How to Sell PPM to Your Boss

By Jeff Monteforte

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Have you ever heard your CEO or CFO complain about the high cost of IT in your company? Are you frustrated by the fact that your company executives make every project a No.1 priority?

Well, you're not alone. In a survey of over 250 CIOs, nearly half (48%) said that the most frustrating aspects of their job can be attributed to three items:

  • planning IT's direction without a clear business strategy;
  • attempting to set priorities (again related to the lack of a clear business strategy); and
  • overcoming imposed budget constraints (without -- you got it -- a clear business strategy).
  • Being a CIO and trying to manage a company's information technology without knowing where the company wants to go is like walking through a maze while wearing a blindfold. You never quite know if you're on the right route and you turn down several pathways that end up taking you in the wrong direction.

    Turning It Around

    Fixing the rift between IT and the rest of the company cannot be accomplished without the participation of your executives and business unit heads. The discipline of IT PPM (PPM) is the best IT governance practice to begin building the necessary bridges that enable business/IT alignment.

    Portfolio management includes the critical ingredients necessary to overcome the perceptions that plague IT organizations. It does this by getting business units more involved in the IT investment planning and decision-making process and provides the forum for improving communications with the CEO and other business unit heads.

    Fish On

    So, you've already done your homework and are convinced that PPM is the way to go, but your CEO and business executives are skeptical and you just can't seem to get the buy-in that you need to move this initiative forward. What do you do?

    First, you need to keep in mind that every person, including your CEO, CFO or business unit executive, has some form of buyer's resistance. The good news is that this resistance can be overcome and converted into passionate support if you follow this proven method.

    When introducing the idea of PPM your objective needs to be two-fold: to overcome their resistance while persuading them to take action.

    To do this you'll need a results-oriented approach that addresses the biggest objections to be effective.

    The following five-step "sales" approach is designed to overcome each of the major objections in a careful and methodical manner while guiding your executive to the conclusion that PPM is the right solution, right now! The five steps are:

  • Identify the problem (both spoken and unspoken).
  • Provide the solution.
  • Show the benefits.
  • Make a call to action.
  • Close with a warning.
  • Step 1: Identify the Problem

    Your first step is to gain the executives' interest by spelling out the problem from their point of view. Your CEO should say to himself, "That's exactly how I feel" when he hears your idea.

    The more you can elaborate on the problem the better. You want to present the problem with so much insight that your CEO really feels the pain.

    My experience has shown me that business executives consistently have similar concerns. Use the following list as a starting point for identifying the concerns of an executive.

    In general, executives perceive that the company ...

  • Demand for IT projects greatly exceeds IT capacity.
  • Has strained relationships between business unit heads and IT do to a lack of clarity, common expectations and accountability.
  • Struggles with prioritizing and justifying IT projects.
  • Has duplicate projects going on in different parts of the organization causing overlap and waste.
  • Is frequently redeploying IT resources (which causes further delays).
  • Feels that IT projects need to be better aligned with the company's business objectives.
  • Step 2: Provide the Solution

    Now that you've built interest by making them feel pain, it's time to provide the solution. This is the part of the conversation where you boldly stake the claim that PPM can solve the problem.

    In each discussion, high-light the powerful impact that PPM can make and use your company's business language when describing this.

    Without going into too much detail, share the basic inter-workings of a portfolio management evaluation process. Stress that this discipline ensures incremental investment using a stage-gate project evaluation process.

    A stage-gate process has a great deal of appeal to management, because it ensures progressive commitment of funds and resources by restricting investment in the next stage until management is comfortable with the outcome of the current stage.

    Step 3: Show the Benefits

    In this step you tell your CEO how the company will benefit from PPM.

    Keep in mind that you should always look for ways to personalize this message, such as "This will get Charlie off your back every month when he complains that he's not getting his financial planning software".

    Whether its your CEO or the boy in the mailroom, people are not interested in you or your solution as much as they are interested in what it will do for them. The benefits are many so here are a few that consistently get the attention of executives.

    Project portfolio management:

  • Allows you to repurpose 10% - 30% of your discretionary IT funds.
  • Ensures that the highest priority projects get IT resources first.
  • Provides visibility and accountability to the project approval process.
  • Gets business executive management and IT management to speak the same language, share risk, and collaborate in the investment decision-making process.
  • Builds, much needed, trust and respect between business units and the IT department.
  • Encourages business leaders to think like a team.
  • Step 4: The Call-to-Action

    Your call-to-action must be action-oriented and explicit. Use phrases such as, "I need you to introduce this process at your next staff meeting" or "To ensure this works, I'm going to need a senior resource from your department. I think Carol would be perfect, but who do you think is right that you can dedicate to this effort?"

    The first group that needs to be established is an IT Investment Board comprised of the CEO, CFO and business unit heads. You'll need your CEO's approval and support for this, so make this your first call to action.

    Step 5: Close with a Warning

    A good "sales pitch" continues to build emotion right up to the end.

    The best way to do this is to remind your CEO that "nothing changes, if nothing changes." Paint the picture of what happens if he doesn't take advantage of your solution. Remind him just how unpleasant the current state is and that it doesn't have to remain that way.

    Again, try to personalize your statements so that the picture you paint appears very graphic in the head of your executive, because you're stirring his emotions and causing his subconscious to say, "I want to change that."

    Getting PPM accepted by your executives isn't an impossible task, but is does require a well-thought, well-executed process. Take this five-step approach and make it your own. Customize and personalize the problems and benefits to match your company's specific situation, as well as the audience that you're talking to.

    Start the "sales" process by having individual, one-on-one conversations with the key influencers of your organization. Once you address each person's issues you can expect their support and influence when you present the idea to the entire executive group.

    Not only will this make the "big" meeting anti-climatic, but you'll be pleasantly surprised by the positive dialogue that occurs between the executives.

    Jeff Monteforte is president of Exential, a Cleveland, OH.-based information strategy consulting firm, which specializes in IT governance, information security and business intelligence solutions. He can be reached at jmonteforte@exentialonline.com.