Friday I had the pleasure of hanging out with some Fortune 100 technology folks interested in supporting their teams using blogs and wikis. As we talked about how to implement the “discipline” of blogs and wikis (and in my words, “killing off email,” but I’ll save that for a separate post), it occurred to me that I had yet to post on negotiating technology implementation.

Negotiation is a process whereby involved parties decide on what each will give and take in an exchange between them (Rubin and Brown, 1975). I find great power in applying the ideas of integrative negotiation (e.g., Fisher & Ury’s great book “Getting to Yes”) to technology implementation. I first published on this approach in 1996 and push this approach as a mainstay of my Managing Technology and Innovation course and consulting.

Negotiated implementation is a process whereby the stakeholders of a technology implementation determine what each will give and take in order for the technology to be put into use. Negotiated implementation is different from user participation or user involvement in that it acknowledges that power, as well as information, is distributed amongst the stakeholders.

Evidence of power, even among the lowest hierarchical strata, can be found in the history of implementation failures, or Luddism more generally. Basically, users have the power to say no to a technology, or at least not to use it as designed (see descriptions by DeSanctis and Poole; and Jasperson, Carter, and Zmud). Negotiated implementation addresses this power explicitly, by acknowledging users and other parties, rather than relegating such power to an unmanaged undercurrent. The steps include (Using a project team wiki implementation as an example):

  • Identify stakeholders: Users (perhaps including different groups of users – team members, customers of the team), Technical Support Staff
  • Ideally, verify that the stakeholders have the basics of integrative negotiation in their skill set (or provide a brief training).
  • Identify possible issues: Are wikis allowed by corporate IT policy? What kinds of “permissions” are needed for people to make edits? Can edits be made by anyone, or just team members? Will edits trigger notifications to other users?
  • Identify different options within each issue: Edits can be made by anyone – but options will have to be determined for whether or not a login name is needed, whether anonymous edits can be made, etc. (A spreadsheet may be useful for outlining the stakeholders, the issues, and the variety of outcomes possible within each issue.)
  • Do multiple rounds assessing the costs and benefits of each for each stakeholder group. Through discussion, or a formal negotiation process, improve initial estimates of stakeholder preferences, add issues, and/or break apart complex issues for greater flexibility.

This background sets the group up for negotiating across the issues and possible options within each issue. Ideally, in an integrative negotiation, the stakeholders (negotiating partners) will trade off such that issues that are of minor importance to a group will be conceded for concessions on higher importance issues. Thus the IT group might concede that the security issues posed by wiki’s are acceptable as long as a verified registration process is used for logging in. The benefits of the wiki collaboration process (of major benefit to the users) offset the security issues, given a trade off of a more rigorous log-in process (a minor negative to the users, but of huge importance to the IT staff).

Good negotiated implementation, like most good negotiations, is likely to result in a final outcome that is different than imagined by any one party at the outset. By integrating, a better outcome can often be developed meeting more of the needs of each of the parties – a solid foundation for implementation success. For more on negotiated implementation, please see: Griffith (1996) Negotiating successful technology implementation: A motivational perspective Griffith & Sobol (2000) Negotiating medical technology implementation: Overcoming power and stakeholder diversity Griffith, Tansik, & Benson (2002) Negotiating successful technology implementation: An empirical investigation of World Wide Web use