When you started working, it is most likely that your boss was setting up your goals and objectives and identifying which projects should you pursue. As you progress in your career, you should notice that more often you are not only required to set your own objectives but also to be able to identify valuable projects ideas and pitch them to your boss and stakeholders.
Sounds scary? Don’t worry – this article will take you through the basics you need to know to find the next project idea that will inspire everyone around you.
Know your crowd
I talk about it very often on this blog, but knowing your stakeholders – including your boss – is crucial. By building close relationships you can learn all about their own goals and objectives, what obstacles and challenges are they facing and what is important for them overall. You will notice that some stakeholders are very particular about their time, others want to protect their teams and their workloads, others want to avoid any risks, and more often than not – they will care about all these things.
You will be going back to your stakeholders’ needs and expectations throughout the project, so it is good to know who they are, how they act, and what do they care about.
Find an idea related to your day job
When coming up with an idea for a work project, the easiest way to do so is to identify some issue ‘close to home’ – meaning something which is related to your job or which is affecting it.
In one of my previous roles, I have noticed that our SME company was using over a thousand contractors for maintenance issues. Because we had over 30 sites and 6 people managing the maintenance of them, each of them had their own contractors that they built relationships with and usually had 2-3 for each issue, ‘just in case’. I was responsible for managing contracts with these suppliers. As you can imagine, this was almost impossible.
The current Head of Maintenance decided to implement software which would manage the vendors and provide us data about the costs incurred… It would be a great idea if he didn’t quit right after implementation, leaving me somewhat responsible for the system.
As you can imagine, me in my mid-twenties at the time, trying to convince a bunch of 40-60-year-old technicians that they should rethink the way they operate wouldn’t sit brilliantly with them if I just showed up and start talking about changes. This brings me to the next point:
Get a sponsor
In bigger companies ‘sponsorship’ is an actual thing and can relate to budgets and officially paving the way for the team, however you can use this in an unofficial way in a smaller company too. A sponsor is someone who understands and believes in what you are trying to achieve. They will speak for you at the higher levels and will support the communications when needed.
Going back to my maintenance example, my sponsor became Head of Operations, to whom all the maintenance was now responding. I admit it was lucky, as this was at the same time a person who managed the team I wanted to influence and someone who deeply cared about the P&L and understood how multiple vendors are affecting us.
Your sponsor can be anyone who is high enough in the company to help you make an impact. It can be your boss, your boss’s boss, head of finance, or any other department. You don’t need to formally ask them, but when you search for the right person, talk to them about the project and observe their reaction. Do they understand how this will affect them, do they ask insightful questions, do they give you recommendations on who to talk to? If yes, they are your person.
Get the data
Before pursuing your idea, make sure you have all the relevant data and that you understand the implications of it. Before I talked to the maintenance team about reducing the number of vendors we have had, I have analyzed these in detail.
- how many vendors are there?
- how much money do we spend with each vendor?
- how often do we use them?
- how many transactions are there annually? How many invoices?
- how does a high number of vendors impact our finance team? (they have to process large number of small invoices – that takes time and money)
- how many vendors are in which category (for example how many plumbing companies, how many electricians?)
Your analysis will depend of course on the type of work that you do, my one is from the perspective of procurement category manager, so it is quite specific, but you will need the same depth of information regardless of your role:
- what numerical data can be drown? Number of instances something occurs, costs assosiated, time.
- how often does the issue occur?
- how does it affect the immediate team? How does it affect other teams?
- what will happen if we continue this way?
If you are struggling with defining your questions and analyzing your topic in more depth, drop me a message. I would love to help you out (no catch here, I will not try to sell you anything, but your experience can help me write future articles!).
Brush up your presenting skills
Once you have an idea in your head, you understand the background, you’ve analyzed the data and understood your stakeholder’s needs and worries, it is best to put all your thoughts in a presentation.
Start by listing the main problem you want to solve, for me it was:
- to reduce the number of vendors
Then think of the benefits it will bring to your company and stakeholders:
- more clarity for maintenance team
- focused on good quality vendors
- ability to negotiate better rates as more work going through less vendors
- less paperwork for the finance team, ability to consolidate to monthly invoices instead of per job
- building better relatiosnhips with vendors
- les stress about choosing the right supplier by the maintenance team
and so on. List everything you can think of.
As a next step use your data. Pick out some of the most shocking statistics or information. In the past, I would for example calculate the time needed to process the invoices and the cost for the company to pay the finance team to process them (you can find some estimates online per invoice if you are interested in doing this yourself).
To make your presentation more interactive, you can also ask your audience to guess how much does it cost them to process invoices (or do another thing that you are talking about).
Going back to my maintenance story, what I have done at this point, I have shown them an A3 piece of paper with all their vendors listed on them. That was the first shock that they have seen how many of vendors they have. We have then started going through the ones we spend the most with and the conversation was shocking. Some engineers were saying ‘Oh yes, I do use this vendor a lot, but they are terrible, but I have no one better’, but then another engineer would step in and recommend a vendor they had a great experience with. And that’s when I realized – they never talked about it between themselves.
Showing the data in the most thought-provoking form – sometimes is just one statistic pulled out or sometimes is showing the sheer volume of the basic data – will give you the best results. As people interact best with ideas that they thought they came up with. I can assure you that at this point they already started thinking that collaborating with each other and working with less and more quality suppliers is the best way forward.
Only now present a solution. Once you see the lightbulbs forming, this is the moment to share what you have come up with, or you can even ask them to suggest their solutions. Once they offer 2-3 similar to what you are proposing, you can then suggest yours. This way makes it way easier to create a buy-in without having to actually sell your idea to stakeholders.
And one last thing – presentation does not mean PowerPoint! If you decide to go for it, try to stick to a maximum of 5 slides (10 is pushing it) and only present key information. Don’t write what you are going to say, only highlight the most important fact or entertain the audience.
In the maintenance story example, I only had the aforementioned A3 sheet of paper. That was it, no computer, no PowerPoint presentation. And this created a powerful presentation by a 20-odd-year-old woman to a bunch of engineers who were at least twice my age.
Communicate in a group
This story teaches us one more thing – it is great to build individual relationships, but the best projects include communication as a group. This doesn’t need to be frequent, but putting all stakeholders in one room can create additional benefits to your project and you might realize that certain pain points show up or that they can even solve them by themselves, just by spending time to talk to each other.
So how to identify a project idea at work that will inspire your stakeholders?
Remember these simple steps:
- Know your crowd
- Find an idea related to your day job
- Get a sponsor
- Get a data
- Brush up your presenting skills
- Communicate in a group
Let me know in the comments if you would like a more detailed walkthrough.