This week I had the pleasure of speaking to a group of Project Management Professionals in Dallas at their company’s PM forum. One of the questions that was posed to me was how to approach management with an idea or process improvement. So in this week’s blog I offer some tips on how to pitch an idea to your executive management that might need some upfront investment.
Project managers and team members working on projects often have ideas for new projects or software processes that could potentially become corporate money-makers—a project they would like to make succeed. What is often needed is a bit of seed money to create a show-and-tell prototype or solve an outstanding technical problem.
“The Wall Street Journal reports that Google has begun to hold "innovation reviews," where employees can pitch their bosses on their latest idea or product, who then in turn take the idea before Google’s ruling triumvirate of CEO Eric Schmidt and co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. It’s part of an effort to make sure the ideas conceived in a Google employee’s famous "20 percent time" have a chance to make it out of the cubicle.” (From CNet News).
So let’s say you or members of your team have a concept that could become a saleable project or product. How can you get support and money to grow this idea? The two things you need to remember about the priorities of those who allocate precious internal funds is their concern about money and consonance with organization goals and strategic plans. A new application for the iPhone may be a terrific idea, but if that is not the business your company is in, getting funding to develop the idea further is a non-starter.
Before you talk to anyone about internal funding, think through the key elements of your proposal. What could be built, how much effort would be required to develop a prototype, and most important, what customer problem would it solve if it worked. It may help to talk your idea through with other people to add meat to the bones as well as understanding the hidden flaws in your arguments.
Next, look for a corporate champion. Considering the type of project or product, find someone in your management chain who could be persuaded to advocate for this project because it is in their area of responsibility. People go out on a limb for ideas that can help them. It is the rare senior manager or technologist who will support with the authority of their position an idea solely because it is interesting or possible.
Schedule a meeting with your potential champion to pitch your idea. Prepare for that meeting by creating a short presentation that focuses on costs and benefits. Making a business case for a new idea means understanding the market, your current and potential customer’s needs, and your competition. You will likely only get one chance at this meeting, so make your presentation effective. And, do not leave out risks. Senior managers worry about risks almost as much as they worry about money.
At the end of this meeting, it is essential that you tell the manager or senior technologist what you would like them to do. Don’t assume that they will take the ball and run with it. Ask them to make a call or set up a meeting with decision makers. Ask them to advocate for financial support.
It may be tempting to ask them who else you should talk, however, that can be a risky strategy. If they think your request can be met with a referral, they may take the safe way out of the dilemma of putting themselves out for you by passing you on to someone else. Your goal is to get an advocate and champion not get passed around until someone says yes or no.
Leave a copy of your presentation with them. Follow up. You won’t always get what you want or the way you want it, but you might get some help. You also may enhance your corporate reputation by showing your creativity, business sense, and desire to help the company become more successful.