How to present a project to the management

Recommending a project to the boss requires confidence and a lot of forethought. Project management expert David Christiansen outlines what to do before approaching management and how to successfully propose a project.

How do you recommend a project to your boss? And how do you present your proposal to the management? Also, if the management rejected your project but you know and you believe that your project is effective, what can you do to make them believe?

This is one of those questions that make you wish for a simple answer, like "Just eat your green beans and you'll grow up to be tall and strong." I wish I could say "Just do X and all your project proposals will be accepted." Sadly, that's not the case.

Organizations don't spend money just for fun — they need an idea of what will result from their investment.

Here are a few questions I like to ask myself before I propose a new project up my management chain:  

  • Do I really need permission? Am I just asking to build confidence, or do I actually need approval to proceed? Depending on the answer, you might want to skip the proposal.
  • What does my boss care about regarding this effort? If you can't see the solution from his or her point of view it will be difficult to sell.
  • What difference will my project make to us and to the world? Organizations don't spend money just for fun. They need an idea of what will result from their investment.
  • How strongly do I feel about this project's importance? Do I have the courage to let my proposal demonstrate the strength of my convictions? I have seen too many proposals where the proponent of the project tried to appear objective and unemotional about their project publicly but was seething privately when it was rejected. Let your emotion show if you really believe in something. Don't make it easy to reject by pretending you don't really care about it.
  • What do my peers think about my project? Is there anyone who will come to my aid and support it? Who will oppose it?
  • Does my boss have the right skills and background to evaluate this project effectively?
  • Dealing with the rejection of a beloved project is not easy. Sometimes it means moving on to another job. Sometimes it just takes time. At any rate, if you find your project has been formally rejected, it doesn't necessarily mean it will never happen. Here are some options you have:
  • Do it anyway. Some places reward this kind of courage, if you turn out to be right. Unless you're wrong. Then you are toast.
  • Bide your time. You might get a new boss, or he might get a new view point. If you decide to wait, you should think of proactive ways to turn your boss's viewpoint to favor your idea.
  • Give your project to someone with more credibility. Maybe the boss recognizes your idea as valuable but doesn't think you can pull it off or, for whatever reason, just doesn't value your opinion much. Give the idea to someone he likes and see what happens. The downside to this is you might not get to participate.
  • Take your idea to someone else's boss. Is there another part of the organization that is more open to risk? Take it there, with the help of an insider in your network.
  • Take your idea to some other company. This can be tricky, ethically and legally, but if you work through the problems it might be a good career move for you.
  • Do it on your own and reap the rewards for yourself. This only works for some ideas, and could be nixed by any intellectual property agreement you have with your employer, but if it's such a good idea why not do it on your own?
  • Good luck.

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