Use the Iron Triangle to Frame Your Pitch to Upper Management

Framing information and using the Iron Triangle - time, cost and scope - can be instrumental in gaining support from senior executives for your projects.Framing information and using the Iron Triangle – time, cost and scope – can be instrumental in gaining support from senior executives for your projects.

In their 2002 book, “Selling Project Management to Senior Executives: Framing The Moves That Matter,” authors Janice Thomas, Ph.D., Connie Delisle, Ph.D., and Kam Jugdev, Ph.D., highlight the challenges that project managers face when trying to sell a plan to senior management. The primary issue lies in communicating the benefits of the assignment and approaching the situation with the right frame.

“Framing” is the perspective we bring to decision-making based on past experiences. In her renowned book on the subject, “The Power of Framing: Creating the Language of Leadership,” Gail Fairhurst, Ph.D., says that when we are communicating through frames, we are shaping the reality of a situation.

But framing can have a negative effect when it’s not used with careful thought, so it’s important to choose the proper frame when promoting a project to upper management. By presenting the vital information in a concrete and practical way, project managers can use the Iron Triangle of time, cost and scope to prove to executives how the company will improve its bottom line.

Breaking through their barriers

From CEOs to CFOs, top-level executives are concerned with maintaining profitability. Therefore, they are often wary of using valuable resources like time and workflow in projects that have a potential for failure. When it comes to pitching assignments to them, executives need to understand the positive outcomes that project management will provide the business.

In their book, Thomas, Delisle and Jugdev explain that project management is becoming increasingly important to organizations that are looking to grow within their sectors. Project managers have to present the main components of the project in the right context while managing the realistic expectations of their executives.

The steps of persuasion

When framing a project management pitch for senior leadership, persuasion is an effective tool. In “The Necessary Art of Persuasion,” author Jay Conger, D.B.A., senior research scientist at the University of Southern California’s Center for Effective Organizations, underscored the efficacy of persuasion and discussed four distinct steps that project managers should use for framing discussions with upper management:

  1. Establish credibility
  2. Identify common ground, and use it to frame goals
  3. Reinforce position with language and evidence
  4. Connect emotionally.

Successful project leaders position the assignment as a solution to corporate problems. They use executive-level language and concepts that resonate with upper management and present their information using the Iron Triangle focusing on time, cost and scope of the project. Senior executives want business results that can be achieved at lower expense to the company, and by presenting evidence in the right light, managers can ensure that their leaders support their efforts.


© 2014 Merit Career Development. All rights reserved. For more information, please contact Jim Wynne at jwynne@MeritCD.com.

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