A big challenge for technical professionals is how to get decisions, such as approval to their proposals.
Along the path from technical detailed analysis and design to a strategic proposal, technical professionals can be challenged with the ‘strategic’ bit in selling the ‘story’ why the proposal is value for money and should be approved.
Firstly, remember that decision-makers are busy people. Secondly, in many cases, they may not have technical expertise or experience in the particular issue at hand — what I refer to as ‘lay professionals’, those who have a broad knowledge of the industry or topic, but may not have detailed or specific technical knowledge of the topic.
So, professionals need to tell the story, in ‘lay professional’ terms, moving from the technical to strategic, providing a robust argument and case for approval.
I am also surprised at the number of proposals that do not have a specific request — it should be clear to the decision-maker what you want them to approve.
Keys to Getting Decisions
The key to getting decisions is answering as many of the following questions as you can in your submission.
What is going on? Set the scene and provide the context for the proposal or issue being discussed.
What is the priority in relation to other pressing issues? Particularly if you are asking for resourcing, so some assessment of the relative priority and importance of the problem. This could even be an assessment of the implication of not progressing.
Why is this a problem, how did this issue arise? Tell the story, explain the root cause of the problem (not just the symptoms) and how it will be solved (at least in part).
How can the issue be solved? This will need a brief outline of what solution options were considered and why the preferred approach was selected. Demonstrate the value for money and how you propose that the desired outcomes and benefits will be delivered.
What are the risks? And equally important what do you propose to do about them. A big concern is optimism bias — over optimistic about benefits and under-estimating costs.
Who is affected by the issue? Key stakeholders can make or derail the success of a proposal. Who are the key stakeholders that wield influence and have significant interest? What do they want and what have you done to align their expectations with the desired outcomes?
How much time and money is appropriate to solve the problem? What is the minimum viable solution? Where do you propose the funding, capability and capacity, systems, information and data to come from? Has there been an economic and/or financial analysis and what were the results? Does it demonstrate value for money?
This is not that hard really when you have already done all the technical work. It just means having to step back and take a strategic view — understand the mindset of the decision-maker and present them with the information they need to quickly come to a decision.
Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please. Mark Twain