Friday, 27 May 2011

How to make a business case that your boss will listen to

I've found that your average IT Operations team doesn't have enough money, staff, training, and support as they need. IT is a 'cost centre' according to many who don't know enough about IT. Obviously this is not the truth. But it's likely that deep down, your boss (or his boss) thinks it is. They're not going to tell you this secret truth, but believe me, it's inside there. As a result you're frustrated because as far as you're concerned, he just couldn't give a bent penny about what you do.

There's actually understandable reasons for this. Number one; it's not his job to really care about how you do your job, just what you produce. The fact that the backup system fails every other day is not his problem IF the backups are still getting done is some fashion. Number two; while we're all part of one 'big smiling corporate family', the truth is that when push comes to shove, people have got their own targets (e.g. saving money) that are going to take priority over yours. It's just the way business works.

So, how do you get people to listen? I've found that it comes down to three things.

1. Convince your boss that the problem exists.

The most important thing about explaining a problem, it to explain it their language. Explaining the technical difficulty resolving of fixing errors on tapes, failing backup schedules, etc. does not convince your boss that there's a problem they need to act on. After all, you're paid to fix problems, so why are you complaining?  Your explanation should be something like the following "We have problem A with system B, it costs us C man hours to work around this issue. We cannot perform function D with this problem."

  • You should be able to explain the problem in five minutes or less. And your boss must be able to explain it to someone else. If he can't, he hasn't fully understood the issue.

2. Convince your boss that the problem is worth fixing

While your boss may agree there is a valid business problem with failing backups and it's creating some hardship for you, there are many problems in the business that you can live with for years. Why is this one special?

You need to be quite strategic on this one and translate any technical problem into a business one. Talk about any relevant service levels targets that will be missed and the financial cost of working with the problem on a regular basis. It's best if you can describe how your problem relates to Service Level Agreements, this is good. The key objective here is to raise the priority of your problem.

  • Explain the financial or productivity impact if the problem doesn't get fixed.
  • Bring to his attention incidents that have occurred as a result of not fixing the problem. Repeat this often.

3. Convince your boss that the problem with worth spending money to fix it

What? Your boss has just agreed that backup system is a high priority problem that needs fixing, so why isn't that cash flowing in abundance? Getting people to part with their cash, is the final act of commitment. This stage is all about being a good salesperson. The most pressing issue doesn't always get the most attention - people can be persuaded to buy things that they don't even need. Just consider the success of the iPad...

What are their fears? - Fear comes into play often. Usually it's the fear of change or the possibility that the change may not work. Use any manner of tricks to convince your boss that this is a win-win opportunity.

What are their priorities? - Your boss has targets to achieve. How does your business case fit into that? Priorities can mean that funding may be delayed for reasons out of your control. But don't take no for an answer. Be creative and find a way to make your business case just the thing he wanted to approve.

What's in it for them? - Don't forget to outline how approving your case will be beneficial for them. Like Jerry Maguire said, "Help me help you."

It's all about the bottom line - Bring it back to the bottom line. You're going to save time. You're going to save money. 9 out of 10 times it's one of the two.

And finally, good luck! :)

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