I listened to 2 product managers share complaints about product release meetings. “It was over 6 hours long.”, “That objection came out of nowhere!”, “No sign-off until we answer Service’s questions.” Product milestone and peer review meetings do not have to be like this, yet they almost always are. Team members don’t walk out of such meetings highly motivated and ready to charge forward. They appear angry, beaten up, deflated, and pensive over all the issues raised.
During the OJ Simpson trial, the prosecutors infamously had the suspect try on a glove found at the murder scene. OJ raised his hand to show that the glove was much too small - which led to the defense’s famous closing statement, “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit!” Legal experts roundly criticized the prosecutors for their tactic, stating that a good trial lawyer always knows the answer or outcome before asking a question or pulling such a stunt. This is no different for a major product milestone or review meeting. You should know the questions and objections beforehand.
Practice Shuttle Diplomacy
The best product or project managers practice shuttle diplomacy. Shuttle diplomacy is the action of an intermediary traveling back and forth between principals in order to bring about agreement, prevent war, etc. Hillary Clinton recently shuttled between Egypt, Israel and Palestine in order to meet with leaders in each state to negotiate the ceasefire in November. Henry Kissinger was a master of shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East in the 1970s. You must talk to each of the stakeholders and key players to get their perspective, their concerns and objections, and finally their support before the big meeting. State very clearly that your objective is to ensure that you have their support and buy-in at the end of the meeting. They may still have reservations that they may voice at the meetings but you must have their consensus and vote.
What happens when you have an impasse with a stakeholder? Bring it up to the next level with your manager or the VP, General Manager to help mediate a consensus. (I remember a rule from Arnold Hax at MIT Sloan: “Consensus is 70 percent agreement, 100 percent buy-in.” You cannot look for 100 percent agreement; you will have paralysis. )
Think about your wedding when the priest asks “If anyone objects to this union, speak now or forever hold you peace." You spoke with your prospective father-in-law, mother-in-law, your parents, etc. prior to the ceremony. You don’t stand there and wait for the hands to fly up.
So always get your ducks in line before your milestone meetings. Learn and practice shuttle diplomacy.
Frank Lio is a Product Manager, Strategist, and Change Agent in the Hi-Tech industry. His growing track record of successes include creating 3 winning software products, leading nationwide seminars, and turning around a failing business unit. He is currently serving a dual role as Product Manager and Business Team Support Manager at Instron ITW.
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