Today I’m going to show you how to pitch your first project. This is my follow-up post to how to choose your first project.

Let’s jump right in.

Preparing to pitch your first project

In an ideal world, everyone would see the brilliance of your ideas and you wouldn’t need to convince anyone, including your boss, to act on them. But you know things are a little more complicated in real life. And a little preparation can be helpful.

Tailor your pitch to your boss

Your first step is to tailor your pitch so that your boss will see it in the best possible light. Driving Technical Change (Terrence Ryan) is a great guide for figuring out what kind of person you’re dealing with and how to win them over to your way of thinking. It’s not foolproof but this book can help you avoid making silly mistakes when you are trying convince your boss green light your first project.

Is your boss more likely to say yes to a high-level verbal summary of your idea? Or does she want all the details written out? Or something in between? Does she like PowerPoint or think it’s the devil’s software? Does she make decisions based on reason and math or on gut feelings and intuition? Know your audience. Present the information in the way that’s easiest for them to consume, even if it might be harder for you to deliver.

Choosing your moment is important too. If your boss just had a stressful meeting, it might not be the best time to pitch. Or maybe your boss is checked out by the end of the day so mornings are best. Or maybe she’s sleepy after a plate full of carbs after lunch. Figure out when your boss would be most receptive to your ideas and set a meeting to pitch in the sweet spot.

Your boss is probably most receptive if she’s already talking/complaining about the problem your project will solve. If there’s a natural opening to pitch your idea, you might want to jump on it and make an informal pitch on the spot.

Really understand what you’re proposing

You need to really understand your project. What are it’s strengths and weaknesses? What’s the potential gain and likely cost? What kind of objections might your boss have and how would you answer them?

Is all this preparation overkill? It might be, depending on the situation. If you have a good relationship with an easygoing boss, you might just blurt out your idea as you pass her in the hall one day and she’s approve it on the spot. It’s definitely happened to me. But I’ve had pretty well thought out ideas shot down too. And once your idea’s been shot and killed, it’s pretty difficult to bring it back to life.

Take responsibility

Be prepared to take full responsibility for the consequences of your project. Imagine three outcomes: best case, probable case, and worst possible case. Can you live with the worst possible outcome? Will your company survive the worst possible outcome? Will your job? If you or your company can’t survive the worst case, you may need to rethink your plan. Is all this risk necessary?

Practice your pitch

When you’ve got your approach, facts, and arguments figured out, it’s time to practice your pitch. I recommend practicing your pitch with a trusted co-worker or a friend. Practice more if you’re anxious. Your goal is to come off as confident and competent, not negligent and nauseated.

Get feedback and use it to refine your ideas and your delivery. Both are important.

Pitch your first project

If you’ve followed all the steps in this post and the last, you should be well prepared to make a successful pitch. Follow your plan and deliver a pitch tailored to your boss’s preferences.

Dealing with a no

Your boss is going to say no sometimes, perhaps often. I have no idea how many times my ideas have crashed and burned but ‘often’ is probably a good description. It also varies from person to person. Some people are receptive to ideas and others are less receptive. My point is that ‘no’ happens and you should expect it.

Now here’s the key thing: find out why your boss said no and use the answer to come up with something better.

Here’s what you have to figure out:

  • is the problem with the idea or the presentation?
  • is it a timing issue? are there higher priorities right now?
  • is there a chance your boss didn’t understand the idea or the benefits? which parts were too hard to understand?
  • are there changes you could make that would turn this no into a yes? what are they?

Collect whatever feedback you can and incorporate what you learn it into your next pitch.

Wrapping up

So that’s my basic tutorial on pitching  your first project. If you tailor your pitch to your boss, really understand your idea, take responsibility for the outcome, practice, and execute well, you’ll have a good chance of getting your first project approved.

If you don’t succeed on your first attempt just pick yourself up and try again. Keep going until you succeed. You’ll get there.

In my next post I’m going to wrap up this series with a summary and some final tips on how to be a wildly successful small business programmer. Stay tuned.