Experts only commit themselves to a project if they themselves are convinced of its success. A lack of commitment from all those involved is a sure sign of a “planned” failure. It is therefore the responsibility of everyone to ensure that a commitment is made.
The commitment, the self-felt obligation to use one’s own abilities to achieve a goal, is therefore the essential success factor for projects of any kind such as agile transformation, classic projects, meeting like agile ceremony, negotiations of any kind, sales up to coaching and one-on-one interviews.
A real commitment significantly reduces the effort needed for steering and control and is a central component of self-organization and a prerequisite for developing ownership.
Commitments are not given
This quote, “What we do in meetings and projects are not commitments” is a phrase often repeated when participants in the Master of DecisionMaking seminars learn how to bring about commitments in a process safely and promptly.
Wanting to do something together or agreeing to something, as well as being convinced of the necessity of the action, is by no means a commitment. The measures necessary for success must be integrated into the commitment process.
The illusion of consent
The commitment (Fig.01) to the project success of a new online shop revealed both the tempting opportunity promised by the success of the project as well as its enormous risk. Over a period of several months, all artifacts, rolls and ceremonies were built up and secured with the 33 project participants (Fig.01: A). The project received corresponding management attention, as it had previously failed with 56 participants.
The anonymous evaluation points only superficially to the success of the project. Nobody (0%) was any longer opposed to the success of the project (Fig.01: B), but if the project failed, 60% of the project members (Fig.01: C) would claim that they knew it would and 40% (Fig.01: D) would accuse these members of not having given their best.
This way, the “projects with fewer problems” can be identified before they begin. The information that is so valuable for the success of the project can be determined for any team size in a few minutes without anchoring effects (cognitive biases) or manipulation attempts using the digitalized DecisionMaker.
In case of failure, all project participants would experience the pain of failure. The Standish Group Study (2019) has documented 75% of completely or partially failed projects for a period of 26 years.
As a responsible project manager of 200 projects and as an Agile Transformation coach, these can be identified as the “handicapped projects”, which only achieve the set goal with high control as well as improvements and restrictions.
Project participants do not take responsibility
The illusion of consent (Fig01) is the hallmark of almost all project managers, and at the same time those who know what risks still need to be solved tend to hide behind this illusion. It is irrelevant to what extent the silence of those concerned (Fig.02: A) stems from painful rejections from the past or is cited as a protective claim for this damaging behavior.
In the same way, “success enforcers” with their pressure of persuasion (Fig.02: B) increase the project risk and weaken self-organization. Their protective assertion: without the pressure, the agile teams would not call up their performance, is merely an adherence to old leadership paradigms and a refusal to integrate the knowledge of how success is created into their own behavior.
Success has two levers (Fig.02: C1 and C2): on the one hand to reduce and avoid risks (Fig.02: C.1) and on the other to increase opportunities (Fig.02: C.2). The classical view that risks and opportunities are directly interdependent and need to be balanced, does not exploit the potential available and fosters the confinement to old management paradigms.
An approach that ensures that the competencies of all those involved are utilized (Fig.02: C.1 and C.2), opportunities are increased and risks are reduced, points the way to success. A decision on how much risk to take (Fig.02: C1), independent of what and how much you do to ensure that success is achieved together (Fig.02: C2), opens up new dimensions.
If all those who work for the success of the project experience appreciation, both levers work simultaneously:
- those who have the knowledge of how to minimize and avoid risk
2. success drivers who have the skills to turn ideas into reality
Projects of concern turn into successful projects
Reservations, risks and hidden conflicts are identified in early phases. In later project phases, such concerns would likely cause increased expenses and delays after substantial investments have already been made.
The commitment process involves everyone 100% and places everyone at eye level under the obligation to contribute their competencies with a clear focus for success.
Common understanding – creates the conditions
People are willing to give their commitment only if sufficient understanding (Fig.03: B) is ensured. This common understanding is reliably established by means of a WeQuality Process (Fig.03: B), in which the KiE Scale is used – as in the further steps – as a standardized and accepted evaluation.
First commitment – allows fast path and clear location
With an initial commitment (Fig.03: C), diverging views become visible immediately at the beginning without discussion, and in later steps, through the participation of all, are formed into a jointly supported decision. If the commitment is already clear here, the commitment, a jointly supported decision (Fig.03: F), has been achieved without discussion.
With an aligned team, this situation will occur more and more often and the team can turn its attention to the important issues.
Transformation of reservations – ensures project success
Many managers do not dare to discuss risks because they are justifiably afraid that these reservations would tend to become dominant and take control out of their hands. They often prefer project managers who downplay risks and devaluate concerns, which leads to the fatal consequences we are all familiar with. The Commitment Process provides security for all and maintains a level playing field and mutual appreciation throughout the process.
Criticism is just not enough for the commitment process. In the transformation of reservations (Fig.03: D.3), the process takes those who were allowed and required to be open at the point of the first commitment (Fig.03: C) into account for the first time. With their knowledge and experience, the risks and reservations can be identified. The paradigm shift proposed here is to see the stakeholders as a resource who can provide security in the project if they are encouraged (Fig.03: C and D.3) and challenged to do so (Fig.03: C, D.1, D.2 and D.3).
Order – prevents the proverbial vicious circle
The order is central here: first the doubters (fig.04: A1) need to be addressed and then the success enforcers (fig.04: B1), otherwise the two become intertwined in calibrated emotional loops.
In success enforcers (fig.04: B1) the emotion of anger (exerting influence) dominates and in doubters (fig.04: A1) the emotion of fear (the concern for one’s safety) is dominant. The enforcer of success stimulates fear (Fig.04: B2) with his attempts at persuasion, just as the risk advice of the doubter encourages anger (Fig.04: A2) in order to exert influence.
The competencies of all those involved are directed against each other, which leads to tiring and fruitless discussions. This vicious circle (Fig.04: A.1 –> A.2 –> B.1 –> B.2 –> A.1) can also intensify, which destroys group competence and leads to escalations in the team.
Reservations then transformation – success sequence
Subsequently, the measures are worked out together with the KiE Resource Question with a clear focus on solution orientation. For this process step, agile and classical formats for ideation and solution orientation are applied. In this way, success is already ensured at the time of decision making.
Naming the reservations as a concern for security reduces the fear among those who have reservations (Fig. 05: A1 –> A2) and allows them to cooperate in the next step. When transforming the reservations into measures, the competencies (Fig.05: B1 and B2) can now be added up by the resource question, which ensures a focus at eye-level with appreciation.
Thus, the competencies of everyone in the group are freed and support the path to success (Fig.05: C).
The process step of extracting the risks and reservations (Fig.05: A2) is strictly separated from the transformation into measures (Fig.05: B1 and B.2) in order to avoid becoming caught up in the vicious circle of the calibrated emotional loop of fear – anger.
Commitment to completeness – no moving target
The commitment (Fig.03: D.2) of the stakeholders to the completeness of the reservations taking place prior to the transformation of the measures prevents the dominance of the stakeholders and consequently excludes the possibility of a moving target of ever new reservations. The stakeholders are obliged to make their knowledge available in full.
The clever mixture of protection and commitment as well as the consideration of the natural sequence of emotions (fear –> annoyance) are the guarantee for success and allow a deterministic commitment to be achieved. The aligned and released group competence then ensures a clear path and forms the basis of success on the way to implementation.
In the online shop reference project, five success-critical topics were identified and their completeness was committed to (Fig.06).
Final commitment – with resources to the goal
In classic projects, the measures developed and committed to by the entire team become a supplement to the project contract that ensures success. In agile projects, the measures migrate to the backlog as stories and are taken into consideration during the sprint planning.
The transformation of the reservations from the reference project online shop into measures resulted in significant success-securing stories, which were then all included in the project.
In consultation with the stakeholders, all project participants (Fig. 08: A) were committed to the project in the online shop for the measures developed in the team within the framework of the given premises (Fig. 04: A.1) (Fig. 08: B).
Thus, a commitment was achieved as a jointly supported decision.
The final commitment with a jointly supported decision as the basis for the implementation was also easily achieved with the DecisionMaker.
Deterministic process – safe and robust
In order for the Commitment Process to reach its goal deterministically, the process’s premises (Fig. 03: A1) as well as its exits must be defined as prerequisites in order to eliminate tactical delays and endless loops:
1. number of cycles in understanding (Fig.03: A.2)
2. number of cycles for final commitment (Fig.03: A.3)
3. commitment for completeness against moving target (Fig.03: D.2)
4. determination of the traditional decisions at exit (Fig.03: G)
No commitment also counts as a decision. The process’s exits (fig.03: G) create a corresponding commitment reliably and promptly.
With the commitment process, a team will become increasingly self-responsible instead of following an authoritarian or participatory decision.
Commitment Process – classic and agile
The Commitment Process is suitable for any classic or agile artifacts and ceremonies as well as for decision needs such as sprint planning, sprint goal and project plan.
Agile teams, evangelists and most agile coaches would claim that you can’t make a statement about the classic dimensions of In-Time, Budget & Specification because agile methods are not directly applicable to such classical concepts.
To do justice to the distinctiveness of agile methods, the agile team generated several preliminary stories as part of the Online Shop case study and, based on an empirical value for velocity, was able to calculate the necessary sprints for the traditional project dimensions.
DecisionMaking processes such as the Commitment Process are predestined to build a bridge between the traditional and agile worlds.
Agile Mindset is lived and firmly anchored
The Commitment Process can be used to meet the management’s justified demand for In-Time, Budget & Specification. At the same time, stakeholders are integrated into the Agile-Way-of-Working (see “Making Agile Transformation a Success“).
The entire agile mindset is lived by all those involved and becomes firmly anchored in the mind of each individual in a self-effective manner.
The “tiresome” discussion among theoreticians (both agile and classical) and those who must ensure the success of a given project can now be viewed as a debate of the past.
The introduction of the agile mindset is a cyclical-evolutionary process that is fostered by DecisionMaking and other agile methods.
If openness, participation, focus, eye-level, appreciation, courage, and commitment are perceived as welcome and successfully lived in DecisionMaking processes, the agile mindset will become firmly anchored as an experience within each individual.
Overview of DecisionMaking Processes
The commitment process stands as the prerequisite for a functioning cooperation and an appreciative way of dealing with one another. The recursive character of the DecisionMaking processes becomes obvious in the Commitment Process. That is, the Commitment Process includes all DecisionMaking Processes and is itself included in many of them.
With DecisionMaking, the decision-making and corporate cultures develop in a self-responsible and self-organized manner. The chance for stakeholders to get what they need increases. People begin to understand each other and work together more closely.
The DecisionMaking processes can be used with the digitized DecisionMaker for both presence and remote collaboration.
July 2020 – Richard Graf, Elsa Graf
“Most commitments are not commitments.“ Richard Graf
Ariely, Dan: Predictably irrational. The Hidden Forces That Shapes Our Decisions, Harper, 2008.
Graf, Richard: Die neue Entscheidungskultur: mit gemeinsam getragenen Entscheidungen zum Erfolg. Carl Hanser Verlag GmbH Co KG, 2018
IBM Global Business Service 2019. Woran die meisten Change-Management-Projekte scheitern. Abgerufen 02. Juni 2020. https://www.it-business.de/woran-die-meisten-change-management-projekte-scheitern-a-90615/
Kahneman, Daniel: Thinking, fast and slow. Macmillan, 2011.
McKinsey (2019): Why do most transformations fail?. Abgerufen 02. Juni 2020, von https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/transformation/our-insights/why-do-most-transformations-fail-a-conversation-with-harry-robinson
Standish Group report 2019. Abgerufen 02. Juni 2020. www.opendoorerp.com/the-standish-group-report-83-9-of-it-projects-partially-or-completely-fail/
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