Let’s assume you have a great idea that requires some of your colleagues to take action to move it forward. You introduce it and they agree that it sounds good. A couple of weeks later, you ask how things are progressing and they haven’t had time to start yet. A few more weeks pass… still nothing.
It’s all about buy-in – the difference between just an idea and an idea that gets implemented. And to get buy-in you need to win people over. As a product manager how can you do this? Here are four techniques I’ve used, borrowed from coaching and product strategies to help you.
1. Let the Solution Go
When you started your career, you probably learned that to win favour with your manager, you should solve problems for them. You might have even been told “bring me the solution, not the problem”. You were rewarded with praise or even promotion as you solved more and more problems. This becomes your default way of working and you apply it to all the situations you encounter because it works…right?
If you always provide people with a ready-made solution, you limit other possibilities and this can lead to micro-management. By presenting others with the problem and providing space to innovate, your colleagues will feel invested in the solutions they create and are more likely to do something about them.
Here’s a cautionary tale from my own experience. When I first moved into a new role, I noticed we were spending an increasing amount of time on estimating. I raised this with colleagues and asked if they could find a solution. I felt pleased with myself and thought I had given them a great problem to get their teeth into. I had not. My colleagues had not bought in to the problem and we made no progress. I asked my mentor for advice and she asked me “why do you care?”. I realised the real problem was that we weren’t making as much progress through our big-ticket items as I expected and I had thought the time spent estimating was causing this. By producing KPIs, I was able to share my concerns with the different stakeholders in an objective way. We could openly discuss their interpretation of our progress and collaborate to understand how we could improve. The conversations were refreshing and positive. This time, change did happen. I learned a big lesson that day, to take a step back and find the core problem before delegating to others.
When you describe this technique you’ll find that others are often scared to try it, in case someone comes up with the “wrong” solution. So when setting a problem for colleagues, I would ensure you provide them with all the information you have and that you work with them to identify any gaps of knowledge that need to be filled. If you still have concerns, you can always find ways for people to validate assumptions early, fail fast and iterate.
2. Provide a Framework and Facilitate
If your problem requires a structured approach, facilitating a workshop can be a great way of considering evidence and coming up with a plan of action. There are many different tools and structures available on the internet that you can adapt to your situation.
Questions borrowed from coaching models such as GROW, can help stimulate conversation and move the session forward. For example, we wanted to improve the presentation of our Sprint review sessions. Our previous attempts to work through this with scrum teams had failed, and we had become stuck in a cycle of having the same meeting with the teams to discuss the review and then no positive change occurring. I facilitated a workshop with our leadership team and we worked through the following headings one by one:
- (Goals) What do you want the sprint review to achieve?
- (Reality) What’s the current situation?
- (Reality) What have we tried so far?
- (Options) What are the different ways we could approach this problem?
- (Way forward) What are the next steps?
We identified that there was a limited understanding of the audience needs and used surveys and discussions to gather feedback, encouraging a single scrum team to trial and pilot a new way of presenting the review. The pilot was a big success and immediately the two-way conversations and feedback flowed in the Sprint review, exactly what we wanted to achieve. Seeing this, it didn’t take long for the other teams to evolve their reviews.
3. The Power of the Pre-Meeting
If you would like to propose an idea to a group of senior stakeholders, I’ve often found it useful to think about who can help support your idea and move it forward and who could derail it. For example, before introducing a new way of setting priorities for product development, I spoke to a few key members of our Product Board on a one-to-one basis. I opened the conversation with “I’m thinking of introducing a new way of prioritising and would like to know whether you think it might work for us.” These conversations gave me early buy-in from a few of our directors as well as giving me sight of any concerns that could block progress. When I finally introduced the idea in a workshop session, already having the support of a few key influencers helped the day to run smoothly and I was able to bring information and data that addressed the concerns that had previously been raised. Early involvement means there are fewer surprises and your stakeholders have had time to digest.
4. Eat Humble Pie
When you want to move something forward, it’s easy to put the blinkers on and firmly believe that your idea is the right one. As with my earlier experience with estimating, it was important that I learned that my reading of the problem wasn’t going to drive us forward. Don’t forget, we don’t always have all the information available to us when we make decisions and sometimes, another person might know something you don’t. If someone disagrees with you, be curious and find out why.
Attaining buy-in can feel time consuming and challenging, however, it is crucial to getting things done. I’ve found that using these techniques either individually or together can make a big difference, whether delegating work or transforming how we work. Be prepared to invest time and be open to others in order to win people over to your ideas.