Elevator pitch for your proposals

Why do you need an “Elevator Pitch”?

When you are a project owner, manager or a sponsor you get asked what the project is about. This is important because bosses, employees, customers, and partners all need to “buy in” and get excited about your idea. They will form an initial impression in three minutes or less. This first impression is the lens through which everything else is viewed. If you are not able to clearly communicate what the project is about and why you are doing it, then the chances of getting the necessary funding or support for the project will rapidly diminish. Busy executives get bombarded with ideas and proposal many times every day. Even when you have a great idea, if they don’t understand it quickly the opportunity is lost.

A well-articulated message or an ‘elevator pitch’, while not a guarantee of success, is an important part of selling an idea. The problem is that many people don’t have a prepared pitch or story that they can tell and so the opportunity to sell an idea walks out of the door.

What is an ‘Elevator Pitch’?

An elevator pitch is a crisp message that communicates key features of the project in a succinct way so that others can easily understand it. Imagine if you get asked about the project in the lift going up to your office. Can you communicate what the project is about before the elevator gets from the ground to the tenth floor?

A good elevator pitch covers what problem you are trying to solve, who it will benefit (i.e. the customers), how you are going to solve it (the solution approach), what efforts/ investments are required (e.g. time, resources and money) and what the next steps are (i.e. what support you need). An elevator pitch is intended to give just enough information to get others interested in your proposition without overwhelming them with a flood of information.

An elevator pitch is a tool to help you communicate your proposition or your idea to others who have a stake in its success. To start, you need to have done your homework and have a clear idea about the ‘project’. It is worth spending some time with your team to prepare answers to following basic questions.

An elevator pitch is a tool to help you communicate your proposition or your idea to others who have a stake in its success. To start, you need to have done your homework and have a clear idea about the ‘project’. It is worth spending some time with your team to prepare answers to following basic questions.

Step 1 – Describe the Problem or the Opportunity

  1. What motivated you to launch this idea? What is the key problem or need? A real life story or scenario about the problem helps the audience understand the problem or need in personal terms and agree that it is an interesting problem that needs fixing.
  2. Who else is doing something similar? What problems or success have they encountered?
  3. How long would it take?

Step 2 – Define Your Solution to the Problem

  1. What is your approach to solving the problem? Where do you start? When do the first results appear?
  2. Is what you are delivering different from what others are delivering? In what way? What are the alternatives?
  3. Who would be the users or customers? Would it be easy or difficult for them to use/adopt this?
  4. How would the solution benefit the customers, save time, save costs, increase quality or generate more revenue? Are the benefits easy to see?
  5. When would these benefits be delivered? How much it would cost?

Step 3 – Describe the Implementation Plan and Risks

  1. What are the key activities in the implementation?
  2. What are the key decisions that need to be made?
  3. Who will do the work (e.g. internal staff or suppliers)? Do we have the skills or expertise to do the project?
  4. Who will oversee the implementation? Who is involved in making the key decisions?
  5. What are the major deliverables or milestones? When will they occur?
  6. What are the key risks and how you are addressing them?

Step 4 – What Funding is Available and what is Needed?

  1. Do you have enough funding to do the project?
  2. Where is the funding coming from?
  3. Do you have full funding or there are progressive rounds of funding? What are the milestones (or success measures) for additional funding?

Step 5 – Describe the Support Needed to Ensure Success

  1. Who is supporting this initiative? Why are they supporting it?
  2. What type of support are they providing?
  3. How do you plan to communicate/sell the project internally? What opposition do you see?

Step 6 – Consolidate, Practice and Deliver

There are a number of questions to consider in preparing the pitch. Based on your situation only a few would be included for your pitch. But having considered these questions you would have fully analysed the opportunity and will be ready to face questions that may arise.

Delivering the pitchThe pitch is a tool to educate and communicate so be clear, don’t use jargon! Create a tag line that captures the essence of the idea, e.g. “loans approved in five minutes” or “eliminating errors by data entry using smart phones”. Focus on the opportunity problem you’ve encountered and why your solution is the best for providing value and benefit to the customer. Make the argument compelling.

A typical closing statement may be – “We are solving an important problem, with a solution that works. We understand the risks and challenges ahead. We have a team that can execute. We need X dollars to reach Y milestone. We need your support to help us achieve this success. “

Keep the pitch concise and conversational. A pitch that has about 230 words would take a minute to deliver. Don’t come across as if you are lecturing or giving a long monologue. Ask a question to engage the listener. Your pitch needs to be credible. Avoid the temptation to overpromise or underestimate the cost or efforts. Use hard numbers wherever possible to demonstrate that you have done your homework. Be specific about the benefits and the support or resources needed for success. Tailor your pitch to the needs and interests of your audience while keeping the basic message consistent.  Finally, practice delivering your pitch on your team and colleagues. Time it to keep it short but relevant. Show passion and confidence. Ask them to join the crusade.

If, as a result of your pitch, they want to know more and invite you for a meeting you have succeeded in your task!

Acknowledgement: This article is based on a lecture by Prof. Lynda M. Applegate at Harvard Business School.

Running IT as a business: Myth or reality

IT as a business

In January this year Bob Lewis posted an article in Infoworld titled “ Run IT as a business — why that’s a train wreck waiting to happen“. In this article, Bob suggests that a lot of current thinking about running IT like a business is misguided and leading CIOs in the wrong direction. This article explores what is ‘Running IT like a business’ and what should a CIO do?

The myth of the internal customer – IT is expected to treat internal departments as customers and deliver them the software or projects that they have asked for. The problem is that customers don’t always know what they want and they are reluctant to commit anything to paper. Even if they do commit something to paper their thinking (and often budgets) demand a “silo” solution which only partially meets the needs of the enterprise. As a result, IT architecture suffers. IT becomes just an order-taker and not a partner.

IT Costs are always too high – Comparing costs of IT services to the external market is always fraught with danger. Why does a corporate laptop cost $2000 when I can buy a laptop from the local store for half of that price? It doesn’t matter that the other would not run corporate applications or the reliability is too low or it does not include software licenses. Similar stories are heard about the network costs, applications and hosting.

Challenge of the charge-back – IT as a business is expected to charge internal customers for its services. Charge-back is a popular mechanism for this. However, charge-back can create unintended behaviours, where departments try to reduce costs by avoiding IT services. I know a department, which stopped using help-desk for password resets due to the cost of the calls. This resulted in major security issues. Rather than figuring out how to reduce the overall costs, departments tend to focus on individual cost reductions.

IT seen as a vendor – Business begins to see IT as a vendor (usually an expensive one). This results in an arms-length relationship between IT and the rest of the business. As a result, trust begins to erode and outsourcing IT begins to look like an attractive proposition.

Bob believes, “The alternatives begin with a radically different model of the relationship between IT and the rest of the business — that IT must be integrated into the heart of the enterprise, and everyone in IT must collaborate as a peer with those in the business who need what they do.”

Is IT ready for the radical model?

Bob’s comments are spot-on! I agree that turning IT into an internal business unit, which conducts business transactions with other departments, is a less than optimal model. So what should a CIO do? For IT to be accepted as a credible internal partner there are a few things IT needs to get right.

  • Is IT managing service right? – When IT fails to deliver basic services and project, it would be impossible to develop any meaningful relationship with business.
  • Is IT managing the budget right? – If IT budgets are not predictable and IT does not understand or manage its costs, IT would not have much credibility in the enterprise.
  • Is IT investment generating value for the business? – IT must be able to demonstrate that its projects and investments support the business strategy and deliver benefits for the business such as, revenue growth, cost reduction, better decisions or reduction in risk.
  • Is IT managing the resources (or capability) right? – IT capabilities consist of people, technology assets, intellectual capital (processes and know-how) as well as relationships (trust and shared ownership). Successful IT groups leverage these capabilities to deliver and sustain competitive advantage for the business.
  • Is IT managing the “business of IT” right? – Managing the business of IT means managing the costs of IT services and projects, managing demand for services, having effective governance processes along with delivering and communicating value.

IT as a businessThe “radical model” moves the focus from managing IT like a business to managing IT for business value. When IT is solely focused on chargeback and internal customer requirements, it is not always working in the best interests of the enterprise as a whole. But it is neither easy nor straightforward to make the transition from the traditional to the new operating model. Martin Curley of Intel uses the business value maturity framework to describe the journey.

Managing IT for Value

There are interrelated challenges of managing IT for business value (or contribution to business success), management of IT budget, IT capability and managing the business of IT.  IT groups gradually move from one maturity level to the next and need different strategies at each level.

Managing the IT budget

The initial challenges are to get a handle on IT costs and budget and apply financial discipline of expense control as well as forecasting to ensur

Managing IT for Value

There are interrelated challenges of managing IT for business value (or contribution to business success), management of IT budget, IT capability and managing the business of IT.  IT groups gradually move from one maturity level to the next and need different strategies at each level.

Managing the IT budget

The initial challenges are to get a handle on IT costs and budget and apply financial discipline of expense control as well as forecasting to ensure that the budget is predictable. Many IT shops cannot forecast half-year or year-end expenses confidently. Executing the strategies for systematic cost reductions (e.g. demand management, SOE, adjusting service levels, BPR etc) is the next level of maturity. Optimising costs by adjusting refresh cycles or managing risk reward trade-offs is the final level of sophistication.

Managing the IT capability

IT capability is what IT can do for the business. Improving IT capability is about keeping up with the business demands and reducing the gap between demand and IT delivery. The IT capability stages of maturity are:
  • Technology provider – IT as an order-taker who can be counted upon to provide basic technologies and applications that the business requires.
  • Technical experts – IT as providers of technology services. IT is invited to provide technical inputs and expertise. Typically at this stage IT has limited business understanding.
  • Business partners – IT are included in developing business plans and solutions. IT has a good understanding of business and can engage with the business well. IT is proactive and is able to propose innovative solutions. However, the difficulty in going from good service providers to this level should not be under estimated. According to Bob Lewis, innovative CIOs are operating at this level. As Mazda CIO Jim Dimarzio writes in his CIO article, “Being in the room, however, did not automatically equate to involvement.” Jim had to develop the IT capability to effectively engage with the business and contribute to business processes and priorities.
  • Corporate core – IT is considered a core capability and a source of competitive advantage. IT has a track record of innovations that are a major source of competitive advantage.

Managing IT as a business and managing for value

I believe both these strategies are closely related. When IT is run effectively as a business it creates significant value.  The stages of maturity are:

  • Cost centre/cost focus – IT understands and manages the cost of the services well. Cost and quality of service are seen as important. Expenditure is controlled and technology life-cycle costs are considered in investment decisions.
  • Customer /benefits focus – The focus of IT engagement changes from cost to value or business benefits. Formal tools such as business case/Return on Investment (ROI) are used. Services are designed with customers’ needs in mind.
  • Portfolio approach – More sophisticated approaches are used to select investments using portfolio management and value management techniques. IT has effective measures of customer service. Mechanisms such as chargeback are used for fair distribution of IT costs and as a way of changing consumption patterns.
  • Value Centre – The organisation systematically optimises its value using portfolio management, risk trade-off and alignment with strategy. IT demonstrates a different mindset. IT has a strong stakeholder focus and is aligned to organisations’ value drivers where technology is seen as a tool rather than an end.

Conclusion

In closing, I quote Bob’s advice, “Don’t act like a separate business. Do the opposite — be the most internal of internal departments. Become so integrated into the enterprise that nobody would dream of working with anyone else.”

Building effective vendor partnerships

When companies announce technology deals both the company and the vendor are keen to describe the deal as a partnership and not a transaction.  This is because a partnership sounds more strategic. There is hope that this relationship between the company and the vendor can create some long-lasting value or mutual gain, but the reality soon bites. The relationship soon changes from a partnership to transacting, which often leads to bickering and disappointment. Papers regularly report stories of long-term sourcing or services partnerships that are not renewed or are cut down in size. This makes us wonder if the vendor partnership is simply just a myth. Continue reading “Building effective vendor partnerships”

Are you a good boss?

 

In a recent issue of the McKinsey Quarterly, Stanford Professor Bob Sutton published an article that provides some advice to bosses at the top of organisations. Much of this advice is also relevant to CIOs and other IT leaders. Below is an edited extract from the article. Are you a good boss? Do you practice the things bob suggests?

Bosses Matter

Almost 95% of people who work have bosses or are bosses. The bosses set the tone, the rules and guide at close range. Bosses are important because for more than 75% of people employees, dealing with their direct boss is the most stressful part of their job. Those just below the boss in the pecking order constantly have to deal with the boss’ virtues, quirks and habits. A Swedish study indicated that men with bad bosses suffered 20-40% more heart attacks than those with good bosses.

Bosses matter but those that are higher up in the organisation matter the most. Whether they realise it or not, bosses cast long shadows. Their moves are observed constantly by their followers, who in turn will regularly magnify and mimic their moves. Often the subordinates know more about the boss and his/her habits than the boss him/herself. If the boss has an autocratic management style the subordinates tend to become autocratic. If the boss interrupts people when they are talking, the subordinates tend also to pick up this trait. The Executive’s actions (rather than words) reverberate through the rest of the organisation and can change or undermine the organisation’s culture. I have seen that within a year of the arrival of a new CEO, the culture of the organisation can change dramatically.

The best bosses stay in tune with the relentless attention given to them and are aware of power of the long shadow they cast. They use it to their advantage in setting the direction and showing that they are in charge. These bosses understand how others see them and adjust their behaviour accordingly. Effective bosses know how to take control and how to boost the performance of their organisation. The bosses who don’t know this find their tenures shortened.

Take Control

The first and most important thing that new bosses should do is convince others that they are in charge. Those who fail at this first hurdle will find their jobs impossible. In today’s organisations, leaders often get more credit (and blame) for the organisations successes than they deserve. The reality is that bosses only influence 15% of performance but receive 50% or more credit for it. This is reflected in the large salaries some Chief Executives receive. However, perception is reality. The bosses who admit they don’t have much influence on performance outcomes would lose the confidence of the team that they lead.

Bob lists four ideas to improve the perception of control:

1.  Express confidence even if you don’t feel it

In 2002, when Intel’s CEO Andy Grove was asked how leaders can act confident even when they have doubts he said, “Investments and decisions don’t wait for the picture to be clarified. You have to make then when you have to make them”. When leaders pump themselves and act confident, they start feeling confident. A leader’s confidence inspires their followers.

2. Don’t dither

Indecision, delay and waffling are hallmarks of a weak boss. If the boss makes quick decisions it creates the illusion that they are in charge. Others don’t mind if the boss changes his mind some time later as new information emerges. People don’t like the boss procrastinating before making each decision.

3. Get and give credit

As mentioned before, bosses tend to receive more credit when their people do good work. Smart bosses know this and can leverage this to their advantage. These bosses know people like to work for the winners so when mentioning accomplishments they give copious credit to others. The best bosses routinely give more credit to their team than they probably deserve because when they do this everyone wins. The boss gets the reflected credit and the team thinks the boss is truthful. Outsiders think that the boss is competent but also modest and generous.

4. Blame yourself

Just as bosses get most of the credit when things go right they get the lion’s share of the blame when things go wrong. When something bad happens, the boss is expected to know. Leaders who denounce others for their troubles come across as less than honest and powerless. By refusing to take responsibility they raise the question, “are you really in control?” Managers who accept the blame and responsibility are seen to be more powerful and competent than those who avoid the blame.

However, the key is not just to accept the blame and say sorry. Instead the boss should take immediate control of the situation, show that they have learned from their mistakes and announce new plans. When these plans are implemented the boss should make sure everyone understands that the improved results are due to the new plans.

Bolstering performance

Bosses can bully and force people into short term performance gains. But in the long term these are counter-productive and undermine worker creativity and morale. Bob suggests three strategies that the best bosses use to focus on boosting the performance of their people:

1. Provide safety

Good bosses encourage learning by creating a safety zone where people can talk about half-baked ideas without the fear of ridicule or punishment. Many organisations have a strong fear of failure. Creating psychological safety is the key to unleashing new ideas and creativity in the workplace. The absence of psychological safety in conjunction with fear of the boss can lead to negative consequences. When people fear reprisals, errors tend to be hidden and not admitted. Feedback and improvements stop which in many cases can result in more significant problems down the track.

2. Shield people

The best bosses shield their people from criticism or premature judgement from others that can undermine their work. Teams who enjoy such protection have the freedom to take risks and try new things. Good bosses provide their people with the resources and experts to do the work and air cover to get on with the job without unnecessary distractions and criticisms.

Good bosses are especially adept at protecting their people’s time, for example by eliminating unnecessary meetings or keeping them short. They also try to eliminate needless reviews and activities often initiated by outsiders so that the team can focus on the job at hand.

3. Make small gestures

The late Robert Townsend, CEO of Avis and author of the masterpiece Up the organisation, referred to the phrase “thank you” as a, “really neglected form of compensation”. It is a sad reality that too many projects end without acknowledgement and celebration. The best managers take the time to express their appreciation to their people even when the project has gone bad. When the stench of failure is in the air people need more support from the boss and from one another. Bosses with will and skill provide this support and allow their people to learn from the failure. However, more bosses unfortunately engage in the blame game than provide support.

Summary

Good bosses not only get more from their people, they also attract and keep better people. If you think the people who work for you are deadbeats or jerks, look in the mirror. Why don’t the best people want to work for you?

Of all the skills good bosses have, self-awareness is probably the most important. The best performers accurately judge both their strengths and their flaws. They make an effort to understand how their moods and quirks affect the performance of their team.

The best bosses will constantly ask themselves, “what does it feels to be working for me?”. If your people answered this question honestly, what would they say?

Do not let your communication hold you back!

These days it is not difficult to find CIOs who are excellent communicators. Unfortunately, it is also very common to see many IT leaders who struggle to communicate well. Some IT leaders are very good at communicating technical information with their teams whilst others communicate well with business users. However, many IT leaders find it hard to communicate effectively with all the stakeholders in the business. I have thought about why this is the case and what IT leaders at all levels can do to improve their message delivery, be effective at leading and motivating their team and engaging with the business.

Many people working in IT start in technical or engineering areas where technical knowledge and skills are valued much more than communication skills. In these areas, peer group discussions are about technical issues and are usually full of jargon. Even when these people become team leaders, they have a technical team and a technical boss so the style of communication does not need to change. Those that have to deal with business users often struggle to get their message across or to elicit ‘real’ requirements.

The inability to communicate effectively reduces one’s own performance and damages the reputation of IT in the organisation. It can affect their relationship between IT staff and their peers. When lT leaders talk in jargon their message is lost, misunderstandings occur and they fail to win others over to their cause. Communication blunders can adversely impact an IT leader’s career by reinforcing a ‘geeky’ image. Executives think if an IT leader cannot express their ideas clearly that they should hire someone else who can.

Here are some tips on improving communications:

Avoid jargon

What is true for board communication (Winning the Board Game) also applies to communication with other people. Speak in simple jargon free language. Even among technical people, talking in simple terms is always more effective than talking in jargon. When talking with jargon you are assuming everyone has the same knowledge level as you. When listeners don’t understand the technical terms they lose the message you are trying to deliver. It is even worse when talking to the business because they will just stop listening altogether.

Don’t dazzle them, get buy-in

Some IT people want to impress others with their brilliant solutions or ideas. They are very confident that they know the very best way of doing something or solving a problem. What happens then is that they become so enthusiastic about their own thinking that they fail to get a commitment from the others. They don’t get the perspective of others or try to build a consensus. In fact, the enthusiasm and confidence of these people discourages others from raising questions or making suggestions. Although others seem dazzled by good ideas, this doesn’t mean they believe them or will become part of the solution development process. Failing to get agreement at the start of discussions can create delays later as people struggle to comprehend why this solution is being implemented and why other approaches will not work.

Ask questions

Asking questions ensures an understanding. It also encourages others to ask for clarifications, make suggestions and present other points of view. Asking meaningful questions and listening to the answers engages the audience, making them active participants. It can help show important information, insight or feedback. If you are presenting an idea or business case, asking questions facilitates understanding, which can lead to a agreement.

Don’t act like a sales person

New IT leaders try to motivate their teams or get them energised by behaving like sales people or sport captains by saying phrases like, “go get them” and “play to win”. IT staff are generally low-key and like facts and arguments, not rah-rah. Learn to speak with the audience in their language.
Similarly, using scare tactics to sell ideas does not work. IT Leaders talk about catastrophic consequences when discussing technical upgrades or investments. Most experienced business executives have heard these type of doomsday scenarios from IT before and find them unconvincing. Using rational, measured arguments and discussing options improves understanding along with the presenter’s credibility.

Too many facts spoil the pitch

Just as too little facts don’t make a good argument, too many facts can confuse instead of enlighten. Some leaders think they would be more credible if they have a fact heavy business case or presentation, especially for IT investments. Telling a story can be more powerful than a litany of facts, charts and analyses. In addition to the facts, others are looking for passion and commitment to get them to join you and support your cause.

Don’t get bogged down in technical problems

Although technical problems may be the most pressing issue on your mind or in your day, most other people don’t want to know about your technical problems. The jargon in talking about technical problems can be boring and/or may cause others to misunderstand and panic. As a leader, you are expected to handle these technical problems yourself or ask others how they could help. When leaders regularly talk about their technical problems others may think you can’t handle the job. If the problems are important be brief with the details, tell others the possible impacts on their business and what steps you have taken to resolve the problems without resorting to detailed step by step explanations.

Don’t forget your team

Many IT leaders focus their energy and communication on the upper tiers of management and business managers. While it is important to communicate effectively with management, remember your team needs to hear from you as well. Your team will have questions and concerns and  will need direction from you. You need their agreement and support to meet your goals and do your role. Don’t forget this!

Don’t bypass other leaders

Many senior leaders believe they are better communicators than their managers and team leaders. While it is right for major company news or changes in direction to be communicated from up above, research indicates that communication to the team from their direct leader or supervisor is the most effective and most credible. Immediate supervisors know the on-ground realities and can address what is important to their staff. They can give specific direction. Employing the organisational hierarchy to cascade communications prevents mixed messages and conflicts from occurring. It also avoids the inadvertent undermining of subordinate managers.

Discussion or direction

In meetings, make sure it is clear when issues or items are being discussed and brainstormed. Many leaders don’t clarify when the discussion is over and a decision has been made, creating confusion within the team. If the team continues to discuss decisions after they are made, the leaders’ authority is undermined. In strict hierarchies, once the leader has an idea, the team feels it is disrespectful to challenge it. In this case, encouraging exploration and discussion needs to be very explicit. On the other hand, when a decision is reached, clarity in assigning responsibility and actions improves communication.

Written directions

Making a written record of the decision in meeting minutes or in a follow-up memo further facilitates clear communication. A written record of the decisions made and the instructions given provides useful information for those who were not part of the meeting or the discussion. Written instructions create clarity and avoid confusion as different participants may have a different idea of what decision was reached.

Final word

Remember, improving communication is not a one step process. Communication continues to be a problem in all organisations. To become better at communicating requires practice and more practice.

Good luck!