Opinion: Cultivating enterprise buy-in for collaborative development

When it comes to app development, working with enterprises isn’t like working with startups. It takes additional planning and requires broader buy-in — it can also be admittedly pretty confusing.

A startup might have one or two leaders who need to green-light an app before moving forward; an enterprise might have 10. Then there’s the bureaucracy to navigate. It’s easy to get stuck in an enterprise’s maze while trading emails and setting up meetings with a dozen stakeholders and managers.

We recently experienced this while working with an enterprise on an IoT product. Even though my team proactively included all product stakeholders on communications and planning, we faced setbacks. The enterprise’s API and analytics team, for instance, blew its deadline, forcing us to shift gears outside the initial scope of design and development. Although we worked in an agile manner to minimize additional costs, we still lost time and productivity.

So while we did end up meeting the release date, we couldn’t include all the functionality for which we’d initially planned. Because we didn’t get adequate buy-in from other teams across the organization, we sacrificed functionality to get the product out the door.

Know Your Role

When working with enterprises, it’s essential to establish roles and responsibilities at the kickoff meeting. Everyone must understand how the project team is organized, what each sub team’s duties are, and where the initiative fits within the context of the larger organization.

Begin by drawing an organizational chart and filling it with people you know and as many corporate executives as you can find on LinkedIn. Titles are everything in the enterprise, so you can get a good idea of a company’s structure this way. So that you’re not operating off misinformation, ask a member of the company with whom you’ve built rapport to review your chart. The last thing you need is to learn halfway through development that you’re not working with the person who ultimately signs off on the app.

Building trust with decision makers is the key to navigating corporate politics. It’s how things get prioritized, approved, and fixed in a pinch — and it may even help you pick up projects with other departments. We’ve expanded from development to consulting roles with our enterprise clients this way.

So whether you’re kicking off app development or seeking the final sign-off, don’t be afraid to ask, “Who else needs to know?”

Own Your Role

Once you understand your role, you need to leverage it to gain buy-in from across the organization. With any enterprise, though, there are a lot of moving parts, so take these three steps to get started:

1. Centralize communications and documentation. Whatever you’re building, it’s likely that several design and development teams will work on different pieces of the product. If those pieces are to eventually come together, then specifications, documentation, product road maps and more need to be centralized. House them in a project management program like JIRA, Confluence, or Basecamp to ensure each party understands how their roles fit into the bigger picture.

Hardware team members might, for instance, share which APIs are open for the software team to call and interact with. If this is done before development begins, the software team is more apt to buy-in to the hardware team’s efforts. When everyone takes an active role in documentation and communication, the app is more likely to succeed.

2. Share deadlines and goals. Unfortunately, even when everything’s centralized, you can’t assume that everyone involved knows the deadlines to hit. Enterprise development projects are multidisciplinary and require interdependent deadlines to succeed. One failure can cascade, throwing everything out of whack.

Ideally, all teams should use a project management tool to track progress and share deadlines across the board. Then, if deadlines or goals shift, everyone can adjust accordingly and continue moving through the development cycle.

3. Skip the blame game. Accountability is important, but mistakes, miscalculations, and other problems inevitably crop up. There are two ways to handle such situations: Point fingers and blame one another — which won’t get the app out the door any faster — or work together to fix the problem.

To do so, gather key decision makers from each team (in the same room, if possible), and collaborate to solve the issue. By sharing responsibility and shelving blame, teams avoid creating permanent fissures between stakeholders and sometimes even improve buy-in.

It’s not easy juggling the demands of enterprise development, but the rewards are worth it. Working together is how organizations succeed, and a collaborative spirit makes communicating and resolving problems easier and more pleasant. Don’t forget that every jointly created enterprise product overcame hundreds, if not thousands, of unseen obstacles. If you get buy-in before beginning, yours will, too.