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7 ways to get buy-in for your next IT Ops project

Linda Rosencrance Freelance writer/editor
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As an IT pro, you're always looking for new technologies to drive the business forward, increase efficiencies, and create a better customer experience. But when you come up with that next great idea, how successful are you at articulating its value to management? 

How effective are you at explaining the project concepts, prioritizing, and getting support all the way up the line—from your manager to the CIO and others in the C-suite?

TechBeacon asked several IT executives and practitioners how they successfully develop the right ideas and sell them to the business. Here's their advice.

1. Align project ideas with business strategy

IT operations pros must start by building a business case that will resonate, according to Bernard Golden, vice president of cloud strategy at Capital One. The more operations executives can tie their operations projects to specific business initiatives or applications or business outcomes, the more successful they will be.

Align your project with business strategy—and put it into terms your business leaders can understand, said Josh Mayfield, director of security strategy at Absolute Software. "For example, we want to secure this many customers or we want to enter these particular markets or we want to take over this particular merger and acquisitions opportunity with certain success, and we want to have this kind of financial result from it."

If a project doesn't serve an overall business strategy, it's not going to go anywhere when it hits the CIO's desk. If the CIO can't make the case to the other members of the C-suite that a project aligns with the business's strategy, it's doomed to fail.

"You should be gathering requirements from your internal customers and presenting them with solutions they believe meet their needs," said Ernest Mueller, director of engineering operations at AlienVault. Align with organizational priorities, understand that you are providing products and services to your internal customers, and use standard product management principles to convince your constituents that your plan will help them achieve their goals.

Matthew David, emerging technology project manager at QBE North America, likes to get together with business leaders to talk about their ideas. What is the problem? And who's the customer they want to work with to solve the problem? It's really about prioritizing the work, he said.

"Make sure you're delivering the appropriate solutions that the C-suite executives themselves are striving for."
Matthew David

For example, David previously worked for a company that had General Motors as a client. "They asked us to help deliver OnStar to Europe," he said. But the first thing his team did had nothing to do with technology. Instead, they invested time researching the type of customer who would potentially use the OnStar program in Europe, and in which countries they would be using it.

2. Demonstrate business value

Selling your project idea is all about tying it back to business value, understanding the business and its dependency on the technology, and deciphering what value that technology will deliver for the business, said Doug Tedder, principal at Tedder Consulting. The worst thing an IT operations person can do is pitch a project as an IT Ops initiative, he added.

"It puts people off, it puts the C-suite off, and it puts the CIO off because operations folks have a tendency to talk in technical terms."
Doug Tedder

Pitch your projects as more than just technology initiatives. Present them as business initiatives, powered by technology, that improve business outcomes and customer experience or that deliver quantifiable operational improvements. 

3. Your project pitch should present a menu of options 

Always present multiple options to the CIO and other business decision makers. Think Let's Make a Deal, Mayfield said, referring to the popular television game show. Show them what's behind door number one, number two and number three, and then let them decide which to take. For each, Mayfield said, tell them, "Here are the implications, here is who it would affect, here are the costs, here are the drawbacks, here are the risks if we go down this path." 

When you present your project in this way you will be helping the CIO work with the rest of the C-suite and the board. If there are multiple project variations from which to choose, you'll have much better odds getting something approved than if you just offer one take-it-or-leave-it option. 

4. Explain the cost and resource offsets

Once you have your business alignment strategy in place and have provided options to the business, you need to explain how the investment will offset costs or resource commitments, and quantify that whenever possible. 

By putting the project in terms of offsets, the options you present become even more attractive. 

"Then it comes down to presenting an execution plan—the specific tactics of how you're going to achieve what needs to be done—and executing on that plan."
Josh Mayfield

5. Measure success

Once the project is approved and your IT organization starts delivering, report immediately on your success metrics, said QBE's David. "We use the Google Heart framework that allows us to get both qualitative and quantitative data and be able to present it in a way that has value," he said.

You want to ensure that IT leaders not only know about your success metrics but can quote them to show how IT is making more revenue for the company or otherwise making the company more valuable. 

6. Take a DevOps approach

Mueller's team, which works in an engineering organization, takes a DevOps approach, working closely with internal teams that need to align operations requirements with the products and services they're supporting.

"I don't put IT Ops projects in my budget. The people who need it put it into theirs, and my team helps implement it, often by embedding operations engineers onto their teams instead of sending work to a centralized team."
—Ernest Mueller

In this way it's easy to get projects approved, because they're being championed by others. Decentralization and aligning with the business priorities—via objectives and key results, for example—means everyone's already asking for what IT Ops is proposing, and that makes selling it at budget time easy, Mueller added.

The role of IT has changed dramatically, especially in a business like Capital One's, Golden said. The role of IT used to be to support the business; now it's to run it. So engage with the parts of the organization that are charged with running the business.

Among other things, Golden said, CIOs must be armed with a formal plan from operations that's based on interactive planning sessions with the relevant lines of business.

At Capital One, divisional CIOs each have people who work hand in hand with the business owners to develop technology plans.

"Those roll up to the divisional CIOs, which eventually roll up to the executive leadership team of the CEO. And all of that is internally worked on and rolled up and put forward so that there are no surprises and there's commitment around the plan from all the involved parties."
Bernard Golden

7. Think long term

But it's not enough just to sell the CIO on a project: Build relationships at the business associate level so those people "send a very similar message up their side of the organization," Tedder said. "It's not a one-way pitch."

Getting buy-in for an IT Ops project isn't about having a one-time dialogue between IT and the business. It must be part of an ongoing conversation.

Continue to nurture that relationship, because there’s always another project coming up, and another technology investment to pitch.

"If you treat that relationship as a one-and-done, that's all you're going to get. You're not going to get that second, third, and fourth opportunity that you need." 
—Doug Tedder

It's all about the buy-in

Without a commitment from senior leadership—from your manager to the CIO and others in the C-suite—your IT Ops project proposals are doomed to failure. But by following these seven tips, you will better articulate the value of your ideas to management, increasing the chances that you'll gain the support you need to ensure that your project proposals get approved.

Share your experiences with getting buy-in for your IT Ops projects in the comments section below.

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