GET EXECUTIVE BUY-IN FOR PROJECT MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE
You’ve found the perfect project management tool. Now you just need the boss to say yes. Learn how to build a compelling business case that leaves them with one question: Where do I sign?
You’ve found the perfect project management tool. Now you just need the boss to say yes. Learn how to build a compelling business case that leaves them with one question: Where do I sign?
Some executives may see project management tools as an added, unnecessary cost, but in a world where companies waste $122 million for every $1 billion invested due to poor project performance, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
In fact, a study by PwC found that “use of commercially available PM software drives higher levels of portfolio performance and greater satisfaction with an organization’s PM practices.”
Yet, many teams still find themselves using outdated or inadequate tools. As a result, project managers and their teams waste time and resources on tasks that can be simplified, streamlined, or even eliminated if the right tool was in place.
How do you convince your executive team that you need a modern project management solution? How do you overcome common objections around budget, timing, and implementation?
By demonstrating how a new project management tool will help executives meet their goals, make a positive impact on the business, and, ultimately, boost the bottom line.
In this guide, we’ll walk through how to do just that. We’ve also created a bundle of useful tools to help you through the process. By the end, you’ll have built a solid business case for gaining executive buy-in for a new project management tool.
Use these six resources to build a compelling business case for a new project management tool.GET THE FREE KIT
When you’re asking your company to invest in new technology, it’s not about the ways a new tool will save time and make your life easier. It’s not about the hours you spend searching for attachments in email threads. Nor is it about how you had to stay late every night this week because you’re overscheduled.
Gaining approval for a new project management tool isn’t about you at all. Gaining buy-in will require a shift in mindset. It’s time to go bigger. Start thinking about your boss, your boss’s boss, and the business as a whole.
This is about rising to the top of management’s priorities and the land of ROI, stack rank, and internal rate of return.
It’s about how your current tool prevents your team from running efficiently, how it steals money from the bottom line, and how every minute spent digging through emails is a minute of productivity lost.
When you shift your focus, building a business case will be become much easier and effective. All right, let’s do this.
First, determine who will need to approve this before you can move forward. Do you need to convince just your manager or do you need to take this to upper management? Do other departments (e.g., IT, accounting) have a seat at the approval table, as well?
Next, make a list of your stakeholders—the people who may influence (but not necessarily vote on) the decision to adopt your proposal. Start by listing your natural supporters: the managers and teams who are most likely to benefit from a new tool.
You also need to determine who could be a stumbling block. How do finance, purchasing, and IT decide to purchase and support new software packages? What are their criteria? Do your homework and understand their concerns and motivations before you meet with them. Then, help them see how the efficiency you seek sits right at the top of their agenda.
Once you’ve identified your stakeholders, put your pitch aside for a moment. Pretend you’ve Vulcan mind-melded with the people you are pitching to. You can now experience the world from their perspectives.
What do they care about? What keeps them up at night? How many unsolicited pitches do they see every day? What interests them? What bores them? What concerns them? Consider your stakeholders’ personalities and worldviews, and keep these in mind as you develop your case.
Before you walk into that pitch meeting, you must be able to answer this question:
“How will this new project management tool help my stakeholders achieve their goals?”
It’s likely that some stakeholders will immediately be onboard, asking, “When can we start?” Others might be much more hesitant. They’ll have questions. And that’s okay because you’ll be prepared to answer them.
When proposing a new tool, stakeholders are likely to fall into three camps: the supporters, the neutral, and the healthy skeptics. The key is to try to see things from their perspective, anticipate their concerns and questions, and then formulate talking points that will appeal to their wants and needs.
(Remember, you all work for the same company. Nobody on this list is your “opponent.” The questions they ask are legitimate. Your responsibility is to get them the information they request.)
While this step is not necessary, it may lend extra credibility to your proposal. (“Well, if Allison from accounting thinks this is a good idea, I’m in.”)
To find your ally, look for another department in your company that would benefit from the tool. For example, a project management tool that also tracks billable hours and costs would be helpful for the accounting team. An entire engineering or product design team could use the tool as a bug-tracking system.
Find someone with different job functionalities than you. For example, if you’re the project manager for the IT team, look for a non-PM ally from the engineering team who would be open to vouching for your request.
While it’s not necessary that your ally attend the pitch meeting, he or she can help by endorsing your choice. Ask how this tool would benefit your ally’s team and include the answers in your pitch. You can also ask for advice on best practices for approaching key decision makers. Find out what has helped or hindered approvals in the past.
You’ve named your key stakeholders. You’ve thought about their needs. Now it’s time to demonstrate how your proposal will help meet their goals and the business’s objectives.
To do this effectively, you must justify the costs and illustrate the potential benefits. Again, this isn’t about you and your team. Telling your stakeholders how much easier your life would be won’t cut it.
Instead, focus on framing your investment request around key business objectives, like improving customer satisfaction, moving products to market faster, and increasing efficiencies that result in increased revenue and lowered costs.
In this chapter, we’ve outlined three methods to help you demonstrate the business value of your request.
Most companies have similar goals: increase revenue, cut costs, and keep employees happy and productive. Your challenge is to make the connection between your proposal for a new project management tool and these broader business goals.
First, choose three of your company’s objectives to target. If you’re unsure, work with your manager to determine these. For each objective, list two to three ways your current project management tool is impeding progress in this area. Finally, explain how a new tool will help overcome these challenges and drive results.
The following are typical business objectives you can use to build your case.
Improve time-to-market for new product or service releases.
CURRENT SITUATION: Three things have inhibited product launches in the past—
EXPECTED OUTCOME: With a new project management solution in place, we can improve forecasts, identify and react to changes quickly, and produce automated, self-serve status reporting for management and/or clients. Plans to launch new products would be accelerated, bringing earlier than expected revenue to the company.
Reduce delays and customer disappointments from supply-chain changes, resource constraints, or reprioritization by management.
CURRENT SITUATION: Three things have caused delays in the past—
EXPECTED OUTCOME: Project management software will allow the team to understand how changes in scope, project length, budget, etc., affect projects and delivery dates. The team can then anticipate and react to downstream risks much earlier, leading to fewer delays and disappointments.
Improve employee engagement and reduce turnover.
CURRENT SITUATION: Three things have played a role in lowering employee morale—
EXPECTED OUTCOME: A new project management solution will give the entire team access to project plans, files, and statuses. This transparency will remove our team’s stress and anxiety around doing the right work at the right time. A new tool will also improve employee engagement, as our team will have more control and visibility over priorities, timelines, and the work being done.
These are just three examples to illustrate how your proposal for a new project management system can be connected to larger business objectives. By formatting it this way, your stakeholders can have a clearer idea of the current situation and what improvements a new tool would bring.
Another way to demonstrate business value is to quantify the costs of your current tool and show how the new tool will save the business time and money. To get the complete picture, you must consider the total cost of ownership (TCO) over a three- to five-year span. Your vendor can provide costs for the proposed tool.
If you need help calculating the TCO of your current tool, befriend someone in accounting who can help you calculate the following:
While the more visible and direct costs are well known and easily documented, the hidden costs are what companies often neglect to consider. These can be harder to quantify but should be taken into consideration, especially if your team isn’t currently using any project management system.
Your time. Time is money. Every minute spent on redundant or unnecessary PM work is money lost. To illustrate this, calculate how much time is spent on manual processes, such as updating spreadsheets and writing and sending status reports, as well as gathering updates, whether that’s through email, meetings, or water cooler conversations. Then, calculate how often those tasks are performed over a week/month/year. Multiple those numbers by the hourly equivalent of the person doing the work. If more than one person is involved, you can use a blended FTE rate to represent the team.
Cost of delay: Even the smallest delay has the potential to set off an avalanche, costing thousands of dollars. While a new tool won’t be a cure-all, it can help anticipate, avoid, and mitigate issues that could lead to project delays. If your projects have been running behind schedule, calculate the economic impact of deferred income and lost sales, as well as additional project costs. If you had a tool that helped you better identify and analyze risks, how much would you save? If you continue on your current path, how much do you stand to lose?
Opportunity cost: Many organizations continue to push on with a “that’s how we’ve always done it” attitude. While manually updating a spreadsheet several times a day is doable, it’s also incredibly inefficient. If repetitive tasks could be made more efficient or even eliminated, those team members could spend their time on more valuable work.
Cost of inefficiency: Inefficiency is a common symptom of a subpar project management tool. For example, the most common way to share spreadsheet updates is through emails. Sometimes this happens immediately; sometimes it takes a few hours or days to get passed along. This leads to delays and wasted time.
Other tools limit access to one person at a time. Because that person is wholly responsible for updating the plan, they spend a majority of the day tracking down updates and entering the data. This might be okay if their entire job was dedicated solely to updating the PM tool, but that’s usually not the case. If this situation sounds familiar, spend a week adding up the hours spent on tracking down statuses and updating the plan. The number might be a surprise for both you and your stakeholders.
Customer Satisfaction: If you’re delivering late or going over budget, your customers aren’t going to be happy. Of course, a project management tool cannot be wholly blamed for customer dissatisfaction, but if you see trends, it may be worth investigating further. To measure this, you could look at measures like repeat and lost customers, revenue from existing customers, and customer surveys.
To showcase these numbers, create a spreadsheet calculation that shows the summation of each item. You can use the example in our download kit to build yours. You may want to partner with someone from the finance team to ensure you have the most accurate information.
To put these costs in clearer terms, we created a cost calculation worksheet to help quantify the true costs of using an ineffective project management tool. Just plug in a few numbers, and you’ll have solid data for your proposal.
Calculate the value of a new tool in terms that your boss or executive team will understand.GET THE FREE KIT
Successful project management has a direct impact on the bottom line. Projects that are delivered on time and on budget lead to revenue and satisfied, repeat customers. Improvements in process and efficiency reduce time spent on routine tasks, which equates to more time spent on valuable work. With improved cost tracking, management can easily find which activities, processes, or errors are driving up costs and then make adjustments.
Your challenge is to find your own real-world scenarios that demonstrate the value a new project management tool would bring.
Some areas to explore include the following:
A new project management tool has the potential to cut hours of administrative time. For example, let’s say that you could go from a weekly status meeting to a monthly meeting. That saves you three hours per month. Over a year, you would have saved 36 hours. Multiply that by the number of people on your team, let’s say 5, and you’re now saving 180 hours every year.
If you multiply that by the blended rate of your team, we’ll say $33 an hour for this example, that comes out to $5,940. That’s nearly six grand of your company’s money and 180 hours of your team’s time going toward meetings.
Now, what will your team do with those extra hours? If your team bills hourly, you can multiply your hourly rate to show how much potential extra income your team could bring in.
If your new tool offers collaboration features, you can also calculate at the number of hours you spend on sending and reading emails and manually updating project plans.
For example, a LiquidPlanner customer drastically reduced the amount of time his team spent on emails. He estimates that his team now saves the equivalent of 480 days per year. That’s about $73,000, the salary of one employee. His team also wins back that time, which further boosts productivity.
Any project management tool worth its salt will help you maximize your team’s productivity. For example, one of our customers was able to reduce project durations from six months to six weeks. Instead of two projects every year, they can now ship eight. That’s a significant increase to the bottom line.
To calculate this, look at the number of units (e.g., physical items, billable hours, projects) that your team currently produces over a certain period of time (e.g., hours, weeks, months). If you were able to increase capacity by 10 percent, how many more units could your team produce? What about 20? 30?
Some benefits are harder to quantify. While you may be tempted to ignore these, the intangible benefits may have just as much of a business impact as the more tangible assets of your benefits calculations.
These could include the following:
Whether you use one or all three of these methods is up to you. The most important thing is to present enough of a justification to secure approval without overwhelming your audience. Also, be mindful of not getting carried away with dubious savings estimates and tying hard-costs to intangible ROIs. Give yourself some wiggle room in the ROI department to prevent executives from immediately dismissing your calculations.
It’s time to get a game plan together for implementing your proposed solution.
Think of adopting a new tool like running a project. If you’ve got a plan in place, you’ll have a higher chance of success. This chapter will walk you through how to create a rollout plan and timeline that will ease executive fears.
Every project needs a project manager and your rollout is no exception. The first step is to identify a strong champion to drive the implementation and act as a mobilizer for the team. Now and in the future, they will be the point of contact for all things related to the new solution. Having an appointed champion is key to adoption. If you’re reading this guide, that person is probably going to be you!
Depending on the size of your team, you may also want to designate a few other implementation leads to facilitate buy-in and assist with training and communication. These people might be department heads or other project managers.
Finally, you’ll want to partner with an executive sponsor to help communicate the benefits of using a project management solution and support its continued usage. Once you get buy-in from your executives, pay attention to who seems most excited and enlist them to motivate the rest of the team by saying, “This is important for our business, and here’s why.”
Having this implementation team established before you pitch the solution will go a long way in convincing stakeholders that the transition will be well managed.
Getting the team to learn how to use a new system is important, but be sure to place just as much emphasis on goals and processes during the transition. Start by asking the question “What is our goal in using this new tool?”
Common responses are
These answers are a good start, but they won’t help you get results. Make sure to identify specific areas in which you’d like the project management tool to improve the way your team works.
Some examples include the following:
Once you’ve identified one or two specific goals, write them down and be prepared to include them in your pitch and throughout the implementation.
There could be a lot that goes into training your team, depending on the complexity of the solution you select, the formal training your chosen solution provides (or doesn’t), and your team’s previous experience with the software.
The very first thing you should do is find out what training programs are offered for the solution you’re considering. After that, you’ll be in a better position to create an onboarding plan that your management team will be confident in. The very first thing you should do is find out what training programs are offered for the solution you’re considering. After that, you’ll be in a better position to create an onboarding plan that your management team will be confident in.
Most project management systems will offer documentation in the form of guides, manuals, or videos. Spend time looking through these resources to assess the depth and breadth of the information. Think of questions your team may ask and see how long it takes for you to find the answer on your own.
You’ll also want to find out what type of customer support comes with your subscription and whether or not training is included. For example, LiquidPlanner includes four hours of one-on-one onboarding assistance and training as part of our premium subscription packages. Many SaaS (software-as-a-service) providers will only offer fee-based training, so make sure to factor in these costs as they can quickly add up.
Various people within your organization will use the project management system in different ways. For example, team members that need to see their assigned work will use completely different features than project managers. You may wish to set up separate training sessions based on roles. Starting with three groups is oftentimes sufficient: executives (data consumers), project managers or department managers (schedule and resource editors), and team members (task editors).
In addition to training the people that will be using the software on a daily basis, you should also consider other implementation logistics. This includes things like IT involvement and adjustments to existing workflows. Here are some questions to ask yourself.
Once you’ve identified areas of impact, contact the people at your company who will help with these logistics and get rough estimates for the amount of effort each item will require. They also might be able to suggest implementation steps or requirements you didn’t think of. Meeting with the right people will ensure that you have answers to your stakeholders’ questions.
When it comes to implementation, your executive stakeholders are probably going to care a little more about the when instead of the how. It’s important to remind them that any change in process or tool requires time.
A lot of factors influence how long a rollout will take: team size, existing workload, company culture, buy-in, training schedules, the list goes on.
That’s why many implementations can take up to three months to get full adoption. However, a lot of the time-intensive work happens upfront in the first month or two of the rollout. Here’s what a typical timeline looks like in more detail.
When you give your stakeholders a concrete timeline up front, you’ll be setting expectations for the reality of implementing a new project management solution. Be sure to sprinkle in the benefits that the business will start to realize as you walk through this timeline.
Read on to learn how to put together a proposal and deliver a pitch your boss can’t refute.
Use this document during your meeting to ensure you cover your key points. It can also double as a nice leave-behind for stakeholders.
We recommend breaking the proposal document into four sections:
First, offer a taste of what life could be like with this new project management tool.
“A chicken in every pot.”
“A computer on every desk.”
“A world where projects are delivered on time and on budget and redundant, unnecessary meetings are a thing of the past.”
You get the picture.
Then, state your proposal for purchasing a new project management solution upfront in one to two sentences. Instead of proposing to purchase, you might even suggest running a pilot of the software for a month. It may be easier to get buy-in for a test run rather than a full adoption.
In this section of your proposal, you’ll use your research from Chapter 1. Begin by demonstrating that you understand the needs of your stakeholders and the business; for example, “This quarter, our company has been focused on reducing the time-to-market for new products.”
Then, briefly explain how your current project management tool is preventing your team from meeting these objectives. Be thorough enough that you paint an accurate picture of the current situation, but don’t spend more than two paragraphs on this section.
Now you need to demonstrate why your proposal will bring the company closer to the vision you’ve outlined.
List three reasons why your boss should approve your proposal. Use the work you did in Chapter 2 to show how a new tool would contribute to this greater vision. Don’t make the mistake of just listing features here. Remember to frame it from your stakeholders’ perspective: “What’s in it for me?”
You should also list the consequences of not approving your proposal for a new tool. Look at your calculations from Chapter 2 to determine how much time, money, and productivity is currently being lost. If you continue to do things the way you’ve always done, what do your stakeholders and the company stand to lose?
Outline your plan for making the switch, if your proposal is approved. Use your plan from Chapter 3 to briefly outline the steps to successfully implementing a new tool.
Remember, this document should only be a page or two long. Any additional information can be discussed during your pitch meeting.
We created a checklist to use when reviewing your written proposal. This should help you ensure the important details are covered.
Ensure you’re ready for the pitch with this handy checklist.GET THE FREE KIT
Imagine that you’re in the room with the executive team. You’re getting closer to The Ask, and you’re feeling good. They’re smiling, nodding, asking the right questions. You’ve hit your key points. You can tell your business case is resonating.
Then, out of nowhere, one of them drops a bomb on your presentation. You stutter out an answer and try to quickly move on, but no one is listening anymore. They’re thinking about the question. They’re having doubts. They’re making their decision before you even finish your pitch.
When you discuss your idea, there are going to be questions and objections. These can be stumbling blocks that trip you up over and over again or steps that take you in the right direction. It all comes down to how you prepare.
First, take 30 minutes to write down every question your stakeholders could possibly ask. To get the creative juices flowing, divide your document into six sections: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Then, start writing.
Here are some ideas to get you going:
Make sure every question is answered somewhere in your presentation. You don’t want to hear “No” just because you didn’t take the time to anticipate and answer your stakeholders’ questions.
We’ve created a guide to the most common executives ask about LiquidPlanner. It should help you better anticipate possible questions and formulate smart responses.
Be ready to answer executives’ most commonly asked questions about PM software.GET THE FREE KIT
Now grab another sheet of paper. Write down every objection you can think of and then ask your team to do the same. Narrow your lists down to four to six objections. Now script talking points for every objection. Bring this document to your meeting and reference if needed.
Should you proactively address these objections within your presentation? There’s a fine line. You don’t want to plant objections in an executive’s head, but you also don’t want to look unprepared. If an obvious objection is listed by both you and your peers, then consider mentioning it in your pitch.
Drawing upon our customers’ experiences of pitching to executives, we’ve come up with the six most common objections to investing in a new project management tool.
Want to see our recommended responses and the rationale behind each? We thought you might ask. Download the Objections Cheatsheet below.
Learn the six most common objections to PM software and how to respond.GET THE FREE KIT
Bring your boss (unless you’re pitching him or her, of course) and the executive sponsor to the meeting. If you think this will be a hard sell, consider bringing the influential ally you identified in Chapter 1, as well. Be sure to thoroughly brief them before the meeting, so that you’re all on the same page.
Schedule the meeting at a time when your stakeholders are going to be most receptive. Then, bring your proposal, pitch presentation deck if you’re using one, and FAQ and objection cheatsheets.
If you’re pitching software, you better be ready to demonstrate it. Before the meeting, take advantage of the vendor’s free trial to build out a workspace and learn the tool.
During the meeting, use a projector to display the tool live so stakeholders can better picture their teams using it. As you walk through your proposal, demonstrate the features and functionalities and explain how they are an improvement from your current system.
If you’d rather not have the added pressure of demonstrating live, use screenshots or a recorded demo to assist your presentation.
Whatever format you decide, make sure you’re experienced enough with the tool to competently explain features and benefits to your stakeholders.
You’ve put a lot of work into this pitch. Don’t derail it with a sloppy slideshow.
We’re not suggesting you spend hours adding fancy animations and choosing the just right stock images. Instead, focus on making it easy to quickly consume (no walls of text) and visually appealing (embed graphs, images, video, and branded colors, if possible).
We’ve created a presentation template that you can use to guide the conversation.
Use the slides and talking points in this customizable template to format your executive pitch.GET THE FREE KIT
When you reach the end of your pitch, restate your proposal for adopting or piloting a new tool. Then, stop talking.
It may feel uncomfortable. You will probably feel tempted to fill the silence.
Don’t do it.
Instead, take a deep breath. Count to three, and wait for your stakeholders to respond. You don’t want to risk unselling the idea by babbling on and on.
Considering all of the hard work you’ve put into this proposal, we hope you get the green light right there! If you do, tell them “thank you,” leave the room, and do a victory dance in the hallway. Details can be hashed out later.
If they need time to deliberate, thank them for their time and leave them with copies of your proposal.
If your proposal is not accepted, just remember every salesperson’s motto: “’No’ only means ‘not right now.’” Go back to your desk and do a little post-pitch analysis.
If you truly believe this new project management tool will have a positive effect on the lives of you, your team, and your stakeholders, be patient and continue to work with your team to show the need and quantify the potential benefits and effects. Be patient; a more opportune time may present itself in the future.
In today’s competitive marketplace, companies are being pressured to deliver more while cutting costs. To accomplish this, teams need solid project management tools that help them stay ahead of the competition—not fall behind.
We hope this guide will help you demonstrate this need to your executive team. Remember, it’s not only about the features. It’s about how the right project management software will positively impact the business’s bottom line.
You’ve found a new tool. Your team’s itching to roll it out, but first, you need to win that final executive sign-off. These six resources will help you build a compelling business case that will have executives asking, “Where do I sign?”GET MY RESOURCES