Like a lot of developers and database administrators, I do a fair amount of short-term problem solving during the course of my normal work week. I get to join some Redgate sales calls, often during Proof-of-Concept exercises, and this frequently involves helping brainstorm about the best way to use our tools to solve a specific need for monitoring, database development, or automation. I also pick up customer questions from the #Redgate channel in the SQL Server Community Slack and answer forum questions for Redgate when I can.
Inevitably, when you do a regular amount of troubleshooting and brainstorming with customers, you start to notice patterns and have ideas about how to make things easier, faster, or better in some ways. Sometimes this is an idea for a new process or a new product, or it might be a big change to existing processes or products.
The challenge is getting it to happen, especially when doing so requires time from your coworkers.
I’m getting close to my one year anniversary at Redgate, which caused me to pause and think critically about the biggest patterns I’ve seen with one of my favorite Redgate products — and about some changes I would like to see to make that product even more awesome. (I’m not going to tell you what the product or the idea is in this post, by the way. The point is how I’m trying to get the idea done.) I realized that this idea is pretty important to me, and I would really like to see it happen– but it’s not a simple or easy thing. So I started to think about what I could do to try to cause some change to happen in this area.
Saying, “hey, we should do this thing!” usually isn’t enough
Occasionally, you can successfully initiate change simply by dropping the right idea into the right brains at the right time. But this is pretty rare, in my experience. Usually that “right time” described is when you can clearly and quickly show that the change will either result in a large amount of revenue immediately, or avoid a disaster which is provably imminent.
For anything else, even amazing ideas risk falling by the wayside. There are a lot of great ideas out there, but typically all our coworkers and managers already have a direction set for the next few weeks or months, if not longer.
It takes more than mentioning an idea to get it prioritized, much less actually done. So we need to put in more work to give our great idea a better chance at happening.
Think about the way your company likes to communicate
Company cultures vary quite a bit. If you work at a startup, you’re going to pitch ideas quite differently than if you work for a government agency.
At Redgate, I’ve learned that people love writing and reading. You can see this about us externally by browsing Simple Talk, our Product Learning articles, and even our product documentation. We also internally use video quite a bit — we share video for live meetings and demos, and often share recorded meetings for distributed teams and learning afterward.
For my pitch, I decided to focus mostly on writing, but to use a bit of recorded video as well. I wrote a paper about the change I was advocating, and why it should be done.
Here’s what I included in the proposal.
Give an executive summary
My proposal ended up at around 11 pages, including the table of contents. This is fine for my audience– like I said, Redgaters like writing and research. Even so, not everyone has time to read 11 pages. Even if they do have time, you should start with a pitch about why they should spend the time with your proposal.
That’s what an executive summary does. Give a short, high-level, one-paragraph overview of what the problem you’re solving is, the impact change will have on your organization, and a suggested course of action.
Explain the problem, and talk in dollar signs whenever you can
The next thing I did was detail the problem I’m solving: what thing or things could be much better? How does my idea relate to those problems?
In my experience, the more you can quantify the opportunity you see in revenue, and the more specific you can be about that, the more of a response you will get.
In my case, I explained this in three steps:
- The current experience, and why/where it could be improved
- A list of customers who asked for something related to my idea, or who could / would have benefitted from what I am proposing
- Details on how competing tools measure up in this area
This wasn’t something I did in five minutes — it took several research sessions. I dug through my email and identified some customers that way, and also asked colleagues for examples they remembered. I searched through Salesforce to identify more examples, and also to be able to quantify the size of deals which might be accelerated or created if my idea was implemented. I also did research on competing tools.
Be open to other solutions
Possibly the hardest part about this whole thing is to not get married to your idea.
Yes, you’re proposing a specific thing. But the really important bit is actually bringing focus to the problem or opportunity that “thing” addresses. There may be ways this can be approached more quickly, or ways that that address it more thoroughly — possibly those things are even more awesome.
Because of this, I didn’t spend too much time locking my proposal down to the details of the exact thing I’m recommending. Instead, I wrote more about the types of functionality that I am proposing, and what customers have told me they want to be able to do quickly and easily — along with some notes about why I believe this is all humanly possible.
What happens next?
Redgate has a quite open culture. Earlier this week, I shared my proposal out with my team and a few coworkers. Yesterday, I shared it with the stakeholders for the products involved in my idea.
Today, I got a meeting invite to talk through things with the product teams next week.
So you’ve got a meeting. What if nothing happens?
As much as I like my idea, it’s not something that’s likely to happen overnight. It’s not a small amount of work, and there’s also other awesome things in the works.
So, even if my idea gets prioritized, I don’t consider my proposal to be “done.” I plan to add more customer use cases to it over time as I come across them, and also to regularly ask other people at Redgate if they have new ideas in this problem space that would make a big difference. Since the bulk of the proposal is written, this maintenance piece is not particularly hard to do, and it will keep my proposal fresh — just right for the exact moment when the stars align and it’s the right moment for this change.
This isn’t the only way to inspire change
The approach that I described here is one that I’ve tailored to my situation and my audience. There are other ways to do this.
For some ideas, you may be able to create a working prototype or proof of concept of what you’re talking about — even potentially put it to work on a small scale. When that’s possible, you get even better customer stories and an ability to show the potential impact on dollar signs in another way. Absolutely take the option to “just get started” whenever you can.