You could cut the tension with a knife.
A client’s tech project was running late. Really late. And a month after a show-stopper problem had been identified, there was still no clarity on when it would be resolved.
An emergency huddle was called. I was asked to sit in. People were steaming mad. Lots of blame. Colorful language. Someone cried.
It was one of the most uncomfortable meetings I’ve ever been a part of.
What Went Wrong?
Later that day, I gave my clients, Pam and Laura, a call to find out how they were doing. I wanted to understand how events had unfolded and what had pushed them over the edge. Here’s how the prior four weeks had played out:
Week One – The error was identified, and a support ticket was logged with Vendor A. Because the error was significant, training couldn’t be held as planned and were rescheduled. Pam and Laura told the rest of the project team to hold off on their tasks.
Week Two – The original support ticket was kicked back to Pam and Laura, along with a recommendation to bring the issue to Vendor B. They logged a new ticket with Vendor B and let Vendor A know that the new ticket was logged.
Week Three – Vendor B added a note to the support ticket saying the issue was not yet resolved, but the note didn’t provide any detail about what they’d tried or where the problem was. The note said that the ticket was being assigned to a ‘special engineer’. Pam and Laura met with their department head and let her know that the new welcome series project was on hold until the issue was fixed.
Week Four – Vendor A checked in on progress. When they heard the status, they cancelled the rescheduled trainings and told Pam and Laura that things were very busy, so it might be a while before they could book their training sessions once the problem was resolved. Vendor B hadn’t made any updates to the support ticket, but after an email from Pam, the account manager said that he’d look into it.
Week Five – After no update from the account manager, Pam and Laura sent him a note and got an out of office message saying he was on vacation for the next three days. That was the final straw – and it caused them to call the contentious team huddle.
Welcome to Attack Mode
Our accidental techies, Pam and Laura, were pretty upset and honestly, who can blame them?
While the vendors were all very nice and polite, at the end of the day, the communication was poor. A lack of ownership and a limited understanding of the technology resulted in a perfect storm.
But the biggest issue is that Pam and Laura felt powerless and under-served by their vendors, so they went into attack mode.
Here’s the thing. If you’re stuck in the middle of a technology challenge and things are rapidly going from bad to worse – I’ve got good news! There are simple ways for you to turn it around and get moving toward a happy resolution.
And as with most sticky situations, it all boils down to communication practices.
1) Be Pleasantly Persistent
You know the old saying, “You catch more flies with honey”? Well, it’s true. Maintaining a pleasant attitude is guaranteed to generate a better response from the folks who are going to help solve your problem, and when you combine a sunny disposition with a dogged sense of determination, you’ve got yourself a new super power.
Embrace group problem-solving and schedule short weekly check in meetings with the relevant parties. Take ownership of running those meetings. Ask good questions. Make agreements and lead the team toward a fix. This is ultimately YOUR problem – the other members of the project team are there to help you fix it.
Do not let grass grow under your feet as you wait for people to take action. It’s important to keep communication flowing, so if an entire day passes without an update, zip over a quick note and ask for one. This sends the message: I am not going to go away until my problem is solved!
2) Take Detailed Notes
This may seem like a no-brainer, but taking good notes is required.
My obsessive documentation practice has saved me on multiple occasions. You might think you’re going to remember who said what – but trust me – you won’t.
Pro tip: Add dates to your notes and be sure to keep them updated as things roll along.
And after the meeting, send your notes around to the project team – and maybe to your boss.
Why? So they know exactly what you are doing to resolve the problem. You aren’t just sitting around waiting… you are taking ownership and making things happen. This can be valuable at performance review time, or if you need to get the boss involved in some way to help resolve the situation.
3) Kick It Up a Level
Imagine you’re getting nowhere with the folks who are supposed to help you. You’ve tried to be nice, you’ve asked for updates, and you know more about the problem than you ever wanted to know, but you’ve hit a brick wall.
This may be the right time to bring some higher-ups into the mix. Try to do this with the cooperation of the people you’re working with – avoid doing this behind their virtual backs.
Do this professionally. Say or write something like, “Brian, I appreciate the work you’ve done so far, but we’re not making progress. I need to speak with someone else about our situation today – who can I talk to?” It probably doesn’t hurt to copy your boss on the note.
Having trouble kicking it upstream? Dial their general customer support line or check LinkedIn to find contact information for members of management.
4) Show Interest and Appreciation
Offer to take on a task. If the solution owner needs something and you can take that on, lend a hand. It doesn’t need to be anything big – small tasks can be a big help in the grand scheme of things.
If someone is going above and beyond – even if the problem isn’t solved – say thank you! Send a thank you email and copy other people in their organization on the message.
When your issue is finally solved, arrange a short project debrief meeting to celebrate and hear everyone’s feedback. What worked? What didn’t work? What would folks have done differently?
Project Delays Are No Fun
If Pam and Laura could do it all over again, these pointers would have helped them stop things from getting ugly. It’s no fun to experience technical problems in a complicated project. Give these tips a try and you’ll move things forward onto a better path.
If you’re losing your cool during a technology project, all is not lost! I specialize in getting nonprofit tech projects back on track. Drop me a line.