The IKEA effect in Program Planning

One of the earliest and most important steps in a software program is the preparation of a program plan. The program manager, in consultation with other roles such as product manager, engineering manager and lead engineers, prepares this plan. This is then reviewed by others who provide their input in terms of whether the plan looks realistic or not. Finally, the plan is frozen and tracked by the program manager.

While this process looks simple and straightforward, the way the program manager invites inputs from others matters a lot and determines how committed other roles are going to be to the plan even though it is technically agreed by everyone. For instance, if the program manager uses his/her expertise to arrive at a detailed program plan and uses other roles just to provide very low-level raw material or high-level reviews, it is seen as his/her creation. Of course, everyone appreciates their ownership in him/her doing the lion’s share of the program plan. But, suddenly it looks like a top-down plan which is made by someone and then pushed to others who should simply execute it.

Image by wiredsmart from Pixabay

Instead, if the program manager uses a collaborative approach such as brainstorming key details with all team members and step by step arriving at the plan in front of their eyes on a shared screen or a whiteboard, they can make use of something called the IKEA effect which makes everyone in the room feel that they have created this plan together.

What is the IKEA effect?

As many of the furniture items sold by this Swedish company need assembly, customers tend to like them and value them more than other furniture items which they can buy readymade. This happens because they see the final product as their creation. Even if that looks imperfect to others, the one who made it (that is, assembled it) considers it a piece of art. We can extend the IKEA effect beyond furniture assembly by truly collaborating with others and giving them an opportunity to co-create things with us.

Here are the five key ways you can use the IKEA effect successfully in your program planning and tracking:

  1. Don’t confuse ownership with a one-person show. Invite thoughts from multiple people and capture them, use them as appropriate. However, remember the flip side view also: too many cooks spoil the broth. You can play the role of the lead cook to decide what goes into the final product and what doesn’t.
  2. When sharing your draft version with others, make it clear that things are not written in stone yet. Explicitly seek feedback from others and show the willingness to listen and accommodate.
  3. People tend to reply positively when you ask for their input in a particular section or a particular aspect of the document, instead of general feedback. For example, ‘can you share your thoughts on whether we have covered all technical risks?’ is a better question to ask than, ‘can you share your feedback on this document?’
  4. Add an “Authors” section to key documents and add the names of all contributors. After the document is published, specifically thank all the contributors for their contributions, preferably in public. Similarly, when the document is praised by customers or leadership, share it with fellow authors. In summary, you should truly think of it as a co-created document.
  5. When a certain decision in the document doesn’t get the unanimous approval of all the team members (that is, all the co-authors), pay special attention to those whose views were overwritten by the majority. Give them a chance to speak up and get their buy-in too. They may not agree with the final decision but will show tremendous understanding and commitment to it if their voices are heard.

Originally Published in my LinkedIn Page

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