“We know what we know, we know that there are things we do not know, and we know that there are things we don’t know we don’t know”
— Donald Rumsfeld
We’ve all had it happen – you’re blindsided by a piece of new information that throws your project into a tailspin. Everyone is wondering – how did that happen, where did it come from? Or, if you’re lucky, you have a project “Aha” moment – an unexpected benefit or windfall for your project and, by happenstance, you become a rock star!
We all have great intentions at the outset of projects – we create a risk mitigation plan, we identify potential project risks, and ways to mitigate them if they are realized. We pledge to revisit this plan regularly, but when everyone gets into the weeds of delivering, often this step is glossed over.
How to uncover the unknown is a constant challenge. However, there are some key steps to increasing awareness and knowledge of what potential risks and benefits exist. Immersing yourself in an environment of learning is a good start.
The inaugural class of TayganPoint University just graduated recently – a full week of intensive classes led by content experts, consultants and analysts with a variety of experience in both industry and consulting – some a few years out of school, and many who have been in the professional world for quite some time. With these extreme dissimilarities and diverse backgrounds, how do you teach someone how to “know what they don’t know”?
Experience certainly helps, as we learn from past projects, identifying and understanding what has caught us off guard or how we discovered the project benefit amidst a sea of turmoil. But this is not always the case – being aware of your surroundings needs constant reminder, especially in the depths of project execution.
The following ideas and best practices may seem obvious, but if not top of mind throughout a project, you will miss some of those project risks and benefits:
Listen, listen, listen. Consciously, or unconsciously, consultants are often brought on board for their listening skills and the uncanny ability to bring a new ear and a new perspective to a project. They are a vehicle to cross silos, meet people in other departments and develop holistic solutions that are a best fit for the organization (not just the department working on the project). From a cultural angle, consultants listen to what people have to say about the company, their work, and the environment. This is what shapes successful solutions – listening, analyzing and ultimately application. For the internal members of a project team, being too close or too immersed in the subject matter, the department and the culture can be a severe detriment to closing in on a successful outcome. Often it takes an outside perspective to cut through the clutter, put an ear to the ground, and gather what is needed to make an unbiased recommendation to a struggling organization.
Ask questions. Everyone says that no question is a dumb question. This may work in school, but might not have real world application. While it is one thing to be inquisitive, you need to confidently understand the details of your project before starting – do the due diligence and research in advance. It will help make the questions you DO ask, intelligent ones. Active questioning can help resolve issues early as well as help to define priorities. Consultants are there to support client initiatives – the more they ask, they more they can help.
Read, research, refresh. Company alerts, industry alerts, breaking business news – all of these are designed to keep you informed and up to date. Whether they are arriving by way of social media, your email or the newspaper, consistently ensuring you are in the know means not getting blindsided by marketplace elements that can negatively impact your project success. Understanding what your boundaries and limitations are allows you to more clearly think inside, outside and around the box. Refresh your knowledge regularly as you continue to apply what you learn.
The more you know, the more likely you are to uncover what you don’t know – possibly the most valuable asset in both managing risk and developing a path to success. Listening, asking informed questions, and staying on top of changes that can affect your outcomes will help you begin to shift the learning paradigm in your favor.