Managing the Awareness Gap

Hypothetical Conversation with an Analyst:

Aaron:   “How is your project progressing?’
Analyst: “Good! We are on track for our meeting in three weeks.”
Aaron: “Prove it. How do you know you’re on track?”
Analyst: “I’ve done all of the work my project manager (PM) asked of me. She laid out a plan two weeks ago that is due this week, and I’m almost done.”
Aaron: “Good. When was the last time you checked in with your PM on the work?”
Analyst: “Uh, I haven’t since she gave me the plan.”
Aaron: “So, how do you know the work is relevant? Have you showed the work to your project lead?”
Analyst: “…”

Client work is often a mysterious endeavor. We write our proposals after short conversations about pain points. If we do translate those initial pain points correctly, we still may not have determined the cause of the actual issue. Ultimately, to find success, we need to test out our ideas until we identify the true problems that need to be resolved.

I’ve begun calling this phenomena of not knowing a client’s expectations, the “Awareness Gap” (I have no idea if I made this up, most likely, I stole it from someone…).

It can be assessed based on two types of client relationships:

  1. External Clients
  2. Internal Clients

This stems from the Always Testing aspect of the FEREAT principle (I realize I haven’t discussed this yet, so we’ll leave this ridiculous drawing as a teaser for you to come back – also, the A is silent).


External Clients

Often, clients can only identify the symptoms of their problems. To offer a valuable diagnosis, we position ourselves to see the bigger picture and get to the root of the pain points. However, to do this, we have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. We share works in progress, ask “stupid questions” and communicate regularly. All of these activities have the express goal of validating our hypotheses and building that larger picture. When done right, this allows us to understand the issues within the wider context of their organization and then translate our knowledge, experience and solution sets into a customized  and relevant deliverable.

Another key advantage of this approach is that it forces a sense of urgency on the team. If you have a weekly check in call, and you’ve set the expectation with the client that each call will include new data, new analyses, or new insights, then you need to deliver. This requires getting the work done as quickly and efficiently as possible, because there isn’t time to procrastinate (warning: this can induce nauseating anxiety).

Additionally, the feedback loop becomes much more valuable. Even if you are not presenting a true deliverable to the client for over a month, you have set yourself up to expose them to your ideas at least four times before the work is completed. They will become familiar with the approach, and you will earn buy-in by incorporating their opinions (i.e. co-creation). You really know you’ve succeeded when the client sponsors begin explaining the analyses to the rest of their team.

However, these successes can only be realized if you also manage the awareness gaps with your internal clients.

Internal Clients
An advantage to team-based work is that you can split responsibilities across members and move in parallel as you develop a solution. However, a downside is that team members may proceed with their own understanding and assumptions of the “approach”, often without validation. Unfortunately, if the understanding and assumptions are not aligned, then the set of work materials from each team member will be poor, irrelevant and potentially contradictory.

In order to manage this awareness gap, you must maintain regular communication between team members. You may be developing certain analyses, but if you go off and build a massive approach without checking in with your team, you risk investing time on a tangent. To be a successful and creative project team, we must be hands on. This does not necessarily mean spending a lot of time checking in. It depends on your team’s preference, but the key is frequency – whether it’s in-person, email, phone, etc. These check ins should quick, and as you get a rhythm and approach a complete solution, they will become more automatic and, hopefully, exciting. Ideally, you will never find yourself in the hypothetical situation above where you haven’t spoken to your teammate in two weeks.

I often use a metaphor with my team of a person forging a path in the wilderness. She has an idea of the final location, but minimal insight on how to get there. She uses her creativity and knowledge to move forward, but without validation from her team and her client, she may find herself off course. Managing the awareness gap helps her find the best path, as quickly as possible, while minimizing any frightening encounters along the way.


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