Integrating the gatekeepers

Photo by Marina del CastellOne effective way to make delivery smoother is to integrate “gatekeeper” stakeholders into the development process. This is particularly valuable for large projects in large organisations.

In small projects life is much easier. It’s relatively straightforward to get all your stakeholders to a stand-up meeting or demo, make sure they’re happy, and be sure that you’re going to release something that everyone is happy with.

In a large projects or programmes, and particularly in large organisations, it’s much harder. In particular there is more likely to be two differences. (1) Distinct bodies or committees to have to provide some kind of “assurance”—they need to be happy before they sign the thing off and you can deploy it. They are gatekeepers. (2) More process already in place and accepted.

These two difference tend to combine into a single thing: you finish your work, you take your work off to the gatekeepers for approval, and (all being well) they eventually pass it so you can release. This doesn’t make for a continuous process, and it certainly doesn’t encourage you to optimise for delivery. There may be some distinct work needed to prepare a paper or presentation or form for the gatekeepers, there will be a delay while you wait for the gatekeepers to convene and/or review your work, and they may demand changes or otherwise throw rocks into your path. And by the time all that’s done momentum has been lost, and executing the actual delivery will take just a little longer.

The solution is to not accept the status quo—and that doesn’t mean overthrowing the regime. Instead consider the gatekeepers—or assurance function—as key stakeholders who need to be brought along the development journey just like any other. Include them in demos, progress reports, discussions, and so on. Listen to their concerns and take them on board. Talk them through your challenges, including the eternal balancing act between speed and quality, and let them relate to you as human beings. At the end of it they will have seen and understood more of your work than they would have from a distance, and you will have accommodated their needs in a way that is mutually accepted. They are less gatekeepers, more guides and advisors.

All this makes the development and delivery process much smoother—even in organisations with distinct assurance functions.

Photo by Marina del Castell