It happens every day in hundreds of offices around the world. Teams are organized and gather together for the first time to undertake the build of a design for an improved system, solution or information management outcome. Many stakeholders attend with different vocabularies with which they do business. For some, economics are a driving factor; for others, functionality and performance are paramount. For all, making progress in the first meeting is one of the greatest challenges. It is almost an inherent truth that professionals in all corners of the world dread the “kick-off” meeting.
What is critical in the first meeting is that the participants are able to develop a shared vision of the direction the project will pursue. Quite literally, for the meeting to be successful, the participants must walk away with a sense of "the whole picture". But the picture, to be successful, must not only illustrate how the project’s final deliverables will function; the picture must also present a shared vision of the process by which those deliverables will be achieved.
So, why not draw a picture? In fact, for many of the professionals that work in corporate organizations, process charts, project management plans, and workflows are frequently generated and employed as visual tools through which the objectives of that initial kick – off meeting can be expressed. In effect, each of these tools are maps that visually symbolize the process, the direction and the requirements.
There is a functional aspect of maps that can often be surprising – he or she that controls the map can control the conversation among all those looking at the illustration. It matters not if the map is completely accurate; in many cases, it can be advantageous for the map to have errors that are apparent to the others – the errors incite them to participate and vocalize their concerns, correct the inaccuracies, and assure the integrity of the visual illustration.
So, the next time you are asked to participate in a kickoff meeting, think about whether you can contribute by putting together a first draft of the map or maps that illustrate the path forward. Admittedly, there may be areas of the map for which you have insufficient knowledge or lack the technical skills to know how to properly illustrate the substance.
Yet, like 16th-century mapmakers, you too can occasionally illustrate the unknown with the phrase “There be dragons!” These ancient cartographers used that technique to communicate the limits of their own knowledge. But doing so did not diminish their value at illustrating the navigational knowledge. Instead, admitting to the limits enhanced the trustworthiness of their illustrations.
What we do know is that the person with the map draws the attention and the interest of all other stakeholders.
That is why I create RitterMaps– these structured, visual representations of the rules to be navigated, the risks to be avoided, and the questions that need to be asked can be adopted, adapted and used by you to provide leadership in the next kickoff meeting. By doing so, you communicate your own awareness of the different cultures, vocabularies and interests of all of the stakeholders – that is often the most important first step toward achieving true leadership.