How To Stop HiPPOs Trampling On Your IT Projects

How To Stop HiPPOs Trampling On Your IT Projects

Hippos are one of the most dangerous animals on the planet. When it comes to getting IT projects off the ground, “HiPPOs” can be just as lethal. Here’s how to tame the high-level execs in your company who get in the way of your work.

Hippo picture from Shutterstock

HiPPO stands for “Highest Paid Person’s opinion” or “Highest Paid Person in the office”. It refers to when a leader in an organisation calls all the shots and are often one of the major roadblocks for getting IT projects across the line.

Larger enterprises may have the luxury of having a CIO and CTO that understands the benefits of rolling out a new piece of technology to their organisations. For organisations that don’t, decisions may rest on a business leader who has a shallow understanding of IT and tramples a project based on gut instinct, perceived resource constraints or the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality.

So how do you tame a HiPPO? Often people fear defying their superiors but managing your manager is part of the solution. In today’s organisations, the role of a leader is not to be a king who lords over his subjects issuing decrees.

As we have noted in the past, being a leader doesn’t mean deciding everything for the staff working under you – sometimes it’s better to just get out of the way of people who know what they’re doing.

If you want to sell your IT project to a stubborn HiPPO, the best thing you can do is be prepared. Think of all the questions or objections they may have and answer them based on existing data — it’s harder to argue against cold hard facts.

Another thing to remember is to relate the facts to business outcomes. This is one of the biggest challenges for IT departments. If you have trouble communicating business benefits from rolling out new technology to your HiPPO, IT vendors often produce case studies to demonstrate how the business benefits from their products, so use them to your advantage. Don’t be afraid to stand up to the HiPPO, especially if you have the facts on your side.

Have you ever had to sweet-talk a HiPPO into adopting a common-sense business investment? What tactics did you employ to get the project over the line? Share you stories in the comments section below.


  • Hi Spandas,
    Thanks for the first article.

    You give WAY too much merit to the truth. A cost/benefit analysis is the strongest avenue to argue as it puts the onus on the boss if those issues (identified in the cost/benefit) arise. The boss will be vulnerable. Obviously, it’s never sold that way.

    If you take the attitude you’re there to make it better, faster, shinier, it usually falls flat. Dealing with security issues, instability, maintainability are good.

    I’ve seen many great ideas fail because they strongly presented pros of the new proposal, but glossed over the cons of the old system. The impetus for change wasn’t quite there (despite an order of magnitude performance increase proposed).

    If the organisation’s IT needs a change, you’re in luck because the impetus for change is there already.

    • That’s an excellent point. Thank you for that! This is something I would like to explore further in future articles.

  • and maybe stop calling senior management HiPPO’s. As much as you may not like it, many if not most decisions in business are made emotionally, and when the manager inevitably finds out that they are being called a HiPPO (which they always will) they’re not going to be particularly supportive when you come asking for money

  • Hah, love the acronym for this. There is also a flipside to this scenario where your local HiPPO proposes change for change’s sake to justify their paycheque, and the onus on you is to convince the HiPPO that you already have the ideal solution in place.

  • 1. Show that the new way reduces risk
    2. Show that the new way will generate better ROI (either due to savings, risk savings or efficiency)

    Before presenting, find the key emotional issue of the HiPPO, then accentuate the benefit of the new system in overcoming this issue.

  • My workplace has the opposite problem: LiPPO (Lowest Paid Person’s Opinion). The admin ladies seem to hold a disproportionate amount of influence in the way things are run :/

  • Taking a cue from the BOFH, find out first why management are suddenly mandating that X solution is the best way forward.
    As pointed out before, cost/analysis benefits are a great to push a point – a fact vendors know all too well. If you suddenly have Someone of Influence making solution calls that they have no experience in, then get your team together to collate all the points on why slaving the payroll system to the voicemail server is A Bad Idea.
    If you put a good enough case together, they may realise they are not in a position to consider all aspects, and will get you and the vendor together to chat.
    That’s when you strike your foe down with a mortal blow !
    I mean, that’s when you rebut their proposal with a pithy, logical and business sensible counter.

    Worst case scenario is that the SoI makes a Nike call and tells you to ‘Just do it’, usually because the SoI has already promised to purchase/vendor is a close friend/someone is getting rich out of this mess.
    Months later, when it all falls apart, and there are screams of ‘Why wasn’t this pointed out at the start’, you can quietly push that manilla folder of truth across their desk, and leave them to reflect upon their exit strategy.

    This is more a survival strategy in some corporates, especially the American based ones that have an active grooming program for the upcoming young executives – often they are given a project to lead and complete as part of their ongoing assessment.
    One of these whizkids managed to knock out all the tollfree calls into a major callcentre for an entire weekend, because he listened to a vendors smooth words and not the technical specialists employed by the company.
    Even worse, he then tried blaming my team for the failure.
    So we got the voice recordings where he’s arranged this debacle with the carrier and vendor via his desk phone, and sent them to the management strata, here and in the US.

    Serve yours cold if you prefer, but I prefer my revenge to be hot as Hell

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