Stakeholder Buy-in & Motivation Models Pt 1: Persuasion in Enterprise Architecture


It’s something that almost all architects really struggle with. How to convince the non-technical stakeholder to support your initiative, or your program, or even convince them that a given approach is the right one in a given situation? Sometimes you’ll get lucky and they’ll directly challenge you with a problem – “how is this going to reduce my support costs?” More often, you’ll see them start checking emails or simply waiting for it to end, while they pretend to listen. In the next 5 posts I’m going to propose a structure to make convincing stakeholders a little easier.

Summary: Gaining stakeholder buy in is a necessary part of any EA initiative, and it’s hard. There are a lot of stakeholders, generally with different agendas, each of whom can derail a project. Architects generally hate this aspect of the job – it’s not their background. Over the next few posts I’m going to explore how we can meld the architecture discipline of motivation models and a well-known methodology borrowed from the domain of sales to make this job a little easier.2012-07-15-the-s-word_500x500

There we are, I’ve done it – I used the ‘S’ word. Uggh, sales. For me, like most people with a technical background, the very word sales conveys images of Glen Garry Glen Ross, pushy (and slimy) recruiters, and a profession whose entire purpose is to reduce clarity, not enhance it. And like most stereotypes, it has a foundation in truth, but it’s not the whole story.

But the reality is that sales is the process of convincing someone to do something that they would not do if left to themselves. Call it something different to sales if you want – Norman Schwartzkopf, who commanded the allied forces in the first gulf war, more or less defined leadership as that very same thing – “The ability to convince someone to willingly (underline that word), do something that they otherwise would not do”.

At its root, sales (or leadership, if you prefer) is a conversation about how to solve a problem. Now, the salesperson in question might be trying to sell you completely the wrong solution to your problem; more often wishful thinking on their part can mean that they do not even understand what your problem is, instead they manage to hear whatever problem it is that their offering solves. But the problem-solution approach is valid.

Thankfully, you don’t have to transform yourself into a smooth-talking used car sales rep to convince your stakeholders. There is an entire approach to sales called solution sales that explicitly adopts the mentality of “sales as problem solving”. There are a number of variants, but the one that stands out for the scenario of an architect convincing stakeholders is one called SPIN.

Given the image of sales reps, the name SPIN is perhaps a little unfortunate –or it may be deliberate. The important point for our purposes is that it is a highly methodological and structured approach that lends itself very well to the mindset of an architect – and to a model-based approach. In the rest of this series, I will explore how architects can apply this approach to stakeholder persuasion while taking advantage of the tools that they already have.

I’ll even promise not to use the ‘s’ word any more.