Five proven ways to instant project approval

One of the first complaints I hear as an IT manager mentor is that managers can't get projects approved. There are five basic remedies to this problem that work every time.

By Joey Smith - CIO, Founder, and Executive Coach of HigherHill Enterprises

There are many articles written on how to be a successful IT manager. Usually these deal with methodologies for conducting an audit or analyzing the technical environment, and not the basics. In my experience working with IT leadership in a mentoring capacity, there are a few fundamentals that I always insure are present and accounted for. One of the first complaints I hear from IT managers is that they can't get projects approved. There are five basic remedies to this problem that work every time.

(1) Asking -- Asking is extremely basic and could seem implied, but it is overlooked the majority of the time. The number one complaint I hear from all IT managers is that they can't seem to support the business with what they have to work with. My first question to them is "did you ask for what you needed"? They sometimes respond with a no, and their canned response is that nothing ever gets approved for money or budget reasons. This is especially true of the IT manager, because financial people don't always understand what is being accomplished in IT. Believe it or not, I usually have no problems getting money to fund projects. In some cases, other departmental budgets get cut in order to fund my projects. Keep in mind that they don’t always get approved the first time. What happens to others is that sometimes after a defeat, the IT manager’s confidence is gone to the point of not returning to ask a second time. Not just for what they were originally asking for, but for other requests as well. They become conditioned to the "no" response. It is true that you only get what you ask for. The point here is that if you don’t have what you need, keep asking for it. Once is not enough, especially if you believe in what you are asking for. The worst that can happen in asking is getting a no. In my mind, no represents an opportunity to ask better next time.

(2) Responsibility -- The second formula for success after asking is passing the baton of responsibility. A tried and true method of getting projects approved after a "no" is having the executive sign a document saying that they understand the need and that they take responsibility for not approving it. For some reason, I see IT managers still responsible even after their project doesn’t get approved. For example, you have a request for new virus protection software because you continually get hit by viruses. It doesn’t get approved for financial reasons, but you still retain responsibility and get blamed for computers going down because of the protection software. Why is this fair? This is a gutsy move and requires some fortitude, but it will set you apart from other managers. If they make the decision, then it is their responsibility. If you make the decision, then you take the responsibility. It is that simple. With that said, make sure you are prepared to take responsibility with your decisions and projects and don’t waiver. Be responsible.

(3) Persistence -- The third fundamental is persistence. The truth is, the "squeaky wheel always gets the grease." Even though you have probably heard this a million times, it's true and remains unpracticed by most. The ones that do practice this principle get results. I can’t say it enough, if you ask once and you don’t get results, ask again. There are several things you can do to make this effective. Don’t ask the same way twice. Try a different approach or a different angle. I always recommend learning everyone’s personality type and becoming an expert on what makes other people tick. This could give you some valuable clues on how to ask appropriately. For instance, using emotion on a person that only cares about data will fail every time. If they are the data type, use data to back up your claims. In other words, don’t use techniques that apply to you only; fit them to match the person with the money and power. Another way is to bundle the request with something else that gets approved. In order to succeed as an IT leader, you are going to have to become an "asking" engineer.

(4) Confidence -- Look in the mirror, smile and tell yourself that you will succeed. This truly is a fundamental quality and something IT managers struggle with, especially if they are not used to dealing with business issues apart from technical ones. It is not just about competence in one's area of expertise. If it were that simple, all IT projects would be approved, no problem. It takes belief and courage in one's competence to make the difference. Winston Churchill once said, "Courage is the first of human qualities, because it is the quality that guarantees all others." If you show confidence in what you are asking for, it will help others see your commitment and guarantee.

(5) Continual learning -- Also be prepared. I can't tell you how many times I see managers coming to the table without their ducks in a row. Know the lingo, know the industry, and know what you are talking about first before asking. I have seen other managers die on the vine when questioned deeply about their projects. They simply didn’t have the answers. Know that you know that you know. If you are the expert, you will get results. Your commitment before you go to the table is that you will be fully prepared. This requires reading, seminars, mentoring, subscriptions, etc. You may never be known for having all the answers, but you will be expected to know where to find them. Take the time to do a personal inventory of knowledge. Where you see weakness or opportunity for improvement, find the resources to fill those gaps.

How would you like to hear "yes" the next time you ask for project approval? If you follow these five important steps, you will get projects approved and have the resources you need to take your business and department to another level.

Joey Smith is the CIO, Founder and Executive Coach of HigherHill Enterprises. Joey is also the only two-time finalist for the prestigious Georgia CIO of the Year Award and two-time winner for the Microsoft Project of the Year. For more of Joey's IT management insight, tips and tricks take a look at his Ezine entitled IT Octane!