The Gut Check, the Rundown, and the Pitch

On getting buy-in.

Astronaut about to enter a simulator.

When I come up with an idea I think is going to help the team, it’s easy for me to get caught up in solving the problem and overlook how that idea might actually be received. As I wrote here, it’s important for project managers to respect their teams by thinking through every request they make of them.

To help me be more objective when thinking through ideas, I use a three-step process: The Gut Check, the Rundown, and the Pitch. This approach can be tailored to pretty much any situation where I’m hoping for team buy-in for a new idea.

The Gut Check

The Gut Check is about being honest with yourself and figuring out if the idea is actually worth distracting the team with. Some questions to consider:

  • Why are you doing this? If your answer is because it would be interesting to see the result, then you need to think hard about your next steps. Experimentation can lead to great things, but if experimentation is the goal, everyone needs to know what they’re getting into ahead of time. Otherwise, a project manager’s job is to make the team’s job easier. If a new idea isn’t primarily about supporting that goal, stop and move on to something else.
  • Is there a way to accomplish this that doesn’t require other people’s time? If the point of the idea is to help you do your own job better, chances are this isn’t a good use of other people’s time. Sometimes the “help me to help you” approach makes sense, but if you can solve this problem on your own, you probably should.
  • Is this a good time? Did the team adopt a new practice recently? Is everyone hustling to meet a deadline? Are key players on vacation? Part of getting genuine buy-in is making sure the right idea is presented at the right time.

By going through the Gut Check, you’re spending time with the idea and getting comfortable with it. But at this point, other people won’t have that same level of comfort because for them, the idea is brand new. Discussing the idea with the team now would be like dumping them in the ocean and hoping they can swim back to shore. One way to help them navigate your idea is to present a clear story about the problem, what’s being done about it now, and how things can be better.

The Rundown

Regardless of the size of the group you want buy-in from or the complexity of the idea, answering the following questions will provide you with a logical, sequential story for conveying an idea quickly, clearly, and persuasively:

  1. What are we trying to get done?
  2. How are we handling this now?
  3. How are we falling short?
  4. How can we do better?
  5. What would this look like?

Detailed answers for these questions need to be worked out, but it should be possible to answer each one in a sentence or two. For example: (1) The team needs to accurately record how much time is spent working on billable projects. (2) Right now, team members fill out time sheets to record their hours. If there’s any confusion about how hours should be categorized, they’re supposed to ask someone. (3) Despite this system, we’re losing $X every month due to miscategorized time entries. (4) If we were to adopt a less error-prone process based on Software Z, we’ll eliminate our monthly losses due to miscategorization.

For question 5, depending on the problem you’re trying to solve, a bullet point list or flowchart can be helpful to specify who’s expected to take action, when, and what the decision points are along the way.

Ideally, the output of a successful Rundown is a plan to achieve better results than the current approach allows, while causing less frustration on everyone’s part. But above all, the most critical aspect of the Rundown is making sure a successful outcome doesn’t hinge on anyone doing a lot more work than they’re already doing. Easier said than done.

The Pitch

If a formal process is required to think through an idea, chances are it’s complicated enough to require a face-to-face meeting to present it. The Rundown’s sequence can anchor that conversation and fill in details as questions come up. During the meeting, it’s important to keep your cool and remember that the Pitch isn’t about presenting a perfect idea or getting your way—it’s about starting an informed, structured conversation that can earn buy-in, which hopefully leads to a positive result.

It’s tough to come up with a formula for a successful Pitch. The discussion will constantly shift and it will depend on the biases, demeanours, and areas of responsibility that everyone brings into the room with them. Support those who understand your goals, and trust the research you’ve done into the pain points the idea is meant to solve. But accept that this idea probably isn’t the only way to solve the problem.

What’s more important than getting something done your way is that it gets done.