The Importance of Understanding Perspectives

Avoid conflict and improve processes

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If you have carried out analysis of any type of complex process you will have undoubtedly have experienced conflict. So often process management or improvement initiatives start with broad vocal agreement—after all who wouldn’t want a more efficient, slicker and better process? Yet, if we are not careful we may find that over time (as we get closer to the detail) the agreement drifts away. In a worse-case scenario we may find agreement drifts towards apathy and eventually active opposition and conflict.  

I suspect many people reading this will have experienced this type of ‘agreement drift’. Perhaps a group of seven departments agree that they need to work together to build a common procurement process (rather than maintaining seven separate processes and supplier lists). Yet, when the detailed analysis commences we may find that each team is reluctant to change—instead proclaiming that their team has a special set of requirements that couldn’t possibly be absorbed within a standard process. We are then faced with a stand-off, as teams cling on to as much of their existing processes as possible—or even worse continue to operate their own ‘unofficial’ processes below the radar. 

These types of issues are very tricky to resolve—and attaining and maintaining a good level of stakeholder engagement is crucial. Of particular importance is understanding the perspectives of the key stakeholders. In particular, it is useful to determine the answers to two key questions: 

  • What does each stakeholder believe this process exists for? 
  • What does ‘success’ look like from each stakeholder’s perspective? 

These might seem like trivial questions, but so often they can uncover implied conflicting expectations and values that, if not addressed early, will ‘bubble up’ as conflict later on. 

Assessing Perspectives 

Let’s continue to imagine that we are working to create a unified procurement process. There are likely to be a whole range of views on what that process exists for, and what success looks like. A few hypothetical and simplified examples are shown below: 

Stakeholder

Perceived Purpose of Process

Measures of Success of Process Improvement Initiative

Procurement Manager

Process exists to procure goods in a standard way, allowing large-scale contracts to be negotiated with a handful of suppliers 

Reduced # of suppliers 

Reduced supplier management costs 

Reduction in unit cost of supplies 

Operations Manager

Process exists to support customer orders, it is necessary to procure components in a flexible way to meet demand. 

Timely delivery of supplies 

Ability to quickly source new suppliers 

At least two suppliers for each component (in case one is out of stock) 

Finance Manager

Process exists to procure products in a standard way, ensuring correct accounting & billing data is collected so that the order can be paid for. 

Process is compatible/interfaces well with supplier payment process 

 

IT Manager

Process exists to procure any type of business equipment or asset, including IT equipment and software. This includes large-scale vendor selection processes. 

Ability to procure urgent IT equipment quickly 

Ability to identify and compare IT suppliers for projects

In this example, we can see that whilst at a high level stakeholders agree (‘the process is about procuring equipment’), they actually have differing views over the scope of the process (with the IT manager perhaps thinking more broadly than some others). Additionally there is a noticeable difference between the Procurement manager and some of the others. This would likely lead to a slow drift towards disagreement, conflict and even a ‘stalemate’ situation if we were not careful.  

However, by examining these perspectives up-front and crucially by discussing them with the stakeholders collectively we can ensure that expectations are genuinely aligned. We can highlight differences of opinion over how broad the process should be or (conversely) how constrained it should be, and also determine commonly agreed indicators of success. By taking a facilitative and collaborative approach, we create space for debate early which will save us time in the long run.  

In summary—by analyzing, acknowledging and surfacing perspectives early, we help avoid ‘agreement drift’. This will help contribute towards smoother process improvement initiatives, and in doing so will help ensure our stakeholders are really engaged—and this is a definite win! 

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