Project managers are rarely told that part of their job is to gain the support of others for their process improvement projects. And failure to gain support can easily lead to project failure.
Maybe you’ve got an idea for an improvement project that will improve your company’s bottom line or make it a better place to work. Nice going!
Now for the hard part: How do you get people on board? How do you get funding? And what should you do if your idea doesn’t catch on?
In an ideal world, you’d come up with a genius new idea, tell your coworkers about it, and they’d immediately grasp its brilliance. Your boss would love it—and you—and give you the resources you need to execute it.
But that’s not reality, is it?
Project managers are often surprised when others don’t recognize their ideas as “great.” Even if you’ve worked hard to solve a problem and arrived at a solution, and then announce the “great idea,” you might encounter lack of enthusiasm at best, or resistance at worst.
Whether other stakeholders need education, or your goals need realignment with the organization’s goals, a conscious effort to gain support for your projects and ideas is vital.
Make your idea as specific as possible and emphasize how it offers a clear solution to a targeted problem. Pick precisely where you want to focus. Your colleagues are more likely to respond to specific initiatives rather than lofty, ambiguous goals.
Adapt your sales pitch to the audience. Strategize how you’ll sell your initiative to different groups of colleagues and higher-ups. Everyone has different learning styles. You can’t expect to write a white paper and slap it on people’s desks. For this reason, it’s important to vary your messaging with something written, something spoken, something visual, and perhaps even tangible.
Suggest a pilot of your plan. Trials are less risky and less expensive. Trials reduce the perceived risk of implementing something big and new. Pilots give people a chance to test out the idea. And they can also create data that changes minds. If you don’t have the power to allocate budget to a pilot, you need to sell harder to those who do.
Don’t insist on getting credit for the initiative. Coworkers are less likely to support your idea if they sense you’re only in it for yourself. Your improvement project needs to benefit more than just you. Otherwise, you’re going to run into trouble.
Don’t forget to solicit feedback from your colleagues. Present your idea by saying something like: ‘I’ve been thinking about this,’ or ‘What would you think of this.’ Then, listen carefully to what people tell you. You want questions. You want opposing viewpoints. You want pushback. The goal is to get to a place that no matter what anybody throws at you, you have a response. Integrate feedback into your game plan. It’s a process of iteration and figuring out what works.
Don’t give up if your idea doesn’t immediately gain traction. Change sometimes takes longer than you’d like. Even when it seems you’re constantly running into roadblocks and your initiative may never get off the ground, don’t be deterred. Sometimes an idea catches on right away and sometimes it takes decades for it take hold. Persistence is key.
The ability to get new initiatives off the ground is also critical to your career. You want to stand out, be visible, and get noticed as a leader, and one of the ways to do this is by suggesting improvement projects and implementing them.