The Second Consensus Meeting

As we discussed earlier, we will simply call this the second consensus meeting, though it may actually encompass several meetings. Ideally, these meetings should include the entire development team and the client team members (primarily the end users). This is the analysis stage.

In practice this is sometimes difficult. Some of the current project's development team members may be heavily involved in the latter stages of a different project. It is important that they have access to the reports from these meetings and are allowed to submit their input. There are many ways of doing this, as we will discuss shortly.

These meetings begin with a summary of the first meeting with senior management. The purpose of the second consensus meeting is to take the goals identified by the stakeholders and sponsors to be included within the scope of this cycle, which were defined at a high level, and drill down to the next level of analysis to arrive at a set of second level goals. The stakeholders and sponsors do not need to attend, but their attendance may be of benefit to the meeting. It is possible that upon looking more closely at one of the broader goals of the senior management we may find that it needs to be redefined. We may also find additional broad goals that should be included in the project but were not. If senior management is present, these changes can be made at the meeting and the redefined goals can immediately be broken down into the next level.

If senior management does not attend the later meetings, they should receive a synopsis of the meeting at the end of the day. You could also set up a live hook-up for the senior management who do not attend so that they can watch the meeting as it is happening. If they hear something at some point that they feel they need to comment on, they can join the meeting by electronic media, telephone or by physically joining the meeting. You could even set up a computer in the meeting to receive comments from those watching but not present so the meeting flow is not interrupted by someone suddenly joining in. Today, there is a wide range of technology that allows you to include people who are not physically at the meeting.

Another possibility is to record the meeting and then put the video on the web site. Everyone, including those who did not attend, can review the meeting at their leisure. You can allow a one-day break between meetings to allow everyone time to review the meeting. You can create a web page to submit comments, thoughts and ideas on the meeting.

Use what is appropriate for the situation. If you are designing a large project that will go through many cycles and will reengineer the corporation, then it would make sense for the senior management to be involved in all of the consensus meetings. For example, a corporation that is doing business solely through phone sales decides to build an E-commerce site. They are going to make a major new purchase in hardware and hope to shift most of their business to the E-commerce site. When the E-commerce site becomes functional the current order entry personnel will focus on customer service instead of taking orders. Such a major change in the corporation should have senior management involved in all of the meetings.

On the other hand, we could have a large corporation that is always plagued by personnel shortages that decides to build a special human resources web site. This site will list job openings, information on the corporation, benefits, etc. This HR department is part of a large department that also includes the payroll and benefits departments. The sponsor is the manager of the three departments. While it is important to have this person's commitment to the project and to know what their goals and concerns are, it is unlikely they will have anything to contribute to the second consensus meetings. This is a high level person with limited time resources. It is unlikely that you will be using their time wisely by involving them in these meetings.

If at all possible, the consensus meetings should not be held on site. It is too easy for people to return to their desk at breaks and get caught up in work: people will be returning late, assistants waving at the door, etc. will interrupt others. It is best to get an offsite room - make it a large one so that you can adorn the walls with lots of paper.

The most difficult part of these meetings is defining how deep one should drill and what should be discussed. If you start discussing how something is to be done, then you have strayed out of the envisionment phase and into the design phase. You should be describing the goals in a fairly general way in the envisionment phase. For example, an acceptable goal description for this phase may be: Have a customer enter an order through the Internet using an easy-to-use web page. If the team starts to discuss exactly how this will be done (the customer will navigate to the site, the customer will enter order information etc.) then this would be going too far. At this stage the project manager must get the team back on track. This final level of analysis will be done in the conceptual stage of the design phase.

Let's now take an example of how we might drill down into the high level goals we identified for the Northwind order entry project.

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