As I understood it, "Grease the Skids" was a term used to describe any facilitative process used to ease (typically) an exceptionally challenging process. Considering I was working in an engineering design department at a shipyard, it seemed rather apropos for those of us that were "speculative" shipbuilders and not "operative".
The contractual review and approval cycles can be very contentious periods where time is of the essence and heavily dependent upon the type of contract. Stakeholders on both sides will often take on the traditional adversarial roles with the goal of protecting "their" interest. Internal stakeholders guarding against scope creep, disclosure of proprietary data and design process challenges; and external stakeholders guarding their deliverables, budget, milestones, delivery dates and approval authority (often layered with bureaucracy).
A few of the ways in which we "Greased the Skids" in the design review and approval cycles were through 1) design process transparency; 2) mentality change from adversarial to partnership; and 3) stakeholder review meetings attended by approval authorities in advance of any package delivery.
Stakeholder review meetings were initially a challenge. Internal stakeholders hesitated to commit based on concerns of sharing design info/data too early in the process and external stakeholders (without final approval authority) concerned about the liability associated with what may be viewed as a "stamp of approval" or go ahead to proceed down a certain path. It took some time and some Memorandum of Agreements (MOAs) and/or Understanding (MOUs) to reach a point of comfort. However, once the process was underway and the external stakeholder agreed to have decision makers and approval authorities represented in meetings, the skids were officially "greased". Non-traditional working relationships were established. Internal stakeholders, individuals that typical had minimal contact with any approval technical authority, found external stakeholders more than willing to work through their challenges. Gone were the days of keeping the external stakeholder in the dark for months and then dropping a design for weeks of a technical review, comments and questions; and the week of addressing comments and questions; and the back and forth. Individuals found that they could pick up the phone, contact counterparts directly, and work through the challenges together. When time for final review and comments arrived, that large package had been reviewed and agreed upon in small bites. Is there a joke about how to eat an elephant in there somewhere?
Greasing the skids - Optimizing a meeting review with preparation: Pre-meeting packages. Leaving meetings with answers and minimizing the unanswered questions.
There are a multitude of ways to "Grease the Skids" when facing challenges. How have things changed in the past ten (10) years? How are stakeholder relationships these days? Do they still use the term stakeholders? What challenges do you face that could benefit from "Greasing the Skids"? What process or processes have you found beneficial in "greasing the skids"?
James Williams P.E., M.ASCE
POA&M Structural Engineering, PLC