How Consensus Management Can Stall A Project

August 13, 2012

We’ve all been there before – a project is held up because agreement cannot be reached on how to proceed. You might be stuck in a situation known as consensus management. What happens next can go a long way towards determining the success of your project. It can also make an indelible mark on your reputation as a Product Owner or ScrumMaster.

Let’s first define consensus management and walk through the reasons why it can cause trouble. Consensus management requires agreement from all key stakeholders before proceeding. While this is an enviable position, there are numerous problems with this supposition. Primarily, it is unlikely that all stakeholders have the same priorities. Some may have competing agendas. Others may have personality differences. Still others may be opposed to the project altogether.

However, the primary weakness with consensus management is that progress can be stopped by dissension alone. This ultimately gives everyone the same level of power to derail a project. Product Owners and ScrumMasters can find therefore find themselves powerless to break an impasse.

This can occur at many phases throughout a project’s lifecycle, and can even find it’s way into the Scrum Planning meetings. When stakeholders are too closely involved in these meetings, the Product Owner can find themselves outgunned and ineffective in prioritizing the product backlog.

Some have taken a very strong opinion against consensus management. In the book “Traction” by Gino Wickman, he says (pg. 141) “Consensus management does not work, period. Eventually, it will put you out of business.”

Ironically, most organizations don’t set out to apply consensus management as a practice. Often it evolves from strained relationships and inefficient stakeholder involvement. Wary of similar results in the future, stakeholders and customers insist upon involvement and approval at every stage of a project. Before you know it, consensus management is firmly entrenched.

So how to combat these issues?

Involve your stakeholders. There is certainly value in getting input from as many stakeholders as possible. After all, you don’t want to alienate anyone that has a vested interest in the project’s outcome. Bring them into the project early on.

Build relationships. Inherent in any quality relationship is trust. If stakeholders trust the Product Owner and the Scrum team, then they will more readily accept their recommendations.

Manage expectations. Let everyone know that 100% agreement will likely not be acheived. By setting these expectations early, hurt feelings will be minimized later on in the project.

Set ground rules. If consensus management starts to creep in, there needs to be a mechanism for breaking the logjam. Decide early on how this will happen and ensure that everyone knows the rules. And knowing the rules will help build team unity as well.

Expect disagreement. A Product Owner and ScrumMaster both need to have thick skin. Anticipating the tensions that can mount through the process will help you uncover ways to respond favorably.

With these approaches, you can positively navigate the mine-infested landscape of consensus management. Even our friend Wickman agrees. He continues on 141 – “Not everyone will be pleased in these situations, but as long as they have been heard and if the team is healthy, they can usually live with it and will support the decision. From there, you must present a united front moving forward.”

Struggling with consensus management? Not sure how to implement these ideas? Braintrust Consulting Group can help! To find out more, contact us here at Braintrust. Click on the Contact page to hear from one of our product specialists. Or, head over to the Services tab to find out more about our offerings.



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