Path to Yes
Assuming your project will need resources in order to bring it to life (hint: it will, even if it is just people’s time), one of the most important pieces of the puzzle is figuring out who you’ll need to pitch (i.e. who has to say “yes” in order for your project to move forward). Sometimes this is obvious (you have a direct boss with budget who has “sponsored” projects like yours in the past), but often times it isn’t as clear. In fact, in many cases, unfortunately, there’s not a just a single person you have to ask. You may need to identify the “chain of asks” that will be required to get to a “yes” (and budget). If this is the case, make sure you’re teeing up each successive person to make a compelling pitch (especially if you can’t be directly involved). In a perfect world, you’ll find an executive who will not only give you budget, but also permission to fail. You need to be able to (as quickly as possible) kill ideas that should die, instead of trying to force them into success (which SHOULD give you more at bats to run after other opportunities).
Start by asking any friendly senior level (or higher up) connections you have for help identifying the path to yes. A great additional benefit of socializing the project at this point is that even if your friendly connects won’t directly be a part of the “chain of asks,” they may very well help with important backchannel politics that could grease the skids.
Important note: Before you start asking around; always be ready to pitch! In addition to having a well-crafted story prepared for a formal presentation, you’ll also want to have a well-rehearsed 30-60 second elevator pitch perfected (this should be enough to generate excitement, buzz and to motivate others to help— here are some great tips on how to do that). You don’t want to be caught flat-footed when someone asks you to tell them about the project.
What’s in it for Them?
Once you’ve identified who you’ll be pitching, it’s important to understand what success looks like for them, specifically. You need to understand the dynamics of the person you’re pitching. How are they evaluated? What specific goals/objectives have they been tasked with that your project can help them achieve? How this initiative is going to help them achieve their objectives (or at least make them look good) should be a concisely packed part of your pitch. Asking yourself “how can I make this a no-brainer” may also help you identify the right person to be pitching in the first place. Taking new ground and launching innovation initiatives is hard enough, so spending the extra time/energy up front to find the right corporate sponsors can be well worth your while.
Unfortunately, your initiative may not (yet) be a high priority for anyone in your “Path to Yes”. This just means you’ll likely have to be dogged about following up, making sure they have what they need, getting past objections and sometimes even finding a new path (when you run into dead ends or blockers). Knowing when to abandon ship is not always obvious (not all concepts should see the light of day), but you should expect some level of resistance and be prepared to aggressively advocate for your concept.