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Why Groaning is Good for Your Digital Project Results

It happened again. This week a CEO called me and said the sentence I have heard so many times before: “I have invested heavily in our digital development project, but our digital project is stuck!” Your kickoff was full of energy, but now ….. it seems like an endless bunch of meetings without any actual outcomes. Your CEO, board and project team members experience frustration, impatience, and question the process. Your digital development project is in the groan zone. The good news is the groan zone is important to achieve sustainable results. It calls for leadership.

For many marketers it is a wonderful day, when the board and senior executive team finally allocate an investment budget to new web or software development projects. You invite the CEO to your project kickoff meeting to tell about the vision and importance of your digital development project. Everyone seems excited that finally we are going to be part of the digital age. Weeks down the road it seems like your project is stalled. Why?

After a period of making the differences and diverse perspectives visible in the digital project team most teams enter the groan zone. This phase is called the groan zone, because the project team members struggle to understand foreign or opposing ideas and build a shared framework of understanding. They are going through a period of misunderstanding and frustration.

Leadership is Key for Digital Transformation

In the groan zone you need an experienced leader or facilitator to ensure the project team members keep the discussions open to attain the ideas with most potential, or keep the options created to an amount still actionable.

You know you have successfully helped the project team through the groan zone, when you see the relief on the smiling faces of the project members and you hear them say: “Finally, we are getting something done”. The pace accelerates. You feel the lofty visions are now detailed plans, and the vague project specifications are workable solutions.

Ask Direct Questions and Listen

One of the most important leadership tools you have are still your capabilities to listen.

Come on, I am listening!” Fantastic, then leverage your listening skills to help your team members to listen to each other. Yes, it takes precious time right now, but it creates significant progress and better business results in the long run.

In both large and small companies, I often experience misunderstandings between a business leader and an IT person, which can delay the digital development project. Most project members are unconsciously aware of the situation, but no one takes up the courage and time to ask the direct questions.

Show leadership and help these two people clear up the misunderstanding between them. Also when it includes the CEO or senior executives. Invite them to a meeting with the single purpose to improve mutual understanding. I know it is tempting to resolve the differences right now, but you will get to that phase afterwards.

Facilitate your meeting by asking one of the persons to volunteer explaining in three minutes the point he or she wants to make. Invite the other person to ask the volunteer a question and let the volunteer answer. Continue until they both feel understood. Then ask them to shift roles. Continue until they have reached a shared framework of understanding. Then it is time for you to encourage to develop inclusive alternatives, plan it and bring it to life.

It sounds simple. Yet taking an hour to learn more about each other’s perspectives are one of the most common actions still needed to be taken by leaders, project managers, or scrum masters in thousands of digital development projects.

Be Realistic

Tell your project team and stakeholders about the groan zone, so you can help one another to notice, when your project team is in the groan zone. It is natural for a decision-making group to go through the groan zone, because of the diversity in any group. Usually most people in the groan zone don’t understand what is happening. Sometimes just telling the team about the existence of the groan zone can improve the mood in the project team significantly.

I would like you to notice, that during a project you might experience the groan zone several times. It just means, that you can now be fully present in the situation knowing that the groan zone is an important part of the project journey to attain the solutions with most potential and highest return on investment.

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