Chain Reactions

Putting Your Mouth Where Your Money Is

So you?ve spent millions on technology and consultants and product development and everything else that?s supposed to guarantee a smooth-running, well-oiled supply chain... and yet despite all that things are still going screwy. Could it be that the fault lies not in the supply chain, but in fact, in the way you talk about it?

Sounds like a bit of a stretch, but there's actually a study that indicates that "the quality of conversations" on common business problems is largely to blame for an 85% failure rate on some high-stakes business initiatives. (Yes, like many of you, I too wonder if there is any aspect of society or business that hasn?t been surveyed yet, but I kind of found this particular study interesting, so let's follow it and see where it goes.)

In a study with the intriguing name "Silence Fails: The Five Crucial Conversations for Flawless Execution" (there's gotta be a book deal pending for a name like that), two firms -- VitalSmarts and The Concours Group -- surveyed more than 1,000 executives and project managers about their major initiatives and five common problems that get in the way. "The way in which everyone from senior leaders to project participants discusses even one of these issues predicts with amazing accuracy whether or not the project is doomed," claims Joseph Grenny, president of VitalSmarts and a co-sponsor of the study. He adds that recognizing these problems ahead of time can save companies "billions of dollars" by avoiding major delays, cost overruns and cancellations. (Speaking of savings, I've noticed a curious survey inflation effect, to the extent that it's always "billions" now. Nobody ever does a study any more that'll only save you a few hundred grand if you do what they suggest.)

Anyways, let's cut to the chase and look at these five problems that nobody wants to talk about:

1. Fact-free planning. A project is set up to fail with deadlines or resource limits that are set with no consideration for reality.

2. Absent without leave (AWOL) sponsors. The sponsor doesn't provide leadership, political clout, time or energy to see a project through to completion, and those depending on him or her don?t effectively address the sponsor?s failures.

3. Skirting. People work around the priority-setting process and are not held accountable for doing so.

4. Project chicken. Team leaders and members don't admit when there are problems with a project but wait for someone else to speak up first.

5. Team failures. Team members perpetuate dysfunction when they are unwilling or unable to support the project, and team leaders are reluctant to discuss their failures with them candidly.

According to the researchers, business leaders who address one or more of these five issues are 50% to 70% more likely to fully achieve project objectives.

You can study the finer points of this study by going to

TAGS: Supply Chain
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