3 secrets to pitching a project idea at work

Have you come up with a great idea to improve your company, but you are struggling to find traction with your boss and stakeholders? Is it hard for you to convince others that your idea is worth pursuing? Pitching a project at work is actually not that hard if you follow simple steps.

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Things to remember

Before we get into the details of preparing your pitch, I just wanted to highlight a few things for you to keep in mind throughout the process.

It is going to take time

All ideas, no matter how great take time to implement. Your boss and stakeholders might have various objections that you will have to overcome as you go. You should also remember that unless your project idea is high on their list of priorities, it will take longer for them to respond or make decisions. So prepare for a long game.

They will say no

In most cases, your stakeholders will say no initially to your project or will try to pick holes, or at least it will feel like this. The reason they are doing this is to identify potential risks and make sure that you have thought this through thoroughly. Don’t be put off by this. If you believe that your project will benefit the company, keep working on your idea.

Do you have time to lead it?

Your boss might be concerned about your workload when you are pitching an idea that will take a considerate amount of your time. You can suggest how you going to handle your ongoing work or provide evidence that this project will be much more beneficial to the company. Some people advocate for showing your boss that you have spare time to handle the project, but I would advise against it. Showing that you have spare time, can suggest that you need your boss to assign you more work and it might be from the projects that you are not so excited about. Personally, I would stick to showing the short-term options of handling your workload rather than suggesting that you are out of tasks.

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First Secret: Analyse, question, assses

This is the basis of any well-prepared project or a project pitch. You need to make sure you have an in-depth understanding of the problem that you are trying to solve. Make sure that you look at it from every angle. Not only how it looks now and how you want to change it, but what are the longer-term consequences of implementing your plan? And what are the long-term consequences of not implementing it?

Ask as many questions as you can think of to understand stakeholders’ views of the situation. Is there anything else that is more pressing for them? Is there anything that makes this project important? What are other priorities they have?

Consider as well what objections your stakeholders might have, and listen to any concerns they have. Have a think if they are solvable? Is there anything you can implement in your plan to prevent them from happening? Being able to assess risk adequately is a very important ability when creating projects.

You can think of implementing new software to your company as an example. It may solve some problems, it may support teams to be able to track their productivity or make more visibility to the wider business, but how the implementation is going to look like? How many people will need to be involved to link it to your internal systems? Would there need to be any changes to internal procedures, or would the system adapt? How long will the training take and who will be doing the training? How many people need to be trained? What if someone takes longer to learn? Will implementing this system have any long-term consequences outside of the immediate team using it? This leads us to the second secret to pitching a project idea at work.

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Second Secret: Identify ALL stakeholders

Have a think for a moment as well if your project – or the problem you are solving – is going to affect other areas of the business. This is a very important factor, as when forgotten it can cause long-term problems and struggles for other internal teams (or even external).

For example, in one of my previous companies, the Head of Maintenance implemented a new maintenance system to commission vendors. It was a great idea on paper as it was supposed to simplify how his team works and help him track the works. Instead of calling and having no trace of the works done, the team was supposed to log all jobs via the system, which would match them with a suitable supplier.

Unfortunately, the person who implemented this system didn’t think about the other departments and didn’t consult us on the project. The system was linking his team to the random vendors that were selected by the company leading the software. The software was used as a bridge between us and the maintenance companies, however in the end it was the end vendor raising an invoice.

It has caused lots of issues for the purchasing department, as we had no contracts, or even basic agreements in place, we have never run background checks on them or negotiated pricing. In long term, we were exposing our company to a lot of risks and cost increases, as the costs were not challenged and just went through the system.

It has also caused numerous issues for the finance department, especially AP, as the vendors were not set up in our internal systems. Finance had to verify each individual invoice manually with the maintenance engineers and then – manually again – add the vendor to the finance system. It was not only time-consuming but also left lots of opportunities for errors and delays in payments to small vendors, who were relying on timely payments.

If both our purchasing department and the finance department were consulted on the structure of this system, even though implementation would take longer, we could have it organized in a smooth way. Or perhaps we would have identified that such a system is not the right product for us and we would look for something more suitable (which we ended up doing in the end. I believe the system we used went bust a few months later).

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Third Secret: Simplify

If you do a word search on my blog, the first word you would get the most hits would be most likely ‘stakeholder’ and the second ‘simple/simplify’. I do believe in simplicity. Very often people use big words, creative graphics, or complicated tables and graphs to show how intelligent they are. But when we are presenting an idea to a wider audience, the spotlight doesn’t need to be on you. You have already proven your worth and importance by getting the job and analyzing an issue that the company is facing. Now is time to put the spotlight on the idea.

You can still do a 20-page presentation filled in with graphs, use big words, and complicated analysis, but I can bet you that it will take you longer to get your stakeholder buy-in than if you used a 3-page presentation and talked in simple terms.

You can still do a 20-page presentation filled in with graphs, use big words and complicated analysis, but I can bet you that it will take you longer to get your stakeholder buy-in than if you used a 3-page presentation and talked in simple terms.

The secret to having your ideas heard is making them easy to be heard. If you explain your idea easily, make it simple to digest to listeners, they are more likely to agree to it quicker. Making things more complicated, will only mean that they will need more time to process it and make sure that they do understand what you are trying to achieve and how.

No executive – hopefully – is not going to make a decision regarding a project they do not understand, as they have to understand how this will affect their business. If you provide them with too much complicated information, they will need to take it away to absorb it. But as you know, other things usually take priority and your project might get attention at the very end of the queue – if ever.

So how to prepare a simple version of your idea?

  1. Sitck to 3-5 pages if using PowerPoint or 1-2 if it’s a Word document. Reduce the word count to only necessary words and make sure that graphics are self explanatory and have all required legends.
  2. Do a ‘mum test’ – would your mum understand what you are talking about if you were to give a presenatation to her? Otherwise, you can also do your presentation first to a collegue who has nothing to do with your project, so for example, if you are in finance, tell it to the Head of Marketing or Product and see how they react and what questions will they ask.
  3. Have a data file at hand – the questions will come and you need to be prepared for them. But instead of putting all your eggs in one basket – the presentation – keep the data at hand in a well prepared Excel file, that you can whip out if needed.

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