top tips for project managers: you have 10 mins to get executive buy-in

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I read an article by Ty Kiisel on his blog that made me think about key things to consider when presenting a project to one or more senior executives.

His article is entitled “When Presenting to Stakeholders—You’ve Only Got About a Minute”.

Like Ty, I have also noticed that a common trait among senior executives is that they’re often time strapped. As a result, their attention span can be quite limited, to say the least, so you had better not waste the opportunity to get to the point quickly. (Having said that, everybody’s time is precious). So, be concise, adapt your language to the other party, tease their interest, and be specific.

All 10 tips proposed by Ty are certainly worth the reading. From my experience of presenting to senior executives, I would say three are really key, and I would add my own fourth tip.

Top tips for project managers: communicating with senior executives

1. Keep it simple: Be straightforward. Expose the facts and why the exec's involvement is required. Don’t overwhelm them with information, be concise, avoid jargon. Doing otherwise would be a waste of time and they’ll think that you can’t synthesize a situation effectively or can’t express yourself intelligibly.

2. Always offer a solution: Offer a couple of options for a solution (but no more than two). As Ty points out, there is no point in bringing up problems without potential solutions. The boss can decide between two solutions but it is your job to come up with well articulated options that highlight pros, cons, costs and project impact.

3. Specify the actions required of them: What exactly do you need from them? A memo or phone call to unlock a situation, more money, more time, more resources, arbitration, prioritization decision? Make sure they know what they need to do to help.

4. Big picture (this is my personal tip): Remind them of the overall context of the project or issue that you want to discuss. Do not assume that they recall who you are or what your project is about. They have many things to juggle. So start from the basics of how your project supports one or more of their strategic objectives before diving into any detail. Then, provide a rapid overview of the project scope, investments, duration and key milestones. Be clear on where you stand at present against these.

I believe these are the key tips to ensuring executive buy-in.

Michel Operto

I've been leading IT projects for more than 20 years at telecom and computer manufacturers: Thomson Sintra, Digital Equipment, NCR, Nortel Networks, Orange Business Services. My passion is Project Management and leadership and I run a blog on the PM best practices at http://dantotsupm.com/