September 18, 2012

Ok. Your team is backed into a corner. You know what the right decision is — technical or political — but are, presumably, adamantly disagreed with in your organization. In spite of knowing what you’re in for, you want to take a stand. You need to do two things, quickly and effectively. First, you need to credentialize yourself in front of everyone involved at the same time. Second, you need to focus on the contrasting effect each decision will have on the company, both in the immediate future and in the long term.

Quick and effective credentialization is difficult, but here are some tips. First, know your sources: for instance, if you’re referencing software design, know names like Martin Fowler, Kent Beck, and Bob Martin. When you understand and can cite what the leaders in your industry believe, you’re leveraging effort that they’ve already spent to win battles that they’ve already won. It’s difficult to stand up and refute what the industry experts collectively believe and not look foolish, making this a fairly effective credentialization tactic. Another one, of course, is speaking about direct experience you might have had dealing with the particular challenges and struggles that your organization is experiencing, and how it went for you. Direct experience is not always available, but when it is, it’s potent. No one can really refute that what you’re saying is true if they weren’t there, can they? It also builds confidence that you’re a trustworthy source on whatever matter you tend to be fighting over, given that you’ve seen this before.

This one’s a little more difficult, because it tends to be regarded as highly subjective, even if you know it’s quantifiable: focusing on the impact that each decision will make on the company in the short and long term. The best advice I can give here is to pull from case-studies: when 5 out of the 6 Fortune 10 companies that attempted big-bang rewrites in 2012 abandoned them half-way through, and the 6th is facing another rewrite, that’s evidence. It may be incidental. It may even be refutable. But it is case-building and adds another line of defense. Talk impersonally about the forthcoming affect that each decision will have, so that the only side you’re representing is the side that’s best for the company. Speak eloquently, and formulate your responses carefully. Articulate your concerns. Leave it all on the table, and go update your résumé. The rest is out of your hands.


John is a serial conversationalist who spends entirely too much time engulfed in problem domains he knows nothing about and has no earthly business trying to learn. He can occasionally be found at your local coffee shop writing algorithms and trying to think deep thoughts.