Most of the time, the projects in your backlog come from your manager, or at a request from leadership. These are the ones that typically put out fires, and keep the trains running.
Sometimes though, you need to put things in reverse in order to create the work that will help both you and your company grow.
Tell me if this sounds like you:
- You have lots of ideas that you would like to contribute to you new team or company.
- You are coming from a place of great, ambitious intentions, and are filled with excitement for the future.
- You want to help drive the company forward, to better their products and services, and collaborate with new people to bring those ideas to life.
- You’ve pitched some ideas to your team, and they might think they’re great — but your team cautions you not to get your hopes up about bringing them to fruition.
- You might be a little disappointed in how slowly your more traditional, corporate structure works.
- You reluctantly come to realize that due to the scale of the company that you work for, incorporating your new ideas will take a lot of time and energy swimming upstream.
Ringing any bells? I’ve been there too, I know. So let me propose an idea.
How about you do the work to bring your idea to life, and then show it to your boss?
Now, I don’t mean ignore your other projects that have deadlines, or the major efforts that you will be graded on during your end-of-year evaluation. Instead, use the early mornings or your lunch breaks, or even a few minutes at the end of your days to work on that idea. You know it’s valuable, but you just haven’t been able to get it off the ground yet.
Focus on the idea that solves a problem for your team
That change you want to make? That process you want to improve? That tool that is more advanced and you know would help your team? Create the full picture that promotes this change, and then present it to your superiors. How?
- Do the research to understand the current state, the ROI of the change, and the industry standards.
- Outline the workshop, propose the solution, or mockup the design– whatever it is that you believe the next step should be towards positive change.
- Create the materials you need that visualizes, documents, or pitches the case to make the change.
This way, you’re beyond prepared to talk to your boss about it.
Let me share an example: I had an idea that I believed would improve the way our company handles optimization testing. We have many divisions, business units, and stakeholders, that all have touch-points within the process. There are a lot of folks that need to be involved in some of the process, but end up being involved in the entire process. This doesn’t necessarily make it the most efficient way of working.
My idea to make it better was three-part: 1) centralize the program, 2) invest in better tools and dedicated resources, and 3) create a new communication method to make sure stakeholders are all plugged in at the right part of the testing journey.
By simply talking about these changes in meetings, the decision makers that could actually put it in motion didn’t have the data to back up my reasoning. They also didn’t have the time to look into what it would take to make the improvements, either. So, I did it myself.
Do the work that makes your case
I set up meetings with internal resources who had previous experience with successful optimization programs. I picked their brains, asked for their advice, and documented their suggestions. By compiling this inside knowledge, I had a starting point to further research best practices outside.
Then, I dove into how other e-commerce platforms run their optimization programs, so I could make a case for industry standards based on tangible market research.
My next step was to engage all those stakeholders that need to be involved in the process. I figured that a regular meeting wouldn’t create the deliverables or direction that I would need to move forward, so I developed a workshop. I designed 3 main activities that tackled the 3 main problem areas within our current process, in a way that would encourage participation in different ways from everyone. Through a series of sketching, pitching, and whiteboard brainstorming, people who usually do not have the time to draw and think critically about process improvement would have the opportunity to collaborate and engage in a whole new way. This would then hopefully generate new ideas that can bring us one step closer to improving the entire optimization program.
It was only after I made the workshop materials that I shared it with my managers.
It was more than well received, and now I have the tangible materials that my managers can take to leadership in order to get the whole thing in motion.
Technical people are visual people, too
As humans, appealing to others using visuals is the fastest and most effective way to communicate. Without visual cues or context, conversations often live in the abstract world.
By taking the initiative to reel the abstract into reality, you will be better equipped to create impactful, valuable change. Sometimes things are done the same way “because they’ve always been done that way” due to the fact that no one could visualize anything different.
If you take the burden of “imagining” change off of the people you are trying to get on board, you’ve already done the hardest part in evoking change.
Do work proactively
Just “imagining” change won’t mean it will happen. Climb the first steps in order to make it real, and then everyone else can more confidently join you up the rest of the stairs.
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