Stakeholder Buy-in & Motivation Models Pt 1: An Overview of the SPIN Methodology

Discussing the SPIN methodology: a structured way to explore how an organization in a scenario faces an obstacle, why it's an obstacle and appropriate solutions.

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There are a number of ways to explore whether a given product, service or solution offering is right to solve a given problem. One in particular stands out for the use of architects interacting with stakeholders, as it has a structured approach that naturally speaks to the architect’s mindset.

Summary: In the last post I mentioned the SPIN methodology. It stands for Situation, Problem, Implication and Need. It’s a structured way to explore how an organization in a specific scenario faces an obstacle, why this is a significant obstacle, and why your solution is appropriate to address the problem. This enables a way to focus the discussion and explicitly follow a chain of reasoning.

As described in the previous post, the SPIN methodology is focused on solving problems. So the idea is to focus on and draw out the problems that the organization faces before exploring what needs the organization has as a result – and to this end, you look for the answers to 4 questions.

  • S- What is the Situation that the organization is in?
  • P- What Problems does the organization face?
  • I- What are the downstream effects of these problems – the Implications?
  • N- What does the organization Need to address these Problems?

So we start with the Situation questions. Situation questions are meant to explore what the context of an organization is – what is its operating environment? Is it a public company? A private one? What is the regulatory context? Does the organization have competitors? Who are its customers –or for a public agency, which communities does it serve?

Next come the Problem questions – quite simply, what are the problems that the organization is facing? In terms of persuading stakeholders, this forms the first part of the discussion with them.

Possibly the most important step is the third one – Implication. In other words, why is a problem a problem that is worth addressing? Why do people even care? This is an important step because it causes the stakeholder to pause and consider. It’s easy to say “We had a dozen priority one and priority two incidents last year.” But it’s when a stakeholder is asked “so what was the result of that? Why was that significant?” - that’s when they pause and say “Well, we had to pay 5 million in liquidated damages” – and that’s when it sinks in that this is a real problem. Of course, if there is no implication, then it’s not a problem that’s worth addressing.

So, the Implication stage is the most important because it could almost just as well be called the impact stage.

Sometimes there has to be a chain of implication. For example

Problem: our e-commerce site only had 98% uptime in the busy period.

Implication: customers couldn’t get on

Implication: they went elsewhere

Implication: we lost sales, and we have probably lost some customers for good

Whether it’s S-P-I-N, or S-P-I-I-I-N, the Implication phase is where you establish that something is a real problem that merits addressing.

The last out of the four steps is Need. At this point we have established what Problems exist and why they are significant problems. So in the final stage we can explore what the organization needs to address these problems, tempered by our knowledge of the organization’s environment – what we established in the Situation stage.

This has given an overview of the SPIN methodology, enough to provide a grounding for the discussion. There are numerous pages on the World Wide Web that describe SPIN in more detail; for a good starting point for more information on the SPIN methodology, consult the book “SPIN Selling”, by Neil Rackham.

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