Take it from someone who’s been there! Check out these tips for when it comes time to explain your project to senior leadership.
Many years ago, I had the great fortune to work on a multi-year business transformation program. It was well-planned and resourced and would make us a best-in-class organization. We had clearly defined tangible and intangible benefits and a rock-solid business case.
After much blood, sweat, and tears, we successfully implemented the first of three planned phases, which was foundational in nature and only provided a small percentage of the overall planned benefits.
Before we could start the next phase, however, we had a major change in senior leadership. All projects were halted and would be reviewed by the new senior leadership team. It was clear that many projects would be on the chopping block to cut costs.
Our team was confident that our program would not be one of them. After all, we had a great strategy, clearly defined goals, a strong business case, and many, many beautiful PowerPoint decks. How could we not get a green light?
Handling Leadership and Project Changes
Many of us have been in the uncomfortable, and often supremely frustrating, the position of having to re-justify projects when leadership changes occur. If you attempt to arm wrestle with a new senior leader, however, contrary to my article’s title, no one wins.
Here are some thoughts to keep in mind when you’re called to explain what your project is all about…
- Detach emotionally. I am passionate about improving processes and managing programs and projects to the best of my ability. Unfortunately, sometimes that passion translates into an emotional attachment to projects and can cloud my judgment. When required to justify a project, first and foremost step outside of yourself and make sure you are building your justification on neutral ground.
- Focus on facts. Present the facts of the project, but also keep it simple. Find the key points and plan the best way to present them. It is great to have details for backup, but make sure you are painting a clear and easy to understand the picture.
- Give your honest opinion. Be frank about what has gone right and what has not. Don’t finger-point and make sure you continue to stay neutral emotionally. If you have suggestions for how things could be done better, offer them up.
- Make it a conversation. Make sure you are not just presenting, but give the senior leader the chance to ask questions and make comments. Actively listen and adjust on the fly. If the senior leader is not making any comments, stop. Go beyond asking if they have any thoughts or questions: ask them how they’re feeling or reacting to the information you’re sharing.
- Be prepared. Be prepared for your project to be axed. Be prepared for your project to be green-lit. Be prepared for small or massive changes. Be open and ready to embrace any outcome.
What happened with the program in my story?
Senior leadership decided not to fund the next phase with very little explanation. Because of my deep emotional investment in the project, I was angry and frustrated and probably wasn’t a very fun person to be around for a few weeks after that.
Looking back, I now know that this wasn’t helpful to my company or my career. There were massive changes happening in the company beyond the organization I worked for and us becoming “best in class” was no longer a valid long-term goal when the funding was needed elsewhere. The company needed to focus on other imperatives and senior leaders were tuned into that. I should have detached emotionally and understood that there was a bigger picture that I wasn’t seeing.
Senior leadership changes and subsequent project reviews can be difficult to work through, but keeping the points above in mind can help you navigate them and contribute positively to the transition which will benefit both the company you’re working for and your career.