How to Build a Strong Business Case for Your Association Technology Project
- Mike Guerrieri
- May 9, 2018
Just because your department needs new technology doesn’t mean you’ll get new technology. First, you have to “sell” the project to decision-makers in the IT department and C-suite. You’ll need their cooperation and support to move forward. If only you knew what goes through their minds as they listen to your proposal…
Well, you came to the right place. I once was one of those decision-makers, and can reveal to you what IT leaders and association executives think about when considering new technology projects.
How do Association C-suite & IT leaders assess project ideas?
Many association decision-makers use criteria like these to evaluate new project ideas.
Organization’s strategic or business need: Whether your project gets the greenlight is dependent upon your ability to describe the impact it will make on the organization.
- Is the project directly tied to a strategic goal or will it provide a market advantage?
- If the project isn’t taken on, will your organization’s ability to achieve its mission and vision be hindered?
You must explain how your project will help your organization achieve a strategic or business goal.
IT project portfolio: First, find out whether your IT department has a project portfolio—a list of prioritized technology projects, both current and planned. Get a clear understanding of the selection and prioritization criteria they use to add items to the portfolio. How does your project meet those criteria?
Organizational bandwidth: Far too often, project sponsors don’t adequately define the effort required to complete a project and to support it after implementation. Does your organization have the time, people, and budget to support your project now and to manage that technology in the future?
Willing wallet: Money changes everything. How willing and able are the business units behind the project—your department and other stakeholder departments—to absorb new IT expenditures into your budgets?
External audience: If this project is not completed, how will it affect your organization’s relationship with your members, constituents, and customers?
ROI: While ROI is a critical measurement for many projects, return is not always easily measured. Instead, define the VOI—the value derived from investing in this project. For example, talk about the project’s value in terms of efficiency, member/user experience, or brand recognition.
Urgency: Real urgency has a way of making people take action. How soon will your organization’s ability to function or deliver on its membership promise be impacted if the project doesn’t go forward?
Eisenhower Decision Matrix: When considering whether to take action, many executives use the Eisenhower Decision Matrix, popularized by Stephen Covey in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Eisenhower said, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” When you identify something that is both important and urgent, that should be the highest priority. Where does your project fall on the important/not important axis and on the urgent/not urgent axis?
How do you prepare a convincing case for your project?
IT leaders and other executives don’t like having to say “no” to interesting ideas, but that’s part of their job. Before presenting your case, take time to research, analyze, and develop a strong argument.
Define the real problem.
Know what you’re really up against. Figure out whether you’re trying to solve a technology, process, or people (culture) problem, or a combination. If you have a culture problem, technology (your project) won’t solve it.
Let go of assumptions and biases.
Don’t assume you have the full picture. Discuss the existing situation with colleagues who use the technology or processes you want to improve, and colleagues who will feel the impact of any changes introduced by the project. You may learn things that confirm your opinion or find out things you hadn’t considered.
For example, you may discover evidence in your favor: workarounds or “rogue software” implemented by staff who were frustrated with existing technology. Or, you may find the opposite: staff who are reliant upon and satisfied with the status quo, and, therefore, concerned about changes. In this case, you may also have a change management challenge if your project gets approved.
Don’t get hung up on a particular solution. You don’t know what you don’t know yet—there may be other viable options. Be willing to listen to and consider the counsel of others.
Define the impact of staying put vs. moving forward.
Explain the problem with sticking to the status quo. Show how the existing situation is affecting:
- Organizational strategy
- Staff morale
- Member service
- Other technology and processes
What opportunities are you missing because you don’t have the technology to pursue them?
What risks are you taking on? For example, how does your present situation affect cybersecurity and data privacy?
Describe how your project will improve the situation by helping your organization:
- Meet strategic or business goals
- Improve the member value proposition
- Increase productivity
- Decrease existing risks
- Comply with privacy regulations like GDPR
- Allow you to take advantage of opportunities
Even if decision-makers see the value in your project, they will ask tough questions and challenge some of your statements as part of their due diligence. You must anticipate any concerns and objections the IT team or C-suite might raise.
The IT department may ask about:
- Project’s fit in the current project portfolio
- Impact on existing technology
- Integration issues
- Project duration
- Training requirements
- Tech support
The C-suite will have different concerns:
- Alignment with organizational strategy
- Staff time required for project
- Budget implications
- Impact on other departments
- Convincing the board (if necessary)
- Consequences of staying with the status quo
- Benefits from improving the current situation
Be prepared to discuss reasonable alternatives for reaching your goal and why each approach would or wouldn’t work. For example, could you test an idea by using a minimum viable product, prototype, or pilot approach versus jumping in whole hog?
What else do you need to know about making a business case for new technology?
Don’t go it alone. Talk to your technology partners—vendors and/or consultants. They’ve seen many clients go through the project approval process.
- What type of business cases have worked for other clients in similar situations?
- Do they have data that demonstrates the business value of your proposal?
- Can they address the impact on IT resources?
Ask staff at other associations if they have advice to share. Reach out to them in person, in online forums, or on social media. How did they pitch their idea? Do they have success stories to share?
Don’t forget to speak to the emotional side of your decision-makers. Buying decisions are not based on logic alone—our emotions play a significant role.
Find allies in other departments. Rehearse your business case with them. Show decision-makers that your project is supported by other departments. Your argument will be stronger if your project has cross-departmental benefits.
Speak the language of your audience. Don’t assume they understand the inner workings of your department. If non-technical people are in the audience, translate technical jargon. Speak to their concerns, and remember, IT and the C-suite will likely have different concerns.
Keep the priorities of both the IT department and C-suite in mind as you develop your business case. As you do your research and put your proposal together, consult with the IT team. Take it from me, if you can get them on your side, your chance of success will greatly increase.