Thursday, November 14, 2013

“Dr. No” and the Business Case Presentation

If you have ever made a business case within a large organization (in fact, if you have ever tried to make any kind of presentation to a large organization) you will have run across Dr. No.  He or she is everywhere.

When I was a geek working in some large organizations, I would occasionally get called in to presentations, either by fellow geeks or by third parties.

My gut assumption was that I was being called in to sneer at something in the presentation.  Why else would they pull me from my terminal and bring me into a conference room?

I was a Dr. No:

  • “No, that won’t work; we tried that three years ago and go nowhere.”
  • “No, those guys can’t do it.  They don’t have the right pedigree/headcount/technology stack”
  • “No, it can’t be done.  It’s NP-complete/violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics/Moore’s Law”
  • “No one wants that.  Our customers are asking for the very opposite.”

(The last one is kind of rich, since no one ever accused geeks of caring too much about customers (although many of us do).)

Dr. No’s are dangerous, because they do have the ear of their management, and it is often the case that management has brought them in, like attorneys, to find problems and flaws.  But they can be neutralized or even won over.

The first order of business is to understand the psychology of the Dr. No.  Why does he assume he is being brought in to sneer?

The main reason is low self-esteem.  She can’t imagine that any exec would have her in a meeting for her opinions.  After all, her opinions are insignificant.  The only possible motive for having her there is to find fault, and the only way to impress the execs is to find every possible flaw.

The situation is complicated by the fact that execs indeed often do want Dr No’s to find fault.  But, like attorneys, they want to find the real flaws, not every possible flaw.  They want, ideally, for Dr. No to exercise some judgment, to give a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down based on the balance of flaws and virtues.  They want, in essence, a business partner with a specialist point of view.

This analysis provides the key to handling the Dr. No: make him feel like the business partner he should be, and he will be an ally instead of an enemy.

Easier said than done, you might say.  But it’s straightforward:

  • Excite her (technical) greed.  There is no geek who doesn’t love cool tech stuff.  Get her excited about something in the approach, or, better, let her think that her group or team can do some of the cool stuff in the approach, and you will have won half the battle.
  • Treat him as if he were a business partner.  Ask his opinion about the business implications of the idea.  When the exec opines on something, as Dr. No what he thinks or feels about the same thing.  Find something in his background with a business or business-case angle and use that information to slant something his way.  If you’re in the same organization as the Dr. No, this information should be readily knowable.

An adroit combination of these two approaches will have most Dr. No’s (Dr’s No?) eating out of your hand.

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