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Getting Buy-In on a New Software Build


Anyone planning to pitch a new software project within an organization faces a double-sided risk.

On one side, resistance to change may cause early death for a software build. On the other side, over-enthusiastic acceptance of an idea without adequate planning or evaluation may result in wasted effort on a software build that stalls and ultimately fails.

When selling new software ideas, it’s vital to navigate between these two obstacles. The goal is to sell the idea while also encouraging thought, planning and goal-setting to bring the vision to reality.


Set a Vision

The first step in generating buy-in for a new software build is to articulate a clear vision of the finished software and what impact that software will have on the company.

When articulating the vision for a software build, keep it simple, Joe Byerly at We Are The Mighty writes:

  • Answer the question, “How does this software idea benefit the organization?”
  • List a few key points that support the answer to that question.
  • Anticipate questions from leadership and coworkers, and address them briefly.

“Use facts, emotions or inspirational language to bring [your audience] along the journey of ‘why,’” recommends Belinda Huckle, founder and managing director of UK consultancy Second Nature. Put the idea itself and its most compelling reasons for support upfront, rather than burying them in a longer presentation.

To communicate the vision for a software project quickly, summarize its key functions and business impact up front.

“The best summaries are simple and memorable,” writes Anthony Tjan, CEO, managing partner and founder of venture capital firm Cue Ball. The process of refining an idea in order to make it simple and memorable deepens one’s understanding of that idea. It requires clarification of key points and a distilled, focused vision.

Focusing the vision can also help ensure that advocating for a new software idea comes across as a plan to help a company meet its business goals, rather than a hard sell.

“Be authentic and show the actual benefits of your idea,” writes Karolina Kurcwald at ClickMeeting. Clarity on how the software will work to drive particular business goals can help an idea gain traction.

Finally, don’t be afraid to embrace uncertainty, Aithan Shapira writes in the MIT Sloan Management Review. By emphasizing motivation and creating an environment in which competing ideas can be voiced, challenged and examined, those involved in shaping a new software idea will have the space necessary to reach the best conclusions about how to tackle issues that may arise during the software development process.



Embrace Co-Creation

Co-creation, in which everyone on the team contributes to the vision and goals for a project, is one of the most powerful means of generating buy-in. Co-creation “invites discussion, debate, and allows everyone to feel even more vested in the outcome,” Kristi Hedges writes at Forbes.

Co-creation also encourages other team members, leaders and stakeholders to accept an idea by taking partial ownership in it. This sense of ownership increases the chance that others will commit to seeing the idea succeed.

To foster that sense of ownership and encourage co-creation, it’s important to put yourself in others’ shoes. “Many good ideas have been killed because of politics and turf battles,” says Robbie Kellman Baxter, founder of Peninsula Strategies. “So make sure you understand how your idea impacts people across your organization and work to build support.”

Co-creation also has the benefit of taking pressure off an idea’s first backer or off leadership to have all the details figured out before sharing the idea within the organization. Rather, it provides teams with the ability to act, to move from the arena of imagining a software build’s operation and results to working out the details required to make that vision a reality, writes Elizabeth Doty, founder of Leadership Momentum.

Co-creation also helps build relationships across teams and departments. “Barriers hamper curiosity, so cross-departmental activities and cultural characteristics like candidness are important to cultivate,” says Tom Zeien, product manager at Kapow, an event-booking company. By breaking down barriers, teams can communicate more effectively and better understand how an idea or change might affect others within the organization, as well as effects on customers and stakeholders.

During the co-creation phase, it’s important to relinquish control strategically. “Your idea is now the team’s idea, and it might well evolve into an even better one,” writes Ted Olson, head of partner activation at The Predictive Index. Emphasizing communication and transparency can give participants the psychological space required to promote frank conversations, which in turn can help generate solutions.

It can be tempting to micromanage a software idea, especially for the person who has the initial vision. Like day-to-day team managers, however, idea generators can stifle rather than inspire a team if they try too hard to control the details or fail to trust the delegation process. Traits like trust, openness and courage help reduce fear and encourage innovation, Hilary Thompson writes in The Boss magazine.

By listening actively and guiding rather than controlling, team leaders and idea generators can help ensure that defensiveness or territorial feelings don’t derail an otherwise promising software idea.


Clarify Responsibilities

While idea generation and collaborative goal-setting enhance a software project’s chances of success, planning alone won’t bring new software to life. To do that, those with a stake in the project will also need to know exactly what they’re responsible for.

“What is important is that each person’s strengths are aligned around a common PURPOSE so that they can harness diversity towards an agreed objective,” writes Natalie Turner, founder of Women Who Lead.

At this stage, the overall vision is reorganized in a more granular fashion, with individual tasks, metrics for success, and deadlines set and assigned to particular participants. This process can be done in stages, as leaders of particular departments or teams take larger chunks of the overall project and break those down further for team members.

As responsibilities are assigned, a clear communication of the vision and the way each responsibility contributes to that vision can help keep everyone on track and maintain momentum toward the final goal.

Clear, measurable expectations tell each participant what their role is in the project. Such communication “also motivates the individual employees as they see the relevance of what they do and how it adds to the end results,” writes Martin Luenendonk, co-founder of Cleverism.com.

Determining which resources are available can also help teams understand and manage their respective responsibilities during a software build. “Outline a clear picture of what each resource is responsible for achieving, and establish a communication process that everyone should adhere to,” recommends Kelsey Miller, a marketing specialist for Harvard Business School Online.

A new software idea can meet one of several fates. It may be rejected as unrealistic. It may be embraced with more zeal than planning, causing problems during development. Or it may be built up by forming a team around the shared goal of the completed project.

By tempering the new software idea’s promises with the business’s realities, team members can more effectively pitch, develop and launch new software with efficiency and success.

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