January 17, 2018


Project management advice, tips, tools and recommended resources for existing and aspiring project managers.

Project Management and Change: Getting “Buy-in” for “New”

By Peter de Jager

obtain buy-in for changeWhether you’re a project manager, supervisor or just one of those people who make the world go round – then from time to time you’re going to stumble across a method or process that you know – will benefit others if only they’ll adopt it. You’ll then discover, to your surprise, that your enthusiasm isn’t shared by those around you.

Welcome to the very common problem of implementing a Change of any sort.

As a project manager for any length of time, you’re well aware we repeat certain processes time and time again and these patterns of process evolve. Good PMs understand the need to identify, categorize and generalize these patterns and use them consciously.

There is a flip side to this, there are also patterns of failure, ‘solutions’ we try time and time again, that don’t lead us towards our goal. In a sense, that’s why we attempt to categorize those that work, because this knowledge helps us avoid the ones which don’t. Good PM practices steer us towards successful processes by steering us away from bad processes. Do this consciously, and we end up with something like Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3).

Get buy-in

The “Buy-in” strategy is a perfect example of a commonly used unsuccessful approach to a common management problem. Yes, I’m well aware that questioning the value of a commonly held belief is heretical, but it is an accurate assessment of the efficacy of “buy-in”.

Typically, when we find a good, new solution we get enthusiastic about it. Let’s assume we’ve glommed onto OPM3 as our most recent discovery. Our immediate strategy is to try and convince others that OPM3 is the answer to all our PM problems. We want them to ‘buy-into’ the new idea, after all, we know OPM3 works. It’s a recognized best-practice standard for assessing and developing capabilities in Portfolio, Program and Project Management and it’s published by the Project Management Institute (PMI).

getting buy-in for newOur approach is to concentrate on the benefits of implementing OPM3. Our goal? To get our audience or organization to adopt this proven way of doing things.  And then we’re surprised when they respond with the annoying question… “Why?”

It doesn’t matter what new idea we’re trying to implement, it could be OPM3 or a new way to tie our shoe laces, we will always encounter this well meaning “Why?” We then incorrectly, in my opinion, label it as ‘resistance to change’. We also mislabel this phenomenon as being ‘negative’ and perhaps even as an ‘obstacle to progress’.

Solution to creating change

The problem we’ve created is this: We’re selling a solution, before we agree on the problem.

Here’s an experiment, one with ‘convincing’ statistics, that was performed by Dr. Robert Cialdini (Described in his book, “Influence: Science and Practice”)

This experiement was conducted at a busy photocopier. The researcher stepped to the front of the queue and asked: “Excuse me. I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?” The result was that 60% of the time she was allowed to make her copies.

On the next trial she asked instead: “Excuse me. I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?” This increased her success rate (immediately making copies) to 94%.

The initial request with no reason given is 60%, adding even the flimiest of reasons, ‘because’ to the unspoken ‘Why?’ increases that success rate to 93%.

So… what is your answer to the reasonable question ‘Why?’ going to be? That this “idea” of ours is better than what we’re currently doing isn’t enough. That’s basically what we’re saying when we’re enthusiastic and merely sing the praises of a new solution.

What people need to hear is a description of the problem that the new idea is supposed to solve. You cannot sell anyone the benefits of anything until they agree that the benefits are necessary.

So? What problems does OPM3 solve? What are the failings of your existing process? Can you point to specific failings which everyone agrees need addressing?

And remember… “OPM3” is best considered a place holder for ANY change…


About the Author: © 2014, Peter de Jager is a speaker/consultant/writer on Change related issues. If you’ve enjoyed this article, you can view a few dozen of his presentations at: vimeo.com/technobility and you can subscribe to his monthly mailing by sending a request to: pdejager@technobility.com


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