IT project success is all about getting buy-in

Despite all the technological goodness in your project, if you don't sell it well and find the managers who will sell it to users, you ain't a goin' nowhere.
Written by Ramon Padilla, Contributor

I just spent three days at a conference with 70 other people spending time listening, learning and talking about digital object repositories, methods for naming and identifying these digital objects amongst shared repositories, and methodologies for ensuring quality of these digital objects.

The information and discussion was interesting, thought-provoking and inspiring. The technologies we talked about, and the uses for those technologies, were truly fraught with potential. At the end of the three days, however, the discussion ended not with detailed hardware or software requirements, the endorsement of one or more software packages or even plans for implementation.

The end discussion focused (and rightly so) on how to sell the idea and whether or not the idea was a good fit for your organization. This group realized that despite all the potential (and indeed there was much potential in what we discussed) everyone knew that "if you build it, they will come" is wishful thinking. In fact, even if you build something technologically fantastic, rarely will others embrace it with the same level of enthusiasm as its builders had.

I do not know of a single IT professional who has not at some point in his or her career stood proudly by a technology achievement and watch it get ignored by the user base it was intended for. This applies to all aspects of IT, from infrastructure to support to development.

What happened? There are 100 other reasons that new implementations go wrong, including a lack of buy-in at the proper level, improper change management, failure to meet the intended need, failure to deliver in the required timeframe, or simply being ahead of its time.

Like it or not, as cool as we think technology is (and we do think it is cool, or we wouldn't be in this field), unless you are in the business of research and design (which few of us are) - the key to the successful use of technology is in how it is presented and sold to the end user. Technology is simply a tool, and even though you and I know that using a screwdriver to drive in a screw works better than a hammer, as long as the end user of the tool is satisfied with the hammer, your technologically brilliant screwdriver doesn't stand a chance.

This can really frustrate us to no end, because it is absolutely clear to us that what we created is exactly what "they" need, and they are just too dumb to see it, right? I mean, come on, you have to be braindead not to appreciate our magnificent contribution. Sheesh!

In many cases, you do know better than the end user what is needed, but then again, sometimes you don't. What matters is that for any technology solution, someone in the organization has got to feel strongly enough about the solution to want it and want others to share it. If you do not get the buy-in, forget about it.

This buy-in usually has to come at multiple levels, from those that can command change, to those that control change (not often the same people), to those who are affected by the change. That is why your best IT managers and analysts are often good sales people and more often than not, they did not start out in IT, but from within the business. While our dedicated and hard-working IT staff labor behind the scenes to make the "IT miracles" happen, it is those who understand the business and--perhaps more importantly--the politics of the business, who make things happen in the organization.

To make significant contributions in the organization, you need to pair great IT ideas with great salesmen. Without this pairing, you are depending on pure luck. Mind you, this is to some degree an oversimplification of the successful technology adoption/implementation process, because we know there is a huge amount of work that goes into it. But, at the end of the day, lack of buy-in can kill you.

So what does this mean for you? It means that buy-in is so important to the process that it must be worked on before, during, and after a technology project, and that giving it short shrift can get you in a ton of trouble. If you don't have a marketing plan for your project (often tied in with your change management plan), you had better get one. Don't assume that just because you have top management's approval and/or funding, that it's smooth sailing from that point on. In fact, your marketing effort to users has just begun.

For those of you who are the designers, developers, and architects out there, know that much of your success or failure for your work hinges not only on the quality of your work but how it is being presented to your user base. IT managers should understand that just having your staff produce technically competent work is not the extent of IT management. It's a partnership, guys and gals, and the more often we remind ourselves of that fact, the more successful we will be.

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