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Tech Talk Live Blog

The Most Important Tool in Your Toolbox: Buy-In

Matthew Kernicky


Roughly a year ago, I wrote an article on this blog entitled Using Swimlane Diagrams to Document Business Processes. In it, I used modified versions of diagrams developed while performing business analysis for our human resources department. Roughly one year later, I find myself working on a new project with a new group of stakeholders that involves many of those same processes. Rather than start from scratch, I presented my previously developed swimlane diagrams during the first meetings of our new project as a starting point.

So everyone thought they were great, right? Well, not exactly. Members of the team felt that the swimlanes caused the flowchart to spread out a lot more. I used several off-page references to break up the flowchart into smaller pieces, making the size more manageable, but team members felt this made the flow chart more disjointed and harder to follow. Both of these criticisms are valid, but I felt the benefits outweighed these criticisms. My team members disagreed.

So I went back to my desk and simplified the flowchart. The new chart was not as clear about who was doing what, but I had to admit it was more compact and therefore easier to see the bigger picture. When I showed this new chart at the next meeting, the working group was far more receptive.

I still think swimlane diagrams are a fantastic tool. To me, they convey more information in a more elegant way than a traditional flowchart. If it were up to me, I would have stuck with the swimlanes, saving myself unnecessary rework and maintaining the clearer connection between how people, systems, and processes interact that simply cannot be done as easily through a traditional flowchart.

But it was not solely up to me. Even small projects require many decisions that can spark disagreement. Did I really want to halt our progress to debate what kind of flowchart we should use? Did I really think that was the most productive use of our collective time?

All of us have preferences for certain tools and processes. Sometimes we can get pretty passionate about them. If we can get everyone to agree to our preferred ways of doing things, that is certainly a good thing for us.

That said, nothing causes progress to grind to a halt faster than a lack of buy-in. So I am increasingly looking at team buy-in as one of my favorite tools in my toolbox. And the best part? I know that is a tool I can easily get anyone on any project to adopt.

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