Wouldn’t it be great if every project went according to plan?
Of course, but unfortunately, no plan survives its first contact with reality. Projects hit snags. It’s no fun, but it happens all the time, especially on highly complex and multidisciplinary projects that transform organizations. When problems arise, how does your team communicate them, rise to the occasion to solution, and continue moving forward? Often, when things go awry, a significant amount of time is invested in just understanding the problem or challenge. Stakeholders with different motivations, backgrounds, and current levels of context may struggle to understand each other, making it impossible to land on the same page.
Coming to a common understanding of the problem is crucial to effectively moving forward but getting there can often cause a lot of frustration. To alleviate some of the communication breakdowns, consider implementing the PINE method when discussing risks and issues with varied stakeholders to help everyone see the proverbial forest through the trees.
PINE is a simple, straightforward process to ensure everyone is aligned when issues arrive.
P – Problem
State the problem that you are encountering in the simplest possible terms. Try to limit the description to no more than two sentences and think about how you would explain what is going on to someone without specific expertise in the project.
We find it helpful to think about how you would explain the problem to a family member, for example, a child or a grandparent, in a way they would understand without months or weeks of background. For example:
“The integration between system A and system B is failing”
“The report is returning unexpected results”
The Problem should focus largely on the symptoms without trying to diagnose the root cause. Instead, the goal is to get everyone aligned on what is going wrong.
I – Impact
Describe how this problem is going to impact the project. Remember, no one has a crystal ball, but as the person who identified the problem, you are uniquely positioned to describe the likely impacts.
Focus on impacts that are tangible to various stakeholders and think in terms of the user experience. Does this issue render a feature unusable? Does it create a significant blocker to future functionality?
In short – why should someone care that you identified a problem?
N – Next Step
Communicate how you are working toward a solution. Often when we raise issues to stakeholders, they want to know what exactly went wrong and how you will fix it. The reality is that if you are communicating issues proactively, we may not have the answers to all those questions.
To make everyone feel more comfortable with the uncertainty of risks and issues, describe to the team what your next action will be. This will often be a troubleshooting step or an effort to confirm the root cause. In other cases, the next step may be to review options for a possible solution and estimate the level of effort.
The goal is to communicate what you are doing next to solve the problem and demonstrate proactivity in solutioning.
E – Expectation
Finally, set expectations within a week with the team for when they can expect an update. This allows you to set expectations in advance with all interested parties and keeps your team and stakeholders informed on incremental progress.
Importantly, make sure you follow through! Good news or bad, it’s important that people can rely on you for an update. Setting expectations in advance gives you some freedom to proceed with your next steps without interruption and builds trust across the team that you are moving towards resolution.
In your updates, provide the result of the steps you’ve already taken and reset on N.E.W. information (Next Step, Expectations, and “Weather”). In other words, repeat the process from Next Steps and Expectations described in the PINE method and provide additional information on the “temperature” of the issues – how optimistic or pessimistic you are that is will be resolved soon.
With complexity of projects today, its not if problems will arise it’s how does your team communicate them, rise to the occasion to solution, and continue moving forward. With a practical and straightforward framework like PINE, you can quickly drive a common understanding of the problem and more forward to action.
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