Nobody is great at advocating for change; it’s hard to do.

I’m particularly bad at it, and for most of my career when people approached me for design guidance, roadmapping, ‘what’s next’-ing, or when I had any kind of seat at the table, my input was quickly classified (politely) as ‘whiny’ and discarded by the person / team.

You can tell if this is happening to you because the bulk of the room tunes out and one unlucky volunteer will try to soothe you while half-heartedly arguing down your point.

Instead, list priorities

Don’t pick a hill to die on. It may seem like taking the one ring to mordor is the best, direct, and only way out of this mess but newsflash – our team is too small and inexperienced (two hobbits and a something, and the something is off his meds).

Instead, keep a mental model of:

  • the problem
  • which parts of your company / product / team it affects
  • what the whole team can do to fix it

Then you can offer coherent advice: recruit archers to repel the war elephants, send an ambassador to give the horse king his nemenda, invest in anti siege equipment. We should also send the hobbits to mordor because that will solve the root cause of the problem but if we fail at that, we’ve at least repelled the invasion plus gotten that pesky gollum out of our hair for a few months.

Priorities are better because

They let you:

Put everyone in a flexible mindset: When you make a list the argument shifts from ‘what’s our only option’ (contentious) to ‘what belongs on the list’ (cooperative) to proper order (often left to experts and susceptible to evidence and fact-seeking).

More often get what you want, or at least what you ask for: Advocate for multiple things, get some fraction of them, and still get the social boost of winning.

Bridge the gap between competing interests through compromise: ‘I think we should do X before Y’ or ‘invest more in Z than A because’ leaves a lot of room to leave your core stuff on the agenda even if someone else at the table has a pet project and the oomph to push it through.

Sound like you're making an argument: Arguments and decision making are seldom logical. Sounding like you’ve made a point matters – people will remember it even if there’s no proof. This is how judging american idol works I think (I’ve only seen short clips). A line like ‘this is the order because X is more important than Y’ will force a serious rebuttal and focus the group on that claim.

Ask for more than one thing without sounding crazy: Rather than sounding greedy when you show up with a big or complicated plan, you’re doing the team a favor by ordering work. Priorities sounds like ‘any’ not ‘all’.

Have consistent execution: Some teams switch out plans too often because ‘what is the one thing we should be doing’ changes. If the focus is on ‘top 3’ rather than the end-all & be-all, you can be more resistant to these changes. And if priorities swing widely, with urgency, you can be sensitive to that and change course.

Bottom line

Don’t be whiny – instead, be convincing and flexible by making an ordered list.