Tuesday 20 January 2009

Don't Tell the plan, Sell the plan

One of the top sources of frustration for engineers is not getting management buy-in for proposals that just obviously need to be done. And here's the kicker, if they really understood the business benefit of your ideas, then management would be frustrated about all the awesome stuff they've been missing out on (and in fact tend to be anyway, it's just that they don't realize that you could have already solved them). Well it doesn't have to be that way, and guess what, you are the ones that need to do something about it - not them.

Just remember the title of this post - don't tell the plan, sell the plan. As engineers, we come up with some pretty clever stuff. We're up against hard problems and we deliver smart solutions. Where we get unstuck is when we go about sharing these with the decision makers that we need to get behind them.

As engineers, we tend to think that "selling" an idea somehow devalues it - sacrifices it's integrity - perhaps we think it is sneaky, cunning, or politically motivated to properly pitch something rather than just retell the facts behind it. But believe me, for better or for worse, the things that actually end up getting done in organizations aren't the best ideas, they are the ideas that were sold the best.

Don't get me wrong - you still need that great idea, a solid business case, and a well thought through execution plan - it's just that those things alone rarely turn your proposal into a funded priority.

On a personal note, back when I was an engineer I always told myself that I'd be different, however as my career moved towards decision maker, I found that I ended up pretty much doing the exact same thing. It's not through any lack of technical knowledge or understanding of how a proposed system will work, it's simply that I do a different job now - and that job is to weigh up all the possible things we could do as a team, work out which ones will make us the most successful, and then not lose sleep over the rest.

I bet you anything your boss does exactly the same thing - he's not an idiot that doesn't seem to trust you - he just wants to quickly understand the core concept, then make a judgement based on the real cost you want today vs the potential future return against a background of all the other things he might choose to do instead. And you know what? We don't need to know exactly how the older cached inserts will be invalidated in the remote nodes once a newer update is detected locally (or whatever) in order to make that decision - but if we ask you then you'd better know!

Even if you look at it cynically - you have the best idea anyway right, so why not have the best presented idea too? If it really is the best proposal, then don't you owe it your organization to give it the best chance of becoming reality? The only danger you'll face by being better at presenting your plans is that they're more likely to get done...

So I hope I've convinced you that the presentation of your ideas is as critical to their success as the ideas themselves, so the next most obvious question is how do you do it effectively? I was planning to write something on doing presentations anyway, so come back in a few days and I'll tell you what I think.

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