WSB 001 : How To Successfully Manage Client Expectations Everytime & Stop Them Introducing Dreaded Scope Creep

In this session of The WorkshopBank Podcast I have the pleasure of interviewing Nicolai Andler, a half IT and half organizational change management consultant who has literally written the book on project and change management tools.

We delve into a few of his favorite change tools and techniques exposing how he likes to work with his clients to keep them on point and we talk about his past, present and future books on the subject.

There are some really useful change management tools in here that are incredibly simple to pick up and start running with so I really hope you enjoy the listen.

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In this session, Nicolai and I chat about:

  • What got him into consulting in the first place and how he does a mix of IT and Organizational Change Consulting
  • Why doing this mix of consulting types is a nice balance of the work in terms of content, experience and personal financial risk
  • How he finds IT Consulting more draining personally but it pays the bills and how the Organizational Change is energizing because he’s dealing with people
  • The questions he likes to use when working with people and helping them through a process with change management tools
  • How he always likes to start with stakeholder expectations first
  • How he manages differences in expectations with change management tools and realistic / unrealistic buckets
  • How, during Expectations Exchange, he likes to allow people to voice reservations as well
  • How he uses Harvey Balls to quantify scope to measure performance and delivery
  • How he workshops the Project Definition Document to understand the phase, project and business objectives (with a real example)
  • His ‘Is / Is Not’ – a simple visual tool for controlling scope creep
  • How he uses a Stakeholder Map to decide which stakeholders are in and out of scope
  • He positions himself as a process consultant rather than the provider of solutions and puts his stakeholders in the solution generating position
  • How he likes to underdress for his client to put across that he’s a different kind of consultant
  • A clever way to deal with workshop dissenters who rise up against the process that you’re delivering
  • A simple 3 step process to help you coach someone through a strong negative emotional reaction

Links mentioned in this podcast include:

Thank you again, Nicolai, for sharing your knowledge with us here on WorkshopBank!

Get ready for the next session of The WorkshopBank Podcast coming very soon. You’re not going to want to miss it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast below to get it automatically to your computer or device when it’s available.

Thanks and all the best to you!

 Raw Transcript

WorkshopBank’s audio transcription is done by Speechpad

Nick: Hi, there. My name is Nick Martin. This is WorkshopBank’s inauguaral podcast. I’m really excited to be joined today by Nicolai Andler. He is consultant, business analyst, author, trainer, lecturer, coach, and outdoors enthusiast. He’s founder of the Ignite Group in South Africa and partner at the MC2 Institute in Switzerland. He has a Master’s in Science and Chemical Engineering and Commerce from Berlin, an MBA equivalent from Toulouse, certificates in systems development and coaching. He has a book, he’s an author, so he has a book on Tools for Project Management, Workshops, and Consulting, which is a best seller, I believe, having sold over 12,000 copies worldwide, which is fantastic. Which has, something like, 120 tools and techniques covered?

Nicolai: Yep.

Nick: So, very interesting for our audience, for sure. He’s now in the process of writing another book, which we’ll talk about a little later on. So, welcome to WorkshopBank, Nicolai.

Nicolai: Thanks very much for having me.

Nick: No worries at all. So, like me, you have a degree in chemical engineering …

Nicolai: Oh? I didn’t know that. Okay, yeah. I do. Never really used much, but I do.

Nick: And, like me, is there something about not wanting to work on an oil platform for the rest of your life [inaudible 00:01:29]?

Nicolai: Funny enough, the reason I became a chemical engineer and not the mechanical engineer, I didn’t want to get my hands oily and dirty. So, you might see the [inaudible 00:01:38] that my hands fall off, but at least not oily.

Nick: Right.

Nicolai: Now, I quite quickly went actually in, even during my studies, I was always engaged in management consulting work, and I got a job offer to start and that was my interest anyway. So, that’s the reason.

Nick: Straight into consulting. So, you’re mainly based out of South Africa and you work with the Ignite Group. We just had a brief conversation, you’re mainly working in IT consulting now, is that?

Nicolai: Well, in South Africa, I do a lot of business analysis, business specification work. When I’m working on projects in Europe, I’m doing more organizational management consulting work.

Nick: So, in what industries do you like to work most with?

Nicolai: The management consulting is a bit broader, it’s not so much relevant to the industry. I’ve just been working in the health care industry doing an organizational change project there, defining product and customer bases. Before, I’ve worked in an IT transformation project for a life insurance company, but it was basically the IT department. And, the most recent IT project I’ve done, in terms of communication, was actually for an ad agency to define their media management systems.

Nick: Okay.

Nicolai: So, actually, it’s quite broad. Although I think I have, not out of choice but out of project and circumstances, I’ve worked quite a lot in the financial services industries. I’ve covered the retail banks, a bit of the investment banks; [I’ve] spent a lot of time in the life insurance, and the employee benefits, and individual risk areas.

Nick: Okay. Looking back on your C.V., very soon after you finished your education, you founded your own company.

Nicolai: Yes.

Nick: Why was that?

Nicolai: I’m a bit of a rebel.

Nick: Right.

Nicolai: I think one of the things I realized, I kind of had two companies I worked with as initial management consultancy. And, it was a time just before the Internet bubble burst, and then I realized that a lot of companies, or management consultancies, ignored the IT side and that’s when I then actually joined an IT consultancy to also learn the IT thing. Often it was like, “Okay, we have a business process and that’s the way how we re- decided that these are the people and the IT department must just sort out the systems.” Well, nothing was happening, because especially I was working a lot with the financial services companies; the IT is so dominant in those industries that you can change a lot in the business side, but nothing will happen unless you actually have change in the other side as well.

Got a phone call, sorry.

Nick: That’s okay, this is real life.

Nicolai: Yes, yes. Must be another client calling.

Nick: Must be. Well, I’m sorry you lost that contract. Apologize, from us. So, what do you like most? I mean, I’ve done IT consulting and organizational change as well and they don’t tend to go hand in hand.

Nicolai: No, not at all.

Nick: What do you like the most, the people or the computers? What do you get most excited with?

Nicolai: It’s actually, for me, it’s the ability, not the ability, but the choice. So, in an IT world, what I don’t do much is actually the project management work, because as a business analyst I work quite on a risk base. So, I often come in and I say, “You pay me the deposit and you only pay the rest if you’re actually happy with the quality of work.” But, I can’t do that if I’m too involved in the political haggling. So, in an IT environment, I actually enjoy being independent of the people. I work with the people, but I’m very much in control of what needs to be done and delivered.

Nick. Yeah.

Nicolai: So, the style of working, even the contractual arrangement and the risk level I have is very different. So, this is almost like the engineering mind that is coming through, I can just put my head down, work with the people, extract the requirements, define them properly in workshops, and define that. On the other side, I enjoy working with people in more in a process consulting workshop type of environment where my coaching education also helps to connect with people and build a rapport. And, so, this is more the organizational change element. The way I build it is different because there is so much risk. I mean, my experience is most projects fail, not because they can’t find a technical solution, because of the people. So, I build differently. I build less on a risk base because I can’t guarantee it in a way.

Nick: Yeah.

Nicolai: I mean, there might be delays that are just not, it might backfire if I just say, you know, “You just pay me a portion of it and you’ll pay me at the end of the project and then the project… I mean, I’ve just been on a project that’s, I was supposed to actually start mid-September, and now, due to some organizational issues, it is supposed to be starting in April.

Nick: Okay. Okay.

Nicolai: I like both and I like having the choice of being able to dive into the more technical elements, doing it, fixing it, getting out of it for three months and being involved in more fuzzy, it’s not that I enjoy the politics, but when I do management consulting I’m more prepared to live with it and accept it.

Nick: Yeah, and I guess having a balance of them both means that your personal financial risk is even now as well, because you’ve got the …

Nicolai: Yeah. I mean, the IT consulting doesn’t pay as well, but it’s kind of gives me that, kind of, predictability, plan-ability versus those long [inaudible 00:07:41] contracts are much more, in a way, risky because there’s nothing for a lot of time and then something comes through. And, also, I think almost from a, I don’t want to say work-life balance, because it’s not life [inaudible 00:07:55] to work, but different types of projects give me a different type of energy.

Nick: Yeah.

Nicolai: And, the one is more draining and the other is more nurturing.

Nick: Yeah, so let me talk about more of that nurturing stuff. So, what drives you to want to be involved in those kinds of nurturing projects?

Nicolai: I think it’s the element where I recognize that they are all individual human beings and helping them to, I don’t want to say to make them happy, because this is kind of an illusion, but help them to mature and grow and realize what’s happening. It might even be that they realize for themselves, “The company has moved in another direction and that direction doesn’t suit me anymore,” without the aspect of, “I’m a bad person or the company is bad and unacceptable and they’re doing bad things.”

So, there’s an element of helping a person to find their way or their path; and at the same time also conveying the message throughout the process that, “You know what? Nobody forces you to work here.” I mean, there is often bit of a, there’s often a, no, some people in the H.R. or organization design community might not like what I’m saying now. There’s a perception that the consultants come in, do their work, and now often the woman, there’s a strong dominance with a woman in the H.R. or O.D. domain come in and look after the handicapped or the kind of leftover that didn’t survive the war; look after the battlefield.

And there’s often elements that, whenever you have this organizational change, developments, domain attached to your [inaudible 00:09:56] or your business card, then you must be doing something touchy-feely stuff. It’s all about, “How do you feel now?” And, I’m saying, it’s important, but there’s much more to that.

So, when I talk about helping a person, individuals, and the company to grow and mature it’s not a [inaudible 00:10:16] care, and how you feel, and poor you. It’s really about, almost like, understanding what the person is going through and still demanding the best of them. So, there’s a certain empathy with a, I don’t want to say reasonable hardness, but it’s a kind of a reality element to that because, people, things change. I mean, I don’t mean everything changes, but I also say business changes a lot over the years and I think a lot of people they’re still stuck in their old way of thinking. And, it’s not the thinking is wrong, but it’s maybe not suitable for the environment they’re working in.

So, a lot of what I do is not just holding hands and saying, “How are you feeling,” and “Yeah, that must be so bad and I understand that you don’t want to do that.” It’s also [an] element of, “Well, what are your assumptions about work? What are your assumptions about the company? What are your assumptions about your colleagues and are they still valid? Are they still relevant?” And, through that, kind of, almost like, I don’t want to say shake them and make them awake, but, yeah, make them mature and grow up and take ownership for their life and their situations.

Nick: Okay, that’s great. Now, okay, so, as you know, the point of these interviews is to try and give our audience actionable, real actions, real processes, stuff that you do on the front line when you’ve got a new client and you’ve got a new customer, so they can copy those steps, or learn from them, and mold them into their own tools and techniques. So, when you have a new client, when you win a new client and you’re in there the first day, the second day, whatever, what kind of process do you like to go through? How do you like to work with them? How do you approach the start of a project, for example?

Nicolai: Okay. I can say that actually I do that on an IT project. I do that even in the workshops. I do that on any project. Often, you kind of get a brief, like a project contract, this is the direction.

Nick: Yeah. This is what good looks like.

Nicolai: I clarify the expectations and I do this even when I lecture with students. And there’s like three things that are important, doing that. You can use a flip chart and later, actually, I type it up, and document it, and get it signed. And a typical example is, some years ago, [SAP] implementation, [inaudible 00:12:59] maintenance, product planning module. And, it was an additional module, so there’s already SAP installed in a small area, but it was a significant SAP implementation.

So, we got all the people together and the project was clear. It’s about implementing, defining and implementing, that module and we still ask them, “So, what are your expectations?” And, then the marketing person says, “Ah! We’ll be able to position ourselves better, so it’s actually increase revenue.” And, H.R. says, “You know what? We’ll be actually having a better retention rate, so people leave less quickly because they’re not going to be as frustrated. They were always so upset about the system. So, with this one we’ll have the retention rate.” And the plant maintenance says, “We can now truly track where theft and loss is, so we’ll actually save money.”

I said, “I hear you, but your expectation is not realistic. I mean, maybe they were to a certain degree, but this is purely about implementing a system, replacing the old one because of some technical issues with this one. So, what I mean with this expectation exchange is it’s letting the expectations come out. The second point is, manage the meeting, tell them when they’re not realistic, because those people will actually [inaudible 00:14:26] the project, will actually keep on hoping it finally will deliver this.

Nick: Yeah.

Nicolai: It’s almost like going away for the weekend and hoping that something would happen, but it’s …

Nick: And it never happens.

Nicolai: Yeah. It’s like you’re going away with your girlfriend and leaving the, your wife and leaving the, kids at home saying, “Hey, finally, [inaudible 00:14:44] we’ll have a couple weekend together,” versus your wife didn’t tell you that she invited the grandparents or something. Maybe not the best example. So, it’s about, well if know up front you can surrender to the circumstances, surrender to fate. Maybe you are sad or disappointed at that moment, but better now than much later.

Nick: And, what’s your style with that situation? Would you like to manage their expectations down below where you think they can get to? So, when they get to the end of the projects their expectations are exceeded, so they feel more positive about the overall process. Or, do you to get to, do you try and lock them into where you think it’s naturally likely to get to?

Nicolai: I’ll try to, number one, manage them in terms of what is realistic and what is unrealistic; and rather than focus on what other things is the project going to deliver, technically without labeling it, this is your expectation, that’s maybe what we should focus on.

Another thing I do there as well, as part of the expectation exchange, I also ask them for their reservations, or pitfalls, whatever you want to call them. People ask me, “But, Nicolai, aren’t you looking for trouble? Or, aren’t you looking at, this sounds so negative. Why are you asking them for their negative stuff?” And, I say, well, it gives me an insight about what to look out for. There was a situation where it was said, “We’ve had other consultants before and they didn’t work, you know? This is just a waste of money.” And, I’m saying, “Ah! Another consultancy. Great. They must have done work. We can re-use that instead of reinventing the wheel. So, great, thank you very much.”

So, I’m almost happy when people voice their reservations because these are the things that, these are the mistakes other people have made before. And, I document that and I actually let people sign it and at the end of the project I use something that’s called [inaudible 00:16:48] balls. Because often, when people, you know ask them, “So, are you happy with the project,” they’ll say, “Yeah, yeah, cool,” and you can’t really answer, “Fine, not fine, okay.” Just picture a circle with a cross, you have four segments and the two [boose] balls, what is sometimes called hobby balls because of the front, with is [inaudible 00:17:11], so it comes from [inaudible 00:17:15] the consultancy.

So, I draw that circle with a cross, next to it their expectation. So, I sit down with them and I say, “Now, listen, at the beginning, three months ago, we had this as an expectation and we changed them and we crossed out this one, but this one is still relevant. So we agreed this is a realistic expectation. Have you met your expectation?” And, then I actually, with a marker, I fill out the segments being 25%, or half of that, two of the four, 50%, 75, or 100.

So, I quantify something. I took something qualitative into something quantitative. I can measure that and have had 10 stakeholders with 3, 4 expectations each, I can actually measure, put it all together and calculate and say, “Well, listen, in terms of performance we have achieved a 67% meeting expectation.”

So, it is not just at the beginning, but actually, I use it at the end. In terms of communication I make them aware, “Listen, this is what you had at the beginning, how would you see it now, and have we actually delivered on that?” And, obviously, I use that expectation right through for my own, not just communication, but also what I need to focus on. Because, [inaudible 00:18:32] implementation but if you completely ignore the expectation which you deemed realistic, you’re not going to get a high score, you’re not going to get a very happy client.

Nick: No.

Nicolai: It’s more than just the technical delivery of a system or something.

Nick: I’ve used the model rational, political, and emotional dimensions of every project. In this context, your rational dimension is, do you deliver the system and is the system up and running at the end of the project. But, the emotional and political elements are so much more powerful and can trip the project up half way through, or just completely destroy it at the end if you don’t manage it. And, what you’re talking about there with the expectations sounds very much like the managing the emotional journey.

Nicolai: Yes, very much so. I mean, as you say, quite rightly, the project definition is typically one of the elements that is more factual.

Nick: Yes.

Nicolai: Often, that is also not clear. I would also, as part of the workshop, clarify that. What I often do there is say, “Okay, I clearly hear objections.” But, for me there are three levels. There is a phase, a project, and a business objective. So, what is the phase objective of this project? What is the overall project objective? And then, okay, we have delivered the project, how is this going to be helpful for the business? So, this is actually what really counts, why we are doing this project, but often this, kind of, a bit fuzzy. So, when I have a project definition document under my heading objectives, I have actually three subheadings. I say, business objectives, project objectives, objectives for this phase. Make it crystal clear that they are different levels.

Nick: Could you give us an example?

Nicolai: Without revealing too much of my projects, okay, I give you a project example. It was for a company who is, I definitely can’t tell the name because now it is really embarrassing for them, they had no idea if they were making any profit with the product they are selling. So, they had no idea about selling it for, let’s say, E150 a service a day, but they didn’t really know if those clients they are selling it to were they breaking even? At what amount would they break even? So, in February, they were basically how they do for the year.

Nick: So, they didn’t know the value the client was getting, or they didn’t know whether they were personally making a profit?

Nicolai: No. No, actually, they were definitely, they’re not knowing for during they year they don’t know if they actually ending up with a profit at the end of the year. Because, they had no idea about, “Okay, let’s charge E150 for that service for the day, but they didn’t know the internal cost structures.

Nick: Okay.

Nicolai: “Now, we should be fine with 150, we should be even.” But, then for several years now, they had more and more clients, it was in the health care industry, and they’re still not really breaking even, or making a loss. They were making a loss. So, what we did was we helped them to define basically a costing model for each of their services; and they had many, many services. They had several hundred services all building up into a package for the day. So the phase was about cost analysis. Objective for the phase was to defining what each service element costs.

The overall project was about implementing a costing system, not just doing the analysis, but actually translating it into their data systems. So, when marketing put something new together, they can actually say, “Well, we need to pitch this at E190 because it costs us E120 or E150. So, the phase itself was defining the raw materials, the raw data. The overall project, which would be in three phases, was actually implementing something, not just in the costing department and for controlling department, but also the marketing and sales department, the relevant information.

But, the overall business project was vending that we are in liquidation in three years time, because we’re running out of, we have some reserves. So, this was one element. The other element was offering products that are profitable and getting rid of, like cleansing our product portfolio or service offering, getting rid of the stuff that is not really helping. Thus, can we do it because in the health care industry you have certain obligations. You can’t just say to a patient, “Sorry, mate, you’re not really part of our segment. You’re costing us too much. Why don’t you find another place?” So, there was some strategic, long term development, kind of, evolving out of this. I’m not sure if that’s kind of clear enough, those three objectives?

Nick: No, that made sense, that made sense. I’d like to dive into a couple of other, do you have tools that you regularly use? With most clients, you’re extremely likely to pull it out, whether it’s a framework, or it’s an individual tool?

Nicolai: Yeah. I have something that all the consultants that we train, or even the students we lecture, they like it because it’s so simple. Okay? Just picture a square, like a rectangle, and within you draw a circle. And, I call this the, “Is Is-Not.” Typically, what people will do at the beginning of the project, they define what it is we want to work on. Good. And then you have to go through the project and three, four, five weeks later you have a conversation with the people and they’re saying, “No. No, but you also should be doing this. No, no, no, that was out of scope.” “Yeah, but this doesn’t belong to the scope, this is just a sub-element of this.

So, I had examples where, talking about a system that I was implementing in a warehouse environment and I had quite a clear scope at the beginning and I was spending a lot of time in the first weeks, just defining and actually writing down, and that’s what I do outside the circle. And, inside the circle, I write down, “That’s in scope.” It’s almost like my project [inaudible 00:25:34] deliverables. And, I have tons of words in there; they’re not necessarily too scientific. They are people there, it’s almost like a context diagram in there, process systems, everything that’s kind of, I must look at and I must touch.

In the outside world, outside the round circle, I put, and this is even more important, I put all the words, all the elements, all the systems, all the interfaces and processes, that are out of scope. Make sure, so when I do this, I have a first version that is not complete. So, actually, I take the print out with and I walk to different stakeholders, just to make sure, is there anything I forgot or I should be on the inside on the outside? And, often it’s the sub-elements, or it’s implicitly, kind of, assumptions. And, we all know, assumptions are the mother of all [inaudible 00:26:27].

So, it actually is my life insurance on a project. I go back to that page quite a lot and, once I actually get it signed, when we’re all happy this is a good representation of what’s in and out of scope.

Nick: Write down like full bullet points that are obvious that are out of scope.

Nicolai: But, there is a gray area and I try to make it, almost like, I remove the gray. I make it explicit. This is an explicit yes. This is an explicit no. And, I use that tool a lot. It’s super simple. I mean, without even seeing it you picture it and it’s more like a communication. All the tools I use are more, more like communication tools and mentally structuring tools. So, you don’t actually, necessarily, have to do the drawing and sometimes people then put it at the table and say, “Left side in scope, outside.” I prefer drawings and diagrams. That’s one of the tools I definitely use.

Nick: And, that’s a tool for you personally to manage yourself, and your project, and the project stakeholders through the project?

Nicolai: Yes, absolutely. So in my project if I actually have this as a drawing and have a signature on it and I say, “Listen, this is what we, at that time, we start out with.” It might change.

Nick: I was going to say, what do you do when it evolves? Because it’s going to evolve, as people remember, “Ah, we forgot this over here. Oh, don’t worry, Nicolai will deal with that.”

Nicolai: Yes, well, I mean it is difficult. We all know it’s not as simple as I, kind of, make it seem now. To say, “Well, listen, just add another 100,000 and I’m happy to do that.” It’s not that simple, but at least it gives me that process. I mean, I also have different versions of it, so I can actually see how it would evolve and say, “Listen, if we change this, then it has, like, implications or, kind of, other things, are you prepared to change this?

In this case, it was actually that, in the warehouse project, they realized if they want me to include another, like basically [inaudible 00:28:28] warehouse system, but it was also supplier system into the warehouse, and I said, “Well, listen, this supplier should also be connected with this whole thing; and well, I’m happy to do that, then it’s not going to be delivered within the three months and not for the price we agreed, because I need another 30 hours more, or 30% more.”

And then they said, “Hmm. Okay.” It is really, I make it transparent, but also because I draw it and later I, actually I use context diagrams where I draw in the scope, based from that diagram, and then they realize there is a whole lot more because then there is like system involved, suppliers involved, the stakeholders. So, I make this decision theirs by making it transparent to them. And, yes, we all know they still say, “Nicolai, you still got your management time.” And I say, “No, I’m not. If you’re saying that I could do it anyway, then are you saying I’m wasting my time anyway, or I should be finished sooner?”

Nick: Yeah, yeah, exactly.

Nicolai: Reality is it’s not that simple as I describe it, but at least it gives me the mechanisms, “Listen, you signed this off.” Especially when people actually put a signature on there, that’s my lesson. If you get people to actually physically sign a document, and you then actually scan it in, and it’s sitting there, they’re like, “Hmm.” They make double sure before they sign and this is absolutely correct.

Nick: Absolutely. But, that can also drag out the start of the project, can’t it, quite a lot, whilst people are stepping back and prevaricating over whether they should actually put their pen to paper. “Well, my boss is going to be happy with the fact I’m putting signatures to it.”

Nicolai: It can be. You need to see, I mean, I’ve worked in an environment where, it was almost a management of non-delivery, so nobody was committing to anything. And, in one session I also walked off, because I said, “You know what? The risk is too high for me to continue without having a proper agreement, a proper signed off versions, it all will backfire.” That’s why in one session, I actually walked off. I’d rather be associated with handing over and getting my deposit back rather than associating with something that’s not, I can’t stand for. The tools are no guarantee for success.

Nick: No, absolutely not, absolutely not. I like that tool a lot, because it’s so simple and so visual. I’ve seen so many project charters or in- scope out-scope documents that are just so wordy that you can’t really get a visual sense of, well, what is in scope and what is out of scope, without sitting down for six hours and reading a document. And, to have something all on one page, with just a few words on it, it appeals to my simple, simple, way of life. What about one more, have you got another tool that you work with the client, actively, in a group situation? Say, you’ve got a bunch of your stakeholders in front of you and you’re in a workshop situation with a define objective, is there a tool you’d like to …?

Nicolai: I’m thinking, but I’m not sure. I don’t think that’s going the right direction. Maybe what I’m building on, sometimes, is actually the stakeholder map. Also, at the beginning of a project I also have a physical diagram and, I use very similar logic, I use also, I put boxes on there; gray ones are the in scope and white ones are out of scope. [inaudible 00:32:22] mention the ones I’d like to [inaudible 00:32:24] talk to, because they’re out of scope? Because, I don’t want to make that decision.

So, I actually put it out there and say, “Listen, I got the impression we’re not talking to those, those, those. We’re not talking to unions, not to ad agencies, not to whatever.” And, they’re saying, “No, we must talk to them.” And, I’m saying, “Well, are you sure? Because, then we need to change back our in and out of scope. We need to change back our project objectives. Plus, we also need to involve them in the following workshops.”

So, a lot what I do at the beginning is actually involving them in their making the decisions and the suggestions. And, also, use that in terms of, “Who am I forgetting?” Often, when I sit down with those diagrams and I said, “I’m sure there’s something that’s wrong here.” I always, like, invite people to, not to critique me, but to, I’m not coming there with the attitude like this is, kind of, we can, this is printed gold and it’s done and delivered and don’t touch this. I invite people to say, “There’s something wrong here. I’m sure I’m missing something. Help me to understand who else we should see and talk to.” So, it all comes, and again, lots of interactions from one to the other, because they won’t feed each other.

Nick: Yeah and why do you find that inviting them in to the process works so well?

Nicolai: Because it reduces, number one, this kind of, “Oh, the consultants are there, they know anything anyway.” You know, this barrier of consultants must know better. So, my consulting style is not, I’m not an expert consultant, I’m more a process consultant. And it took me quite some time to really get what it means. For me, it’s not coming with a solution; it’s coming with a way of working. So, on account of working through those diagrams is a process. I’m not defining, I don’t have a very clear picture of the end result in mind, because then I would almost, like, drive them and use them. I’m saying, “Well, I have a contract. I have a task to do here, and this is the end objective, and with the process let’s clarify if this actually still holds true.”

I had projects where, after three, four weeks I went back to the stakeholder and saying, “Well, you initially told me that this is the issue and that’s why we’re implementing this system; or, you want me to do certain things. I can do that, but we’re not going to make a change at all.” So, we found, actually, the root cause is something else. And, we found it through your employees, they actually pointed it out.

So, do you still want [inaudible 00:34:56] seriously? I mean, I’m happy to continue doing that, because we make money, but I’m just telling you. Better stop this and let’s sit all together and realign where we want to go.” So, bringing the people in creates the ownership right from the beginning.

Nick: Yeah.

Nicolai: I mean, it’s even how you dress. I mean, I try to, like, rather under-dress and over-dress. When you’re at the airport or the central station and you spot the consultants.

Nick: Yeah.

Nicolai: And, I try to, not overcome this, but just diffuse that, diffuse those two walls, those two groups that are banging into each other. Then it’s about being right.

Nick: Okay. So, when you’re standing up in front of them, your demeanor is saying, “I’m not going to tell you what the final solution is going to be; you’re going to. You have to power to decide that. I’m just going to help you get there.”

Nicolai: Yeah. That’s maybe another tool. That’s quite useful in terms of communication. It’s called vroomyetton, V-R-O-O-M-Y-E-T-T-O-N.

Nick: Okay.

Nicolai: I mean, it’s a concept, but I found it quite useful for managers and I also use that sometimes. It’s basically, you communicate what is out there, or what is to be discussed, and open for debate, and what’s not open for debate. Okay, let me rephrase that. Sometimes, the boss says, or he doesn’t say, you know he has a conversation, he goes away and presents his decisions. And, the employees says, “But, that’s not what we worked on, that’s not what we suggested.” So, I believe he made a mistake. He didn’t make up front transparent and clear how this process is going to work.

There are two things that are available for discussion, the option and the how the decision is made. So, are we saying, “We’re all going to discuss options,” or are we saying, “The boss is suggesting the options and you can discuss them?” So, there’s like, before I have options [inaudible 00:37:14], are there options, how do I get to the options? The next level is, “Well, you might define all the available options, but I, the boss, make the decision,” or, “We all make the decision together,” or, “You make the decision.” I mean, in the normal company there is no kind of base, democratic of decision making.

What I often find frustrating for people is they don’t know the rules of the game. So, they have an expectation that when you ask them for feedback or you ask them for process input, you have a process [inaudible 00:37:49] workshop, and they come up with all their ideas and the boss says, “Oh, thank you very much, but I’ll do it my way anyway.” So, what I do, because you mentioned, you standing up there and saying, you invite it, I make clear the rules of engagement. I say, sometimes I say, “We’d really like to get your opinion on this. However, the boss will still make the decision, or he might not do anything with what you say.” At least there’s [inaudible 00:38:19], but at least they know what’s coming.

Nick: Yeah.

Nicolai: Or, I say, “Listen,” this was the last project and I said to the guy, we had done basically a whole who are our stakeholders, what we should be offering, who are our customers within the inner management circle. And, you know management decided, “Okay, let’s involve all our divisional, kind of, head of departments, [inaudible 00:38:46] team.” And, we said, “You know, we’re going to do that,” but I said to the guys, “the boss has decided or management has decided it costs you however much of money.”

I told them the costs, it was a lot of money and said, “only because management decided we want to involve you. That means, if you’re not coming up with ideas, I am, as a consultant, my fee at the end accountable for that. I will make, or I will fill the gap. You might not like it. If you filling and defining everything, I’m not stepping in. At the end, whatever you don’t do, I will do, but then you don’t have a right to say. So, it’s your opportunity now to, over the next three months, contribute and be part of the workshops because if you’re not doing it, I’m doing it.”

So, [inaudible 00:39:36] there was like a third level, there was like the consultant also has a say in a way. And, that is what we’re going to present to management and management will have the final call. They didn’t really like it too much, the first half an hour there was some internal debates, “Is this right and fair?” I say, “Listen, this is your opportunity for the last, and I showed them some [inaudible 00:40:00], you always said you wanted to be more involved in what management does. This is your opportunity.” So, it’s about being frank and honest and standing up for what the rules of engagement are. And, I think being transparent is helpful. So, this is one of those tools you can use.

Nick: And, how did that particular workshop turn out? So, the first half an hour was difficult, but what happened after that?

Nicolai: There was one person who almost, like, questioned, “But, we should be doing it differently.” And, I said, “Well, it’s not up for debate.”

Nick: There’s always one of those.

Nicolai: Yeah. I was quite direct and I said, “Listen, I can’t force you to stay here, but I will not change the approach because management has decided this is the approach. If you don’t like it, then you need to take it up with management, because I’m just the messenger, in a way, I’m the facilitator. I can’t force you. I can just tell you, you’re missing out on a great process, because we have done it twice, with management and the middle layer, and they all loved it and they were actually quite happy to contribute and they enjoyed having free brainstorming sessions. I can’t force you to stay. I will tell you that if you’re leaving then I’m not sure if management wants to invite you to the next times.”

So, I’m also, they have quite direct and frank, and people almost, like, they appreciate it, not the harshness, but the honesty around it. And, say, “Okay, we might not directly like [it] but he has a point. I mean, keep on talking on, we want to get involved. This is our opportunity. Let’s grab it.” And they actually turned out to be really excited. I mean, we always take videos and take pictures for the whole journey throughout the workshops, and we have a great, kind of, journey book over those three months of project work. And, they got engaged. We had, at one session we had an expo, with all people from the company involved, and we had 62% of all people of the company actually attending the workshop. That’s good.

Nick: That’s fantastic. Did the boss follow through on his promise, or her promise, I’m sorry, and pick solutions that were developed by the group? Or, did they just come up with their own and …

Nicolai: No, actually, they used the ones. Potentially, I’m not sure if they would have been so comfortable doing their own thing. They were quite happy, what the group developed, actually would fit and would make sense for them. So, actually, they were consistent in their communication and their action to say, “We will consider what you have done; it’s still our decision.” I think one or two things they said, no, to; and I think it was also, maybe, good to actually say no, because then you’re also walking the talk.

Nick: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely, it makes a lot of sense. Well, that’s great, thank you very much. I’ve taken up a lot of your time, but before, let’s talk about your book. So, you’ve published Tools for Project Management, Workshops, and Consulting in 2005, in English, is that right?

Nicolai: Yes, and the English version is now in it’s second edition; and the German version is in the fourth edition. Basically, the same content, but the German version was selling a bit faster, so I did a few reprints.

Nick: Okay, and how’s it structured, or what was your aim, your mission with this book?

Nicolai: Well, right at the beginning, as a junior consultant, I was looking for books that tell me about the trade. And there is no book; there is no book out there that actually talks about the basic consultant skills. I use, as a reference book, systems engineering book that is around problem solving, and I use that as my skeleton, or like my framework for the approach. So, basically, it is a problem solving approach, consisting on four simple steps. And, you can do these steps for planning your wedding or changing your organizational structure. It’s all about, I’m not happy. I mean, basic thing about problem solving is you have a state where you’re not happy and you have a solved state; and the way to get there is about, number one, defining where you are. It’s almost like a journey.

Nick: Yeah.

Nicolai: Define where you want to go. Third step, analyze, find options, how to get there. And, the fourth step is, make a decision which option is more suitable. So, the whole process, or all the tools, are actually in categories, underneath those four steps.

Nick: Okay.

Nicolai: Okay, so, the first step is the diagnosis, this is where I am. So it’s the situation analysis, or situation diagnostics, or definition. Some of the tools I mentioned are sitting in those categories of tools. There are 10 categories. There’s situation definition, information gathering, information consolidation, different analysis, strategy, or technical analysis, decision making, creativity, these are the categories of tools and tools are sitting in those categories.

So, typically, when you’re on a project, you need to first realize, what phase am I? Am I in the definition phase? I’m first trying to understand what’s in and out of scope. Who are the people? What should we be doing? Or, am I, rather, at the end of the phase? And, typically, you are at the final presentation and then people say, “Well, let’s do brainstorming on what to take [inaudible 00:45:28] this decision on.” “No. No, brainstorming is expanding a new thing. You need to consolidate stuff, you need to, kind of, narrow down.” So, you’ll find the tools for that in that category.

So, basically it’s almost like a cookbook. In a cookbook, you know what you want to cook, a dessert, or a starter, or a main course, a soup, or something; you go in the right category and within that category you find the right menu with the right dish. Very similar to that, it’s about, “Do I need the creativity tool, or decision making tool?” I go into that category, and there’s certain criteria that actually helps you to select those tools, and each tool is like a recipe. When would you use it? What does it do? Instruction, how to do it. A cross referencing, about when do this, don’t forget you should have used this before, and this afterwards.

So, in the expectation management tool and the cross references, it says, “When you use this at the end of the project, use the boose ball tool at the end of the project, and the boose ball tool is under this, whatever category.

Nick: It’s leading you through the journey of a project.

Nicolai: It’s leading you through the journey, but it’s not a project management logic. It’s a problem solving logic.

Nick: Okay.

Nicolai: As the overarching [inaudible 00:46:48] framework.

Nick: And, there’s 120 tools?

Nicolai: With 120 tools, at the moment. Yeah, I’m kind of permanently on the hunt for new ones.

Nick: Of course, of course. Well, hopefully, WorkshopBank will be able to help you with that.

Nicolai: Would be nice.

Nick: And the new book, tell me a little about that. I know you’re right on deadline.

Nicolai: Yes, I hope my publisher is not listening to that. I’m seriously overdue. So, basically, the first book is about the hard skill, analysis, market analysis, project management things. The second book is on the soft skills. So, realizing that, yes, you can nicely define everything, but there’s still a human being involved; and a human being has fears, emotions, conditioning, upbringing, beliefs, and unless you kind of have a way of addressing them, it is very difficult to really, kind of, move forward. So, the new book, it’s tools for, the jargon words is, leadership coaching and change management; and it has a similar logic, I also use three levels. So it’s about having a relationship with yourself, with other people, or the organization. So, again, we have tools and tools with a similar logic, grouped into categories, and those categories belong to those, either level one, two, or three.

So, the example is, you’re at work. Your boss walks in, in the morning and he’s like, you can see, he’s furiously steaming; and your first thought is, “Oh, no. What have I done wrong?” So, I mean, if a person, or coach, would work on you on that, he would not analyze that, but he would actually help. He would use a tool to make explicit, “Is this about you and yourself, you and the other person, or you and the organization?” And, there it might actually come up that it has nothing to do with your boss. He might just have crashed his car, or has a fight with his wife, or something. This is about your own inner assumptions, your own inner world.

Nick: Yeah.

Nicolai: You would use tools that are [selecting] in the category on the first level.

Nick: To help the person visualize [inaudible 00:49:06]

Nicolai: Yeah, I mean, I have this mantra of those three steps, they are, be aware that you’re doing it, secondly, cognitively understand what’s happening, and there’s a third step, you can then make the right decision.

Nick: Yeah.

Nicolai: Okay, the person needs to be, first, aware that they’re not [inaudible 00:49:28], and getting sweaty, and running out, or calling their husband to kind of vent their frustration or fear. This is about becoming aware of what’s happening, “I’m doing it again.” So, it’s like catching yourself when you doing it.

The second step, and this is where the tools come in with those models, cognitively understand, “Is this me, or is this him? Is there a reason? Where is it coming from?”

And then, the third step is like, “Hmm. What is it I could be doing?”

You know? So once I understand this actually has nothing to do with me, I have done my work properly; yes, I make mistakes, but there’s no reason for that. Maybe, as a conscious decision, as in the third step, I stand up, go to the boss, bring him his preferred cup of coffee or tea, and say, “What happened? Can I help you?” You know, instead of actually shying away and hiding in the corner, and hoping he’s not finding you, and all morning you’re kind of worrying that you’re going to be hit with a stick, when there’s no reason for it.

Nick: Yeah.

Nicolai: I mean, it all sounds so, in theory, all so nice…

Nick: Yeah, some people just like being hit with sticks. What can I say? That particular example is much more of an interpersonal, emotional [inaudible 00:50:46]

Nicolai: Yes, it’s an interpersonal …

Nick: Is that what the whole book is about or is there anything about the group as well?

Nicolai: No, absolutely. There are eight categories. The first two categories are more about the inner space, and then there are categories about team work, team dynamics, how to relate and work with others. Some of them are a bit more about the formal elements; and other things about the informal elements. Like, the informal stuff is the stuff you can’t really see. I mean, the formal stuff is the [inaudible 00:51:21] chart, and the informal stuff is the relationship in between, the informal networks, the power maps, and all those things. So, there are many tools. At the moment there are 80 tools, but the aim is for 400 tools. For other areas, leadership things, coaching things, I mean, these are the big buzz words I’m aware of them, but a lot of the tools are fitting in those categories.

Nick: Yeah.

Nicolai: And, as well as [change] management.

Nick: And, can you give me one more example of maybe a group working tool.

Nicolai: Under the level of me and the others, there’s the motivational element, motivation tools, there are team interaction tools. I give you one out of the motivation one.

Nick: Perfect.

Nicolai: Which has a bit of theory element. They are the five levels of power. Okay, because motivation is also, to be able to motivate others, you need power. A lot of people, including myself, for a long time I had this stigma about power, power, power abuse. No, there’s more to that. So, the tool is about, based on the five levels, or the five versions of power you have. You have the power out of coercion. You have a power out of your position. And with those powers, you need to actually think, is the power within, or is the power over another person? Okay?

Nick: Okay.

Nicolai. You have a power out of an expertise.

Nick: What do you mean by powered within?

Nicolai: Power within is, for example, the power of knowledge.

Nick: Okay, so, like a personal …

Nicolai: It’s a personal power.

Nick: Does it make you feel powerful?

Nicolai: Yes, yes, yes. Opposite to, if you have a power out of your position you have a power delegation over another person. It’s like when the boss says, “Well, I can tell you and you must do it,” but, you’re actually thinking, “Yeah, you’re not powerful, but you can just make me do it.” Okay?

Nick: Yeah.

Nicolai: So, the thing is, I mean, understanding the five powers in theory is not helping you much, but it’s understanding that you have different powers and then the exercise would be, “What are the powers I believe I have? What are the powers I use with other people, at work? But what are the powers I use with my kids, with my wife?” So is it then charismatic? Is there a relationship power, which is more about, people are following other people, not because they are by position, or by knowledge, but because the way they are. This is relationship power. So people have, the charismatic leaders have a relationship power. People don’t follow them because they are the boss, they somehow resonate with them. So, this is a tool you can use to say, “Well, how do I exert me, what powers do I use? What powers do other people use with me?”

Nick: Yeah.

Nicolai: And once you become, again, once you become aware and you understand what is happening, you can make the decision to engage consciously, or disengage certain powers, or use them more or less. Do I use coercion power with my kids? Is this the best way of doing it? What kind of power do I use with my partner? I mean, it becomes a little bit tricky now.

Nick: Yeah. I’d definitely love to dig into that tool a little bit more and analyze my powers with my kids. At the moment, I don’t feel like I have any power of them at all.

Nicolai: “I tell you, because I’m your daddy.”

Nick: Exactly. Maybe I’m just using the wrong type of power. That’s really interesting. Well, Nicolai, thank you. Thank you very much for agreeing to do this interview. Thank you for being an excellent guest and I’m looking forward to reading your book and seeing when it comes out, hopefully, soon.

Nicolai: Very much so. Well, let me start right away with continue the manuscript.

Nick: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks, Nicolai.

Nicolai: All right.

Nick: All the best.


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Nick Martin helps leaders & consultants improve team results with resources, advice & coaching through

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