Preparing to present your Enterprise Architecture proposal to the wider business takes time and effort. You will have re-checked your facts many times over. You want to make your argument as compelling as possible. You have repeatedly rehearsed your presentation in front of your team knowing that failure to win consensual buy-in from your stakeholders could be catastrophic. Tens or maybe hundreds of hours would have been wasted. Surely logic will prevail? After all, you have taken every measure to ensure that it’s business-like and that what you are proposing is a ‘no-brainer’ isn’t it?
No matter how watertight your Enterprise Architecture proposal may seem or however logical it may appear you should always remember this:
“RARE IS THE PROPOSAL THAT DOES NOT ELICIT OPPOSITION”
Change Management guru and Harvard Professor John Kotter’s book, ‘Buy-in – saving your good idea from being shot down’, tells us that there are typically four strategies that stakeholders (or in our case ‘snipers’) may adopt when purposefully or unconsciously lining you up in their telescopic rifle sights. Undoubtedly you will have come across them before – maybe even used some of them yourself?
Here they are:
Fear Mongering. Creating a climate of concern and unrest among the audience is a winning strategy that will quickly deter the agnostics and even the previously committed from agreeing to anything.
It may on the surface to appear almost innocuous for a stakeholder to say “What you are recommending puts us on a slippery slope.” But others in the audience may begin to visualise the Company (and their department with it) sliding toward a cliff face. The mental images of death and destruction will turn them off to any recommendations you are making no matter how beneficial they really are. A response to this attack is to reply with something like “Good groups of people—all the time– use common sense as a guard rail to keep them from sliding into disaster.”
Death by Delay. This tactic may be used by a rival who perceives your project as a potential or direct threat to their own. By making you appear as if you have not thought through your proposal in sufficient detail by implying that it may be best to wait for the appropriate funding or opportunity when the market is riper, “…before we even consider that!” Their objective is to bring about postponement at the very least – your project forever lost in the wilderness at best.
Expect to hear something like “Great Ideas but we simply do not have enough money in the budget and what’s more, you’ll never get it through Finance.” You might respond with “Extra money is rarely what builds truly great ventures or organizations.”
Confusion Creation. This attack is similar to the Death by Delay strategy in that your sniper is not saying that they disagree with your identified recommendations for improvements – what they are saying is that your proposal is too difficult to comprehend which is an influencing tactic imposed on the fence-sitting stakeholders in the audience. By implying something is complicated to the point where it defies logical interpretation sends an unconscious yet screaming message that the architecture proposal you are recommending is too complicated to undertake and therefore must be avoided.
Your sniper may just put it plainly; “It’s too difficult to understand. Too many of our people will never understand the idea and inevitably, will not help us make it happen.” The truth is any proposal can be made understandable if time and care is taken to help people understand it. You might reply with, “Since you agree with the recommendations made within the proposal, then it’s worth the effort to communicate clearly to convince them.”
Character Assassination. The previous attacks we’ve discussed can be masqueraded as genuine concerns with acknowledgment of your hard work and effort. Character Assassination however, is a full-frontal attack which can never be dressed up as anything other than what it really is. The important thing to remember is not to react to intimidating tactics by retaliating in-kind. If you lose your focus you will lose your credibility and ultimately you will lose your remaining stakeholders very quickly.
Ask open questions of your attacker. It is very difficult for them to articulate a reasoned argument against solid proposals that will benefit their employers when the only ammunition they have is personal attacks against you as a professional architect or as a human being.
It is easy to forget that the majority of concerns raised will be genuine and made with every good intention. I do not want to convert you all to becoming paranoid proposers who nervously views every stakeholder as a potential sniper! But having a good understanding of the way that some stakeholders may behave and importantly why is a good start to preparing for and fending off attacks while gaining buy-in for your value propositions.
Architecting the Enterprise’s new three-day ‘Elevating Enterprise Architecture’ course covers this topic in more depth as well as many other ways to influence your stakeholders so that they buy-in to your project proposals and champion them on your behalf.
By Keith Flanagan, Head of Professional Development
 Kotter and Whitehead (2010). ‘Buy-in – saving your good idea from being shot down.’ USA: Brilliance Corporation. ISBN-10: 1441872302