Maybe, just maybe, by some miracle, you work in some IT shop where the mere mention of a new technology investment that “just makes sense” translates into executive support to go forth and procure. I would venture to guess you are not or you wouldn’t be out reading blog posts on how to translate your good ideas into execute-able business cases. In the initial articles (here and here) quite a bit of time was spent justifying the need to express your tech invest idea in business or “executive consumable” terms. In the most recent article, the concept of a “business case” as the story told to get those tightly clutching the dimes to hand you some to procure your recommendation. This article outlines an approach that uses this story telling as a way to prioritize the data gathering for a formal business case to support your ultimate investment recommendation.
So, if you’ve read all three articles to date, I am going to quickly try and re-tie the concepts together to reflect how they all relate:
Value Proposition = Your succinct, business digestible “elevator pitch” recommendation
Business Case = The formal (or informal) manifestation of all the data supporting your value proposition
“The Story” = Embellishes your “value proposition” into a narrative, supported by your business case, that in essence, convinces all readers that they would be absolutely crazy not to invest in your recommendation
As much as I would like to say there is a specific order to completing each concept outlined above, I would be fibbing in doing so. Many times I’ve revised a value proposition as I collected business case data points or changed a story to align to a value proposition revision. As a further example, in a past company, I was compiling a recommendation to invest in a centralized employee access management tool (one system to dole out who can have access to what application, etc.) I thought the original value proposition was increased security but as I dug into the data, the stronger value proposition changed to one of operational efficiency (people could spend more time being productive rather than sorting out how to get access to systems). Sure, the original concept of better security didn’t diminish, rather, the story around spending some money to implement a system for overall operational efficiency gains would garner more support in that company’s fiscal focus at that time. Going in with a story around “better security” would have been met with “um, why do we need that?” Having gone in with “spend some money now to get all this savings year over year” was received as “spend some now, save lots year over year, when can we start?”. Thus be open to revising what you initially draft. Remember, your goal is to come up with the most effective value proposition, business case and story to get your recommendation funded.
Thus, start by jotting down initial thoughts around your value proposition and “story” while collecting the associated data points for your business case. Be prepared to adjust each as your investigative journey evolves.
Ok, so you might be thinking: “I get the value proposition thing and this structured, template-y business case-y thing, but how does this story thing really fit in? Can’t the value prop and business case be enough?”
Interesting to note on this line of questioning, it just so happens recently Seth Godin posted an article entitled “Every Slide Tells a Story” with this phase being directly in line with my reasoning:
“Your Powerpoint is not a presentation of data. It is a story, a story designed to change minds.”
Only one employer in my career had a business case template that afforded the ability to really embellish the benefits compared to the costs with some prose rather than just raw numbers. It just so happens that the CIO, who ultimately had to accept/reject proposals prior to finalizing his budget with the CFO, expected to have a narrative document that convinced him of benefits/costs. He made everyone use that business case template to do that for him. I quickly picked up that to be effective, creating a compelling “story” for him to relate what was supported by “the numbers” is what he wanted to take to the CFO. This “story” should be whatever best leverages your skills in augmenting the facts and figures nature of the business case to convince those with the proverbial purse strings to loosen them.
Consider using Microsoft PowerPoint as a tool to present your “story” if the business case template is constraining the narrative
Yes, merely uttering the words “PowerPoint” to the average IT engineer and the immediate response is probably a groan rather than enthusiasm. The phrase “death by PowerPoint” is all too reflective of the average presentation artifact that is slide after slide, bullet point after bullet point of the hemorrhaging of Ariel 14 point font ramblings of the speaker. Most notable in aversion to PowerPoint is Amazon, Inc. that is known for specifically banning the use of PowerPoint for any company business. Also, I recall for which the references escape me, articles indicating that when government officials started to collaborate with automotive companies involved in the 2008-10 US financial crisis bailout, all meetings hosted by the auto companies requiring even the simplest decisions involved carefully constructed and reviewed PowerPoint presentations. This furthers the urban corporate legend that “PowerPoint” is a tool of inefficiency. So yes, PowerPoint as a tool can be counter productive if not used effectively in the same manner as Java or .NET can support elegant, efficient code or bloated, bug infested code that just barely compiles. It is not the tool’s fault for pour quality, rather, the individual using the tool.
Thus, put aside any ill feelings of presentation software such as PowerPoint you might fester. Consider embracing it as a tool to help you expound upon your value proposition and extract the material data points from your business case to tell a story that leaves the executive thinking: “Ok, I buy it, when can I get it?”
The next article will outline story formats to help you compel your audience to agree and invest.