Project managers are always looking for ways to deliver results in a shorter timeframe. It’s critical if you want to achieve the biggest business benefits on your projects.

One way to do this is with Joint Application Development, or JAD. Although the name sounds like it applies only to developing software, that’s not the case. The JAD technique can be applied to a wide variety of areas where consensus is needed. This includes gathering business requirements, creating mission and vision statements, defining a project, building a quality management plan, etc.

Let’s illustrate this technique with an example. Let’s say you’re creating your project charter. Typically, you’d have to talk with the sponsor and other important client managers. Each of them would give you some pieces of the puzzle, but in many cases they won’t agree as to what should be included. This requires you to go back to these same people to develop a consensus.

Depending on how controversial the project is, it may take a long time to reach a consensus. I’ve seen projects that take a couple months to define – not because the project was so complex but because there was disagreement among the major stakeholders on exactly what the project would achieve. Is this effort wasted time? No, it’s better to know what you’re supposed to be doing than to go off and build something wrong.

The problem with this approach is not the consensus building process. It’s the time it takes to achieve the consensus. That’s where JAD comes in.

JAD sessions can result in dramatic time savings – maybe 75%, 80%, 90% or higher.

The key concept of a JAD session is that you get all of the major decision-makers, stakeholders and knowledge providers into one place at the same time. The dramatic reduction in time comes from removing the lag required to move information from person to person. If a stakeholder has a question about scope, he can ask it in the JAD session. The people required to answer the question are in the room and can answer the question immediately – no time delay and no misrepresenting the question. A two-week process of getting a question clarified and answered can instead take place in ten minutes, since all of the right people are there at the same time.

With JAD sessions you should.

  • Identify the right people and make sure they’re there. It’s fine to invite your manager and the client organization managers. But what about questions that require other subject matter experts in order to be resolved? If you’re going to be successful, all decision-makers, as well as information providers, must be present.
  • Spend the time necessary to reach conclusion and consensus. This is important. The objective of the JAD session is to reach a consensus on what needs to be done. If this requires a one-day session, then all of the participants must make a full-day commitment. If this requires everyone to get together for a week, that’s the commitment that needs to be made. The JAD session may not be the optimum use of each person’s time. However, by keeping the group together, the time to create the project deliverable is dramatically reduced.
  • Use a facilitator(s). Normally, a formal JAD session has a formal facilitator (a trained facilitator if possible). The facilitator makes sure the discussion stays on track, meeting rules are followed, and the meeting is as productive as possible.

The JAD session should result in the final approval of whatever document you’re discussing. This could be a Project Charter, business requirements, communication plan, implementation strategy, etc. If possible, the final deliverable should be created and approved by the participants before the meeting is finally adjourned.