback on a proposal. They don’t respond. You ask again. They give a cursory glance and say “looks good”. A week later you say you’re ready to send it out. Suddenly they flood the document with feedback which ruins your timeline.
- An entire division works on a project for weeks. The minute they make it live the VP of the division storms in and yells “revert!”. The VP is displeased with the styling and insists it can’t be shipped that way.
There’s usually one of 3 main causes for this anti-pattern:
- Problem 1: Laziness/mis-calculation/ego. The stakeholder thinks it’s more efficient for them to engage with something closer to the finish line than early stage. This is often a gross mis-calculation. Projects are like cruise ships - you want to get to your destination with a lot of little steering along the way, not heroics after things have veered off course.
- Problem 2: Bad process. A critical stakeholder isn’t procedurally involved at the right time. If you find yourself blocking projects regularly, it’s your responsibility to fix this. Create good process.
- Problem 3: Micromanagement. The project/proposal didn’t actually need the manager’s feedback, they just can’t help having to put their stamp on everything.
The solutions are simple but hard to master:
- Answer 1: If you don’t think you need to be involved early, imagine the project goes live without your feedback at all. If you’re comfortable with that, you probably don’t need to be involved early (or at all). If you do need to give feedback, do it early and along the way.
- Answer 2: Make sure you have a process that involves necessary stakeholders at the right time.
- Answer 3: Don’t micromanage.
If you mess up and find yourself giving major feedback near the finish line of a project, find ways to say yes and make sure you’re empathizing with the frustration that’s resulting from the late stage changes.
An Addendum On People That Drive Me Crazy
Some people actually take pride in blocking projects. Stakeholders who repeatedly view themselves as “saving the day” when it comes to tanking momentum and releases. They see themselves as a fountain of unique knowledge that prevent disasters.
This is almost always a result of incentives that are grossly mis-aligned. Some organizations have stakeholders who show up late in the game, who are not responsible for other teams being productive, who have 0 incentive to facilitate work and all the incentive to block things.
Companies should incentivize these stakeholders not only for preventing problematic releases, but also for the amount of things teams can get done to their requirements. This ties their success to both risk management and enablement.