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As an IT Professional, part of what I do when assigned larger projects from management is to meet either formally or informally with the stakeholders, work to establish a scope and a set of requirements and then compare different solutions in an effort to find the "best" one for this particular situation. Part of this means choosing a software or hardware vendor and committing the company to the implementation and that vendor for at least the life of the project.

Occasionally I will come across a co-worker who is an IT Professional in my team or a stakeholder (either a user or someone in another department's management team) that is for lack of a better term a "fanboy" or "fangirl". Every solution that they suggest or advocate is a particular vendor or operating system regardless of how well it fits the project's business needs. It often seems to come from a personal preference that they bring into the business, generally without a complete understanding of the existing solutions and infrastructure.

For example: Person A will advocate Apple laptops because they like and use Apple laptops at home but don't consider the difficulty in integrating them with an existing Microsoft environment.

I generally try to build a rational fact-based argument that is "solution neutral" but in my experience "fanboys" are motivated by their emotional attachment to a particular solution and get defensive when presented with rational arguments. If reason and logic ruled the day the business world would look very different.

How can I work with people that are always committed to one vendor or company? How can I non-confrontationally make sure we end up with the "best" solution instead of a middle manager's new favorite "shiny toy"?

EDIT:

I love how the comments remind me of implementation meetings I have been in.

A stake holder should not be dictating architecture or software.

You underestimate the power of middle-management and the dysfunction of many work places. Ideally yes, the stake holders should just supply requirements but often they meddle in the implementation choice.

You need a person respected by the whole team to make a decision about what to use, and then the whole team must respect that decision. Who would that be in your organization?

This is tough. A lot of the time I am working with different stakeholders from heavily silo-ed workgroups so it is hard to find someone who fits this description. I have a feeling an appeal to authority would be inappropriate in the sense that the VP would wonder why we are bothering her with such "nuts and bolts" problems and why we cannot get it worked out among ourselves. But I see where you are going with this and I think in different work environment I could see a lead business analyst or a technical lead fulfilling this role successfully.

What is your definition of a confrontation?

People arguing from an emotional standpoint often have an emotional reaction when stymied — they either close up and become silent (not useful) or become recalcitrant and defensive (also not useful).

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    A stake holder should not be dictating architecture or software. If they state an Apple client is required at a business level then let that stand. Provide cost estimate of an Apple client versus Microsoft in your environment and let them justify the cost to the business. – paparazzo Jan 9 '15 at 18:55
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    The bigger the organization, the more likely you have to accept that you'll rarely be building the best solution. Live with compromise or go insane. :) – DA. Jan 10 '15 at 2:55
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    Comments removed. Remember to be nice, and please don't feed the trolls. – Monica Cellio Jan 11 '15 at 4:00
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    @kce I just want to suggest to you that you really need to do some introspection and validate that you yourself have no emotional bias or ties to particular approaches or technologies. Be objective with yourself first, before you decide to be objective about others opinions. – maple_shaft Jan 12 '15 at 12:54
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    I agree with @maple_shaft, "solution neutral" shows you have a bias. If you disagree with a fanboy, the best thing you can do is show them where their solution fails, or costs to much to implement. If you cannot, than their solution is valid. – Keltari Jan 12 '15 at 18:06
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You can never win a dispute by arguing rationally. When I took debate class I learned that an emotional argument will trump a rational one every time and my almost 60 years of life experience tells me this is true. But the best argument of all is an emotional argument disguised as a rational argument because people want to appear to be rational. (This is why debate class turned out to be the single most useful thing I took in college.)

So what you really need to do is to find out what emotions are important to the stakeholders and couch your argument in terms of what they are emotionally attached to. Note this isn't necessarily emotions like jealousy or love but what factors make them want Apple vs Microsoft. Listen to the reasons they give and look for the emotional bias behind them. Then couch your argument back so that what looks like the rational choice also seems to meet their emotional need.

For instance, some of those people really love Apple because it is what the "cool kids" use, so make them understnd that in your world the cool kids prefer Microsoft or Unix or whatever you are trying to sell to them. Part of doing that is acknowledging that yes Apple products are great for what they use them for (validating their choices because if they use it to be cool, they want others to see them as cool) but for this purpose, the big guys in the industry (name dropping is key for these people) prefer...Then give the rational reasons why (making it an emotional and rational argument, the one that trumps everything.

The trick is listening to them long enough to understand the emotional attachment they have to their choice, validating that in some circumstances this is the best choice and then attaching the same emotional argument to your preferred choice, then following up with the rational arguments so they can look good telling this to their superiors.

The example I gave is a common emotion attached to the fanboy mind set, but it not the only one. That is why you really have to get to know them and understand why they like what they like before you can effectively drive a change. It might be a motivation to keep their boss happy and they know he loves his iPad. It might be they had a bad experience with the brand you like 20 years ago. It might be they are afraid of how hard it would be to learn something new or a hundreds of other reasons. Fear is an especially powerful emotion, so really look for that one.

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    Just want to point out that "the big guys in the industry prefer ..." is a flawed argument as well. There's no guarantee that the 'big guys' made a rational choice either. – jcm Jan 10 '15 at 3:12
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    @jcm The answerer actually agrees with you that the "big guy" argument is irrational. Indeed, the answerer advocates an emotional response, disguised as a rational response. – Heisenberg Jan 10 '15 at 7:09
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    Hmm, maybe I should take a debate class as well... – Paul Manta Jan 10 '15 at 12:53
  • @Heisenberg yes you are correct, I missed that. But I'm not sure I agree with such a strategy. – jcm Jan 10 '15 at 12:57
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    "You can never win a dispute by arguing rationally." Well that is depressing. I suspect that is the root of my problem. I am trying to make a case using facts and rational discussion which is probably a waste of time. Reason apparently never wins the day. – user204 Jan 11 '15 at 1:03
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Fanboys / Fangirls have been around for a long long time. Back in ancient times (aka 1980s) the common saying was "Nobody got fired for buying IBM." Turning back the clock further to prehistoric times, I could cite Westinghouse vs Edison and the marketing that went into that "fanboy war"... but even that wasn't the beginning.

Marketing works everywhere, even in that supposed bastion of logical thinking: IT. More than that, when someone is happy with the tools that they use, they will gladly try to make sure those tools are used by everyone.

This isn't really a workplace issue but rather one of how you approach brand recognition and customer loyalty in all walks of life. That said, I'll leave you with 3 fun facts:

Fun fact 1: One of the perks of being a decision maker is that you get to impose your worldview on those around you.

Fun fact 2: Everyone who knows that there is only ONE TRUE PATH is kidding themselves. The world is far grayer than that and is more than capable of supporting the mess.

Fun fact 3: "Best" is defined by the person using the word, is incredibly ambiguous, subject to change on a whim, and few people can agree on what qualifies.


My advice: present your arguments for why you want to go a certain path and let the decision makers do the decision making. Then use your talents to make the best of it that you can.

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    I don't like this answer because it looks like the person asking the question is the decision maker. His problem isn't convincing others to make the best decisions, but rather making sure the people he's making decisions on behalf of are on board with the decisions he makes. – Kevin Jan 10 '15 at 3:27
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    @Kevin - Chris is closer than he knows. I am in charge of the implementation but I am not the decision maker. I have not been granted that flexibility and discretion - I have to clear my choices with the stakeholders. It is a weird line to walk. Why the business owners care whether my team and I decide Veeam is the best choice over Microsoft's SCDPM is hard for me to understand but I think it really just comes down to what is the cheapest. – user204 Jan 11 '15 at 1:10
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It all comes down to cost vs. rewards.

@HLGEM has provided an excellent answer which demonstrates that your fanboys may be over-estimating the rewards from implementing their solution, which, in their minds, justifies the cost. Doing as he suggests helps lower the perceived rewards (or raise the perceived rewards from the actual best solution) so that the extra cost may not be justifiable any more.


You sound like this isn't the case, but just to be complete I feel I should add that it is also possible, depending on the actual product you are creating, and the user-base who will be using it, that you are actually brushing up against additional possible business requirements that need to be addressed, or costs, to the business as a whole, that you hadn't thought of.

For the additional business requirement:
perhaps the project needs to be accessible from as wide a variety of platforms as possible. This is often the case in web development, where you want to be able to support as many clients as possible, and can't really control their hardware.

As an example of costs that the business will incur as a whole:
maybe your entire user-base is already very familiar with Apple laptops. The extra cost you haven't included in your own solution is the cost of retraining everybody to use Microsoft.


In the end, have your fanboys try to explain the gains to you. They will either be legitimate (though possibly too costly - the cost for their gains should be clearly communicated), or they will not provide value according to your requirements (and you should be able to explain why) - but always keep your mind open for requirements that aren't being explicitly stated.

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That's a classic workplace psychology question, best answered by Dale Carnegie in "How to win friends". Basically speaking, you need to let people save face while giving rational arguments; If you critisize, start with message of admiration to their achievements and ideas. It's likely a psychological, not a technical problem.

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    Care to expand your answer for those who have not read "How to Win Friends..."? An executive summary would make this a much better answer. – user204 Jan 11 '15 at 1:14
  • +1 for Dale Carnegie, I'll fill @kce in later, but it's essentially a great training/guide for customer service and working with difficult people – MDMoore313 Jan 11 '15 at 1:42
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First and beforehand: Do not dismiss automatically these requests, but investigate them. Maybe an stakeholder wants you to put your HR systems "in the cloud", but when questioned it may just mean that he wants to access the system from home. People may want to use it on Apple because they find the TimeMachine useful, maybe it is worth adding a versioning/undo functionality. Put those as additional requests (to be approved based in cost/benefits ratio).

After that, treat to reason. Person A of your example is right when he desires to use the Mac he is used to. Make it clear to him that there are more aspects involved that just that convenience, and explain that to them. If he is rational, that should end the issue.

What is left would be the real fanboys, who do not care about features and or cost, but just about being cool. Luckily in my experience is that those usually worry more about the "peripherics" (v.g. to be able to access the system from their iPhone), than the real essence of the project.

My approach is to send the message that such issues are not theirs to decide upon. Not with those words, I usually just leave it in the air:

  • "we still have not decided which technology will be better suited, once we completed getting the requirements we will study that" (at the initial phases). Note that we (IT), not you (stakeholder), will do the study and decide.

  • "in this phase we have started the development using X, so we deal with technologies we are more familiar with (and we have already or our desktops, so we need no purchases). Later on, we can see about supporting Y with a little extra effort" (at the middle phases).

  • "in this final phase we are already delayed so there is no time left to add integration with Y, we need more development/testing/etc."

Of course, inertia is always a friend at any stage. I even allows for some empathy, you would use Y if you could, but you are not allowed to:

  • "yes, it would be good to run the product on Y, but since we use X and we cannot afford to change all of the infrastructure to Y. And we cannot afford to produce and maintain two versions of it".

  • "yes, you and I see how much nicer our IT would be if we relied on Y, but the average user knows only about X and would pretty confused if we changed the system overnight".

  • "I would like/I would not mind using Y, but IT policies do not support it" (if they indeed don't).

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