Boardroom meeting of project professionals

After listening to one of the podcasts from PMI hosted by Oren Klaff, Author of Pitch Anything and an investment banker, and it got me thinking. The podcast was very focused on how to pitch a project to Senior Stakeholders and as I was listening I could start to see a pattern that could be applied to PMO.

The Dome

Oren’s metaphor for pitching projects goes as follows: When putting together a case for approval, you need to visualise yourself lowering a dome over you, your team and your Stakeholders.

This creates a world where you can create the rules, define how things will work, and understand the context of the project. Once you get approval to proceed, you raise the dome and go out; with your project, into the wider world.

Typically, at this point we focus on reporting which we do from outside the dome. But to communicate, the most appropriate thing to do is lower the dome again and put ourselves into that world once more.

Taking the time to do this, ensures we communicate the right things at the right time and in the right context.

We often forget that because we are busy, and we don’t have time to immerse ourselves once more, and at this point it’s not about winning the agreement all over again. Is it? But consider if it is still about winning.

Winning the intrigue, excitement and curiosity for the project supporters again.

This is particularly important if the project has a large aspect of Change embedded within its outputs and outcomes.

A PMO implementation or transformation is precisely that. An activity (project or programme) of this kind, needs us to create the dome to define ourselves, but it also needs us to take the time to step back in periodically to understand how far we’ve come, and what information we should be communicating at what points.

Selling the Future

The fact is, people will only approve your project or give you money if you show them the world that your output or outcome will help to create.

To give someone that, you need to demonstrate with measurable assumptions that make it clear that they are likely to happen.

These worked assumptions are what help to get buy-in, so reporting should be about those few memorable measurable things.

It’s a shame that you don’t often have time to build rapport so to pitch your activity, so you need to shortcut the building trust part. You are trying to bridge the gap, and it’s difficult.

To do it successfully you need credibility, social proof and most importantly autonomy. Whilst you’re providing key people with information and asking them to believe you and vote in your favour they need to be given autonomy to make their own decisions – it is this lack of autonomy that makes sales people seem false and impersonal.

Good information in the right order is great but information has NO convincing power.

Without giving your ‘buyer’ autonomy to make their own decision once you’ve worked through it with them, they won’t magically be able to disseminate the information and come to the same conclusion as you.

Instead, a good argument, well supported, should always be followed by an open question such as “I can’t tell you what to do, I’ve laid down the case, I believe in it.

How do you want to approach it?”.

Kill the assumptive sales pitch.

Sometimes I think Project Managers and PMO actively try not to influence too much to ensure that their integrity remains intact. It can be seen as pushy and over bearing so instead we dump a load of information on people and hope for the best.

But, if we learn to give the time for autonomy, you not only keep credibility and integrity intact, but you also generally get a better response.

This often gets derailed by Stakeholders and personnel getting involved part way through. Not because of the change, but because everyone has their own perception of what the activity is going to ‘do’ and how we have designed to do it.

It’s important for Project Managers to realise that not every question deserves an answer, explanation, or to take part of a meeting. Everyone wants to prove their worth, but the key is to bring those new people into the dome, so they can also be immersed into that world.

Consider new questions or suggestions carefully; or you will end up in wormholes that will eat time and often do not accomplish anything in the long term.

Be brave and put your dome back down.

If you think about implementing or transforming your PMO, how was the engagement in the beginning, what got people to buy in? Was it the information you had in your business case or simply the will of a few people who ‘knew’ what they were asking for?

Taking all of this into account, I think we could all do a better job at providing the right information, when it is needed, in the right form, with the opportunity for our Sponsors to follow the narrative arc and make their own decision.

Presentation Problems

Oren talked about the three key presentation errors that he sees time and time again:

  • Information dump – We have so much good information that we give it as quickly as possible and leave it to the other party to be convinced by the information. We’ve had time to understand why its compelling, but can’t just leave it to the audience to organise that information. We can’t assume they will form an argument in their head the same as ours.
  • All Bun No Meat (nothing burger) – Is used to provide key information but contains little substance. The presenter is often not focused and feels like they are being interrupted throughout. But this is usually because the information is not presented in the right format and has no substance. It doesn’t answer the questions that the audience will inevitably have.
  • No Narrative – We have the right information, but it’s in the wrong order and not on the narrative arc for the activity. The narrative arc is the most important thing for presenters to understand. Ensuring that the obvious questions are answered early on, and providing information follows a standard path: set-up, path to pay-off, and pay-off.

Dealing with Change

The set-up of an activity must take place inside the dome.

The next step is to create the social environment that we control including our assumptions. Next is all about immersing people and ensuring that they are focused.

All set-ups must answer:

  1. What is changing in the world dramatically?
  2. How change is likely to affect people?
  3. What happens if you don’t prepare for the change?

The thing to remember is that 90% of the human mind is dedicated to detecting and dealing with change, the mechanics of the human mind help us to understand our triggers for fear, excitement, and desire.

Our neocortex stops us being excited if we start meetings with something that has been covered before.

There are rules like “don’t send me problems I have solved before” which make us feel like we have heard something already, so we lose focus.

Imagine if your meetings cover the same information repeatedly whilst Project Managers try to continue to build support throughout the life of the project.

Now translate this to how you communicate with your change community. Your PMO needs you to be creative and innovative in the way interactions happen in your network.

I hope that this has given you some food for thought from ‘not a project person’ but instead someone in a field that is driven by the sales pitch.

I find that these insights (from other industries) are the ones that push our PMOs to do things differently and hopefully better. Because it’s not just project management skills that are transferable.

By Emma-Ruth Arnaz-Pemberton – Director of Consulting Services, Wellingtone