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Ryan Latta
Ryan Latta

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Making A Case to Your Manager

No matter where you are in your job, you will have great ideas. How do you get them to your manager in a way that they hear it?

I was once doing some prototype work for various databases that the architects and managers were considering. The field had narrowed to two databases, and I was doing the prototypes to help choose. One had fewer features and needed more custom work, but fit in our budget. Another had all of the features and then some, but was unaffordable. I made my case that we cannot afford the fancy one. The managers went with the unaffordable one.

While I wasn’t bothered by this decision, I had to learn a lot more about making my case. I think of a few basic guidelines now:

  • Know their needs first
  • Have data
  • Provide alternatives
  • Identify trade-offs

Know Their Needs First

It seems obvious, right? Know what your manager is looking for before you make your case. Honestly, this is a step I see developers skip time and time again. Knowing the manager’s needs means that you know the actual problem they need to solve instead of the solution that is under discussion.

By knowing their needs, their problems, concerns, and hopes, you can better find something that is appropriate, and when you discuss your findings, you can speak about real problems.

Try asking these questions:

  • What problem are we trying to solve?
  • Why now?
  • What are you looking for in a solution?
  • What have you already considered?

Have Data

Sometimes developers resort to identifying feature sets and hype as a replacement for data. While “Everyone else is using it,” is exciting, it isn’t very compelling. Why are they using it? What does this solution offer that you’d be willing to bet is a benefit for your group? Feature sets are excellent marketing, but often those features don’t apply or poorly fit your specific situation. So it’s only on paper until you can prove it works.

What other kinds of data should you to uncover:

  • Comparison of onboarding
  • Operating costs at current and future scale
  • Licensing
  • Compatibility with the current ecosystem

This data, by itself, won’t convince anyone of anything if they have made up their mind. However, without data, it is common to wind up at an impasse in the conversation, and that will prevent the correct decision from coming forward.

Provide Alternatives

For most of us, we have one great idea. That includes our managers. A fun dip into neuroscience is that our brains work by what is called a “First-fit” solution. Which is to say we grab the first plausible idea we have, not the best or most considered.

Now, this might sting a bit, but it is pretty easy to check out in your brain. Which ideas did you say no to before you came to the one you have? For most of us, we didn’t say no to any. We said yes to one.

Finding alternatives is a critical skill to remove bias and improve decision-making.

The critical part of this element is to find at least two other legitimate options. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other trade-offs, but that they will legitimately solve the problem in need.

Finding alternatives is harder than it sounds, but it is a crucial practice when helping others make decisions.

Identify Trade-Offs

No solution is perfect. I’d be very dubious of anyone trying to make that claim to me.

There is always a trade-off with every decision. Find those trade-offs. When people are trying hard to pick only one way, talk about what you lose by choosing it. Often those parts will be left off the conversation.

As you do this for your alternatives, you will be able to present more viable options with a more evident awareness as to what needs to happen. This ability is a rare mix of considered decision-making that is invaluable to managers.

As you work in 2020, I challenge you to hone your craft of making your case. Help your team and your leaders make better decisions.

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