Pitching a Project

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Let’s say you have the greatest idea in the world, a perfect plan to implement it and can guarantee a successful outcome way before deadline and under budget. This may be the only kind of project that pitches itself. Of course, the problem is that like Santa Claus, such a project simply doesn’t exist except as an illustration of an unattainable ideal. For project managers who work outside of fantasyland, the initiatives they seek to undertake require that situation that most IT professionals dread more than the most fearsome Trojan horse or offshoring contract: the boardroom pitch.

So, pop quiz, hot shot: You’re standing in your company’s conference room, surrounded by dour, frowning big wigs. You’re about to launch into a PowerPoint presentation on your huge, expensive, time-consuming transformation of the organization’s IT environment. What do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO?

First of all, let’s back up a bit. We’re getting ahead of ourselves here. Let’s start at the beginning, when the idea forms in your head. Specifically, what makes this project an ultimately beneficial one for your enterprise? Is it the five nines of accessibility to the company’s server? The $2 million saved each year in IT expenditures? The 25 percent improvement in efficiency in organizational processes? All of these? To borrow one of Stephen Covey 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you should begin with the end in mind. Once you’ve gotten a good idea of the advantages, start to think about potential obstacles and drawbacks, because the people you’re going to pitch the project to certainly will be. Prepare to counter their concerns with reassurances of how you plan to deal with likely contingencies and ensure that the risks are indeed worth it.

After this mental exercise, in which you essentially “sell” the project to yourself by thinking it through, you’re ready to get the pitch process underway. The first step is identifying the right person — or people — to pitch to, the folks who can really make it happen. Don’t spin your wheels by trying to discuss your project with someone who doesn’t have the authority to sign off on it. Few things are more deflating than going through a long spiel, only to have the person you’re addressing say, “Well, all that sounds nice, but you should really be talking to…” Also, if the individual in question is a notorious naysayer who has a reputation for responding to such requests in the negative, and he or she can be avoided, find someone else who will give your proposal a warmer reception.

Once you’ve identified that person or group, set up a time to speak briefly and informally about your idea with him/her/them. Use this meeting to give them a kind of outline of what you have in mind, what your general expectations are and how this will benefit the company. Don’t go into too much detail here: This isn’t the pitch, just a preliminary encounter designed to intrigue them and generate interest in the idea among them and their colleagues. As musician Bobby Womack once said, “Leave them wanting more, and they’ll always call you back.”

Another key point to make here is that your pitch has to come at the right time. If your company is in the middle of a merger or is downsizing a few thousand workers to pay off debts, then it might be better to hang on to that idea until another day further down the road (or find a similar job with another employer that might be more amenable to the project).

After you’ve turned the right people on to the project and determined that the iron is hot enough to strike, then you can set up the big pitch — the hard sell. Organize your arguments for the project into a condense, punchy and persuasive push. Keep the high-tech jargon out of it, obviously, but also try to tone down the corporate babble as well. Frequent use of phrases like “cultivating next-gen paradigms” or “synergizing extensible platforms,” especially if there are no real ideas behind them, will just annoy the suits. Also, present the information in a digestible medium such as PowerPoint, which is the modality par excellence among the C-levels and managers of Corporate America.

Finally, be prepared to compromise a few of the ideas that make up your project in order to see it come to fruition. Don’t get caught up in notions of purity, as so many IT pros do, and pitch your project as an all-or-nothing proposition. Remember, you may know a lot, but the organization’s leaders do too, and it’s possible that the initiative will benefit from the insights that come from their knowledge and experience.

Now, go get ‘em!

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