STICC is a useful communication template for situations where time pressures and mistakes can lead to grave consequences. Organizations such as hospitals have trained nurses and physicians in its use and it is also endorsed by US Forest Service fire fighters.
A Project Portfolio Management Example
EAMES (a pseudonym) is a business with over 600 projects underway, each of them labeled “strategic” or “very important.” EAMES has been very successful in its business, with ambitious managers always pursuing new growth. One manager described the company like this, “EAMES has never seen a proposed project that it didn’t like.” During the past 2 years, senior management has grown in the realization that more focus is needed.
The company charted a portfolio analysis team to develop a prioritized list of strategic initiatives. It was successful in collecting data. (Finally, a list of all projects!) The company does not have slack resources to staff all of the proposed initiatives and it does not have a prioritization methodology. Frustration is mounting.
Here is how STICC was used to convey the situation to the CEO. Notice that the statements are kept concise.
Situation & Task
The first step is asserting your opinion: Here’s what I think we face. The second step is your recommendation. Here is what I think is the most appropriate response to the situation.
Application: Boss, Here is the situation that I think we face. After 9 months of work, our team has been unable to gain consensus. Our attempts to identify screening criteria and the weights have become tedious and have bogged down. Every project is important to someone, somewhere in the organization.
Here is what I think we should do. I think we should work with the Board and the senior-most echelons of management to identify the three types of strategy: corporate, business, and functional. I think we should establish a budget for a strategic initiatives of about 25%, put all corporate ventures and a selected few change-the-business strategies in that bucket. For the short term, no functional initiatives should be considered a strategic initiative.
The “I” in STICC signifies your intentions. Your goal is to provide the rationale (“here’s why”) for your recommendation.
Application: Boss, the reason why I am making this recommendation is that we are not making the progress that we had all hoped for. We seem to be suffering from analysis paralysis. The crux of the matter is that many managers confuse goal setting with strategy formulation. Until we can gain clarity and educate people, we are better off with a few simple classifications. As an organization, we conceptually understand strategic alignment, but we struggle to translate the theory into practice. It’s like triage on the battle field: we shouldn’t waste scare resources on something that gives no strategic advantage.
Here you are providing an understanding of risks and issues that you will face. You are explaining your perceptions of, “Here’s what we need to watch.”
Application: Boss, we need to watch dissention and push back from the VP of Human Resources and the CIO. Both of them have ambitions to deploy new software solutions.
In this last step, you are inviting feedback from the audience. You might say something like, “Tell me if you don’t understand, can‘t do it, or know something I do not.”
Here are some questions you might ask to calibrate: What are the areas of agreement and disagreement? What are the risks, of delay and of impulsiveness? How strong is your support for my recommendation?
You incorporate the feedback, and work to gain agreement on a path forward.
Next Steps after STICC: Listen, Acknowledge and Negotiate a Plan
You can think of STICC as a concise, straightforward way to announce crucial information. The next steps are to acknowledge to the feedback and negotiate an action plan.
As I mentioned in the introduction, STICC is used by a number of professions where miscommunication may cost lives (hospitals and firefighting). The pressure is high, the consequences large. Strategic initiatives may not be life and death, but their lasting impact may be huge.
Where can you apply STICC?
[The source of STICC is Gary Klein, who adapted Karl Weick’s research on High Reliability Organizations.]