“Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes… but no plans.” – Peter Drucker

You don’t have to look far today to find articles on the increasing rate of change we are facing. Words like disruption, competition, and innovation saturate almost every business report and blog and the pressure to be the newest, the best or the fastest to implement seems to escalate daily.


But innovation, disruption, and competition are not new, in fact, many of the landmark books such as Druckers Innovation & Entrepreneurship are like me, well into their 30’s. You are surrounded by ideas and innovations that have come before the project you are trying to implement. Change is not new.


What is new is the increased rate of change you have to compete with. Your project is one of many ideas that leaders, stakeholders and employees could buy-in to so why should they pick yours? It’s like someone hit fast-forward on Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, only this time in the survival of the fittest the species that needs to adapt is you and your project.


Now part of you is probably thinking that comparing your project to Darwin is a bit extreme; it’s not. Here is a sample of well-quoted insights from 2017.


  • 51% of executives surveyed in PWC’s 21st CEO survey said they were “extremely concerned” about the speed of technological change. According to the Harvard Business Review, this same technological change is predicted to impact all industries, not just IT.
  • At the present rate of organisational churn, Innosight’s research estimates three-quarters of today’s S&P 500 will be replaced by 2027.
  • McKinsey & Co estimate between 75 million and 375 million people may need to switch occupational group by 2030 due to automation.
  • $1.7bn of venture capital was reportedly invested in just ten start-ups that ultimately failed in 2017.
  • For the first time, the number of patent applications filed worldwide in a single year exceeded 3 million. This is up 8.3% since 2015.


What these insights tell you is that, as a project manager, you are implementing change in a world that is, in itself, changing faster. You are going to have to compete harder to get your project off the ground, for people to care about it over others, and to invest the time you need for it to succeed.


You are going to have to work your butt off at building buy-in.


Why trust and buy-in matter


In his book The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey wrote:


“Simply put, trust means confidence. The opposite of trust – distrust – is suspicion”


He’s right, over the last twenty years I have led many projects that were established to deliver the ideas of leaders across the globe.


In every instance, my key learning was this. Despite your desire for success. Regardless of the size or complexity of your project. The path to delivering it comes with risk. You are asking people to jump off a cliff with you when they don’t know whether you or your project will fly.


It is this risk about what will happen that creates suspicion about your project. It’s what makes people think about whether they trust and buy into it, or not.


You know when people haven’t bought into your project because it hurts. There is resistance to commit the financial or human resources you need. Agreements are slow and drawn-out. The critical people that you need engagement and feedback from aren’t involved or worse they have given it to someone who has more time to commit.


Sound familiar? I know it does is because the reality is that your project isn’t the only one out there. It has to compete with the plans of other leaders and project managers trying to do the same as you are and succeed.


Now, if you’re an optimist, you will believe that the trust and buy-in you need will arrive, it just takes time. In Australia, we have a saying “She’ll be right mate,” but often it’s not.


What you have to realise is that on Day 1, the only person that has bought into your project is you.  Everyone else, from you sponsors, stakeholders and team, are standing on the starting line waiting to decide whether they want to buy-in or not. At best all you have is the hope that your project will succeed.



Let’s take a look at the value of trust and how the different levels influence the buy-in and success of your project


  • TRUST should be your ultimate goal – when your project is trusted things move quickly and doors open for you. The right people have bought into it and their commitment into the future is clear. You get access to the time, money and resources you need and issues that may have cost you get resolved. You have the engagement you need from the right team and stakeholders, and everyone is satisfied with progress.
  • RESPECT is what most projects settle for – if you have good buy-in to your project you are respected and involved in people’s decision making, good progress is made. It is likely that you are one of several projects competing for precious time, money or resources so you will feel challenged. You will get frustrated when you don’t have the full buy-in you need for your project to progress at the speed you would like.
  • HOPE is where most projects start – it’s where you are when your project is largely a vision and belief but there are still a lot of unknowns. To build buy-in and trust you have to lay the foundations for people to move from hope to respect. You need to replace risk with certainty.
  • DOUBT is where most projects start to flounder – People become suspicious and progress starts to slow. If you make progress, it is down to your individual buy-in and hard work, and delivery is likely to cost you more than you would have liked because people try and implement more control. Unless trust and buy-in is regained you and your team will end up exhausted, discouraged and stakeholders will be left unsatisfied.


So, what buy-in and trust do you think your project has now? Do you have the level that you need to succeed or are you struggling to progress beyond the initial hope and excitement?


Learning from projects that have failed!


If you are struggling to get beyond hope then you should be wary of pushing ahead without the right buy-in! According to the Project Management Institute, the Top 5 reasons that projects were deemed failures in the last 12 months are the following (respondents could choose up to three answers).


  • 39% = Change in priorities
  • 37% = Change in objectives
  • 35% = Inaccurate requirements gathering
  • 29% = Inadequate vision or goal
  • 29% = Inadequate/poor communication


What these results should warn you about is that your project is likely to fail if you:


  1. Initiate work when people haven’t bought into your priorities and needs.
  2. Have the wrong team in place to define clear vision/goals, objectives, and requirements.
  3. Don’t communicate with people effectively and they don’t interact with you as a result.


These common mistakes put great projects at risk of being busted when trusted should be the goal.


The #1 thing that most project managers miss is buy-in – Do you have it? Are you trusted? Do you trust your leaders? Have you all bought into to delivering what you said you will, together!?!


If you take nothing else away from reading this article, remember this.


The single most significant commitment you can make to your project is building trust and buy-in into it


Help everyone involved understand the value of your project and help them buy into it as much as you do – once you have the rest of your project is (almost) easy!


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