SOA Business Proposals

Recently I’ve been preoccupied with the issue of poor proposals from internal IT departments to the business. Unlike external service providers, internal IT departments don’t have as much practice at writing proposals and they don’t access to sales people to polish them up. So I thought I’d devote a few blog posts to business proposals and share my experiences about what works and what doesn’t.

I’ve got university degrees in both IT and accounting/finance (both ‘hard sciences’), so not surprisingly my proposals are focussed on hard science – facts, dollars and cents. Of course my proposals include non-financial benefits (as all proposals should) but those aspects are secondary. But it seems that my proposals have been missing something.

Yesterday I had a chat with former boss and we were discussing my previous post. He cautioned me not to get too hung up on black and white facts in proposals. He suggested that good proposals should sell a vision. He’s a very smart guy and has been around a lot longer than me so I had a think about what he said. And here’s what I came up with.

Typically when the business has a problem they go to the IT Department and the IT Department comes up with a solution and tells the business how much it’s going to cost and how long it will take. More often than not, the two sides then begin a dance around the project triangle as they negotiate tradeoffs between cost, time and scope. Eventually both sides come to an agreement and the project begins.

This approach has been around for a long time and it works well when everyone is “project focussed.” The process of producing a proposal for one particular project is largely a management exercise – you’re concerned with project management concepts such as resources, scope, quality and time. However, when we shift to an “enterprise focus” (as in the case of SOA) the proposal should contain elements of leadership.

In my mind the distinction between management and leadership is simple: managers manage tasks and leaders lead people. This is an important distinction because the single most important success factor for any SOA initiative is understanding people issues. Technology and the mechanics of managing a project are secondary.

Experience tells us that when it comes to “people issues” taking a management approach won’t work. If you’re relying on management structures, policies, procedures and the like, then most enterprise wide initiatives will fail. Rather than managing, you need to lead.

And leadership starts with the very first proposal. If your proposal is focussed purely on numbers and only tries to sell a solution then SOA will never get up – in almost all cases there are far less risky, cheaper, less disruptive and quicker ways of delivering a solution to a single problem than SOA.

So of course your proposal needs to sell a solution – but it also needs to sell a vision. Thanks Adam.


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