Eight to Late

Sensemaking and Analytics for Organizations

Not on the same page, not even reading the same book

with 4 comments

In the course of a project it is not uncommon to have stakeholders with conflicting viewpoints on a particular issue. Some examples of this include:

  • The sponsor who wants a set of reports done in a day and the report writer who reckons it will take a week.
  • The project manager who believes that tasks can be tracked to a very fine level and the developer who “knows” they can’t.
  • The developer who is convinced that method A is the best way to go and her colleague who is equally certain that method B is the way to go.

These are but a small selection of the conflicts I have encountered in my work. Most project professionals would undoubtedly have had similar experiences. It can be difficult to reconcile such conflicting viewpoints because they are based on completely different worldviews. Unless these are made explicit, it is difficult to come to for those involved to understand each other let alone agree.

Consider, for example, the first case above: the sponsor’s worldview is likely based on his reality, perhaps a deadline imposed on him by his boss , whereas the report writer’s view is based on what she thinks  is a reasonable time to create the reports requested.

Metaphorically, the two parties are not on the same page.  Worse, they are not even reading the same book. The sponsor’s reality – his “book” – is based on an imposed deadline whereas the report writer’s is based on an estimate.

So, how does one get the two sides to understand each other’s point of view?

The metaphor gives us a clue – we have to first get them to understand that they are “reading from different books.”  Only then do they have a hope in hell of understanding each other’s storylines.

This isn’t easy because people tend to believe their views are reasonable (even when they aren’t!). The only way to resolve these differences are through dialogue or collective deliberation. As I have written in my post on rational dialogue in project environments:

Someone recently mentioned to me that the problem in project meetings (and indeed any conversation) is that participants  see their own positions  as being rational, even when they are not.  Consequently, they stick to their views, even when faced with evidence to the contrary. However, such folks aren’t being rational because they do not subject their positions and views to “trial by argumentation.”  Rationality lies in dialogue, not in individual statements or positions. A productive discussion is one in which conflicting claims are debated until they converge on an optimal decision.  The best (or most rational) position is one that emerges from such collective deliberation.

The point is a simple one: we have to get the two sides talking to each other, with each one accepting that their views may need to be revised in the light of the arguments presented by the other.  Dialogue Mapping, which I have discussed in many posts on this blog is a great way to facilitate such dialogue.

In our forthcoming book entitled, The Heretic’s Guide to Best Practices, Paul Culmsee and I describe Dialogue Mapping and a host of other techniques that can help organisations tackle problems associated with people who are “not on the same page” or “reading different books.”

The book is currently in the second round of proofs. We’ll soon be putting up a website with excerpts, review comments, pricing, release dates and much more – stay tuned!

Written by K

November 11, 2011 at 6:03 am

4 Responses

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  1. Hi Kailash, thanks for sharing. Great article. I’m looking forward to reading your new book!


    alex guo

    November 11, 2011 at 12:59 pm

  2. Alex,

    Thanks for your comment and interest in the book! I’ll keep you updated on progress.

    I may be travelling your way early next year – look forward to catching up with you then.





    November 11, 2011 at 4:38 pm

  3. In the example about the report writing the two parties are talking about different things. Presumably getting the two parties to understand that would be the first step?

    The sponsor is talking about a target (tomorrow) and the writer is talking about an estimate of effort (a week). Setting or changing a target doesn’t change the estimate of effort; saying that the report is needed tomorrow won’t change how long it’s going to take (though, potentially, you could change the scope of the task to reduce effort).

    I like to use a slightly plagarised version of one of Fred Brooks’ examples in “The Mythical Man Month” – making a baby takes 9 months. It doesn’t matter if the target is next week, that’s at least how long it’s going to take.

    Steve Mcconnell’s book “Software Estimation – Demystifying the Black Art” starts with an excellent chapter on just this – estimates, targets and commitments. If I could make this chapter mandatory company reading, I would!


    Andy Burns

    November 15, 2011 at 1:04 am

  4. Hi Andy,

    Thanks for your comment. You’re absolutely right – the sponsor and developer are talking about different things, so the first step is to get them to see that (and hence the “reading the same book” metaphor).

    The baby example is an excellent one, and certainly makes sense from the developer’s perspective. However, an unconvinced (and under-pressure) sponsor could well argue that the comparison is not a fair one. The point is, there is no absolute right / wrong here: given the way organisations work, the two parties have to reach a negotiated agreement and this, in my experience, is best done through dialogue.

    Thanks for the pointer to Steve McConnell’s book. I have not read it and it’s going on my reading list. The chapter you mention sounds particularly interesting.

    Thanks again – I truly appreciate your taking the time to read and comment.





    November 15, 2011 at 6:39 pm

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