Top 11 Strategies for Overcoming Bureaucratic Barriers

One of the challenges for visionaries within the federal space is agency imposed barriers.   In particular, there are a number of key phrases that you can watch out for.

  • We’ve always done it that way
  • The regulations won’t allow it
  • It’s outside defined process
  • It’s a low priority right now

As an visionary in the federal space, I have found that moving forward with those who are willing to change is the path of least resistance.   Find those who are like minded and make mutually beneficial change together.

But you can’t always find those individuals in the right place.  So here are my strategies for overcoming barriers.


Top 11 Strategies  (Why 11?  Because it’s one more than 10)

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    #11 - Solve the real problem

    Don't spend your time on problems that are distractions from what you are really trying to accomplish. If someone is saying the reason they can't do something is due to process, ask the question as to why the process can't be changed.  Techniques like the 5 why's can really help (5 why's is when you ask why questions one right after the other to get to the root cause)

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    #10 Be Passionate. Don't settle

    Generally, people resist a visionary because they can't yet see the vision.  Sometimes, it's a sales job.  If you are passionate, people will wonder what they are missing.  Don't give up.  Understand that overcoming resistance is part of the job.

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    #9 Is the juice worth the squeeze?

    How much political capital are you going to spend to get what you need?  Perhaps there is another way to doing what you want to do that is less controversial. Remember though, regulations and even laws can be changed.  If the agency wrote it, they can also change it.

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    #8 Allow a person to save face

    People will double down when they disagree with you, especially in public.   You need to provide an avenue for that person to save their reputation aka save face.  Figure this out, and people will come around, especially if they are know they are wrong and just need an out.

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    #7 - What's in it for me

     If you can tell me why something you want me to do is beneficial for me, you will have a much easier time getting what you need from me.

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    #6 - Only one way to win an argument

    Don't have the argument in the first place.   Differing opinions are good, arguing about something for arguments sake is bad.  Both parties come away losing in an argument scenario, even if you "win".

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    #5 - Build a solid case

    It is so much easier for someone to agree with you, if you have facts and data on your side.    Generally, if people who are arguing for their preference can't back it up with facts and data, their argument is weak.

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    #4 - Make friends first

    Think through the challenges you may face from people along your way.  Get to know the person as a friend before going to war with them.   It's much harder to tell a friend no, than a random person.

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    #3 - Build a Proof of concept

    Showing a proof of concept is much more powerful in trying to persuade people to your point of view.  Conceptual ideas are just hard for some people to grasp. Proof of concepts create tangible facts and data.

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    #2 - Check your bias at the door

    You need to be mindful of the fact that you approach a situation from your particular point of view.  Its called confirmation bias.  You see what you want to see.  One way to avoid this in not to assume bad intentions in people opposing your view.  The person you need to come to an agreement with, has their own reasons for coming to their conclusions.  You should approach it from a standpoint that both parties want the same thing: a great outcome for the agency involved.

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    #1 - Work with the willing

    Having passionate partners who believe in what you are trying to accomplish will get more done in the long run than having to spend your energy getting past barriers alone.  When you find them, bring them along for the ride.


About Aaron Francesconi 9 Articles
Agilist and Devops specialist working in the Federal Government Space

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