The plus side of committees is that everyone brings a different perspective, and different strengths, to the table. One of their infamous minuses—the bottleneck (sometimes known as pea soup or the black hole)—becomes exponentially aggravating for each person you add to the group (not to mention those that show up near the end of the project).

Here are a few tips to help you transform snags into synergy. They refer mostly to design, but have value for anyone moving a project through committee approval:

Committee Un-bottlenecking Tip#1:
Committee involvement is easier—and more productive—if the group reviews only a reasonable sampling of the project. Be on the lookout for issues that don’t really belong in the meeting room.

Recently, as we neared the end of a website design project, I realized I was unnecessarily prolonging the agony, not only for myself, but for everyone poring over the layouts. After taking a look at which pages were truly critical to business, I was able to halve the number of page templates I submitted for committee review, and free myself to put this baby to bed.

What’s a reasonable sampling? Just make sure you understand which parts of the project are critical. For example, on the current project, I know which pages are expected to generate the most revenue, and which involve external business partnerships. For those pages, I’ll need input from the individuals who intimately know the market, the numbers, and the nuances of the partnerships.

Of course, some participants may insist on seeing it all, but I wouldn’t even say, “Hey, we’re only going to show you a sampling.” That’s too tantalizing a whiff of the “forbidden” (it would be for me). Don’t bring it up.

Committee Un-bottlenecking Tip#2:
Cull again: Watch for issues that can slip in, especially as you get close to the end of the approval process. Do these really require executive involvement?

Present it as a positive: “The key issues are A, B and C. If you’re happy with these, we can call this phase done and move on to [next urgent project].” By the end of a long approval process, only the most dogged will really feel the need to “see it all”, and will understand that they’ve seen enough.

Committee Un-bottlenecking Tip#3:
Take the time to engage and empathize with the key detractors.

If there are too many hanging issues, meet directly with one key detractor at a time (maybe two), and be prepared to do some genuine listening (that’s different from caving, and even more different from manipulating). There’s a good chance they have concerns and perspectives that are easier to explain in a one-on-one meeting. Whether you fully agree or not, you’ll have a chance to find some common ground, and you’ll have an advocate at the next review. If you’re not sure how to do this, I highly recommend Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication, also known as compassionate communication, an approach that’s been used by families, businesses and communities to work together to meet the needs of all concerned.

I’m not against working with committees, as long as they have essentially productive intentions (mostly free of power wars), and I get to be there in the room. Do everything you can to meet all the individuals deciding the fate of your work. If you are a designer working with corporations, this, too, is design. But be smart: Tap the business wisdom being made available to you and take the time to make sure they are reviewing only necessary items.

Listen, respond, get the sign-off, and get out!

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