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When under pressure to deliver more for less, organizations often put project management on the chopping block. I get it, we’re a bit removed from the actual end product.

We’re not the engineer that designs the bridge, the developer that codes the website, or the copywriter that crafts the script for the commercial. We’re an arm’s length away from the action, and if you’re running a company that makes widgets, you need to prioritize employing people who make those widgets. 

Combine that with the hallmark of good project management: a ninja-like calmness and stealthiness. When the project manager is good, the tasks they do each day are often intangible, and now you have a recipe for getting overlooked.

You and your fellow project managers know that your work delivers consistent results, and fosters environments that produce happy teams and satisfied customers. But how to sell the value of project management and get your organization to buy in, particularly when they need to make hard choices?

In this article, I’ll cover the seven best ways to sell the value of project management:

1. Start Small

Begin with the low hanging fruit at your organization and keep it simple. Maybe there are repetitive tasks that could benefit from a simple process template or visualization, or there is a singular project that just can’t get off the ground. 

If the jury is out on project management at your organization, I’m guessing they have a lot of blind spots and you probably don’t need to look hard for opportunities to add value to their ways of working. 

Perhaps there is a gap in capturing meeting notes and next steps, or maybe projects seem to stay on track, but calendars are impossible to coordinate when it’s time to review a deliverable. Not every problem requires a 12-page project plan; sometimes just the forethought to book a meeting a few weeks in advance can save the day. 

Your organization may not need your help on every single project or every single task, but if you can find small ways to add project value, you’ll notice that teams will start to request your help on their projects. 

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2. Follow The Dollars

This one isn’t sexy, but it’s a reality you should be aware of. When you’re in a job function that doesn’t directly contribute to revenue, it’s extremely important to understand the basics of how your company makes money and funds different roles. 

The more you can tie project management to recurring revenue and/or high-value projects, the more likely it is that your finance team and other key stakeholders will see you as an important contributor. 

3. Know Your Audience

Knowing your audience means two things in the context of selling project management.

First, you should be adjusting your approach to project management on every single project based on the needs of the project team members and the requirements of the task itself. Being adaptable will only win you points—you’ll be supporting the folks you work with in the right ways, and not forcing it when it’s not needed.

Second, you’re going to need to sell, and the first step in a sales and marketing strategy is to understand the target audience. I know that putting yourself out there and tooting your own horn is uncomfortable and feels quite vulnerable. What if someone disagrees with you? Eek, cue imposter syndrome. 

But there are ways to sell yourself and project management as a whole without having a flashback to going door-to-door selling wrapping paper for your fourth-grade field trip (maybe that was just me). 

illustrated comic of a person going door to door selling wrapping paper and having the door slammed in their face
Selling your org on project management shouldn't be as troublesome as selling wrapping paper door to door.

4. Find Allies And Stick Close To Them

When you’re starting small, latch on to those people who are willing to accept your help. Not everyone in your organization will be project management’s number one fan from day one. Find the ones who are supportive of the function and stick close to them. 

You’re going to need some examples of project success, and these are the people at your organization who will enable that. And if you’re doing a good job, these people will sing your praises to their teams and managers, and (hopefully) provide you with testimonials. 

5. Develop Case Studies

In the same way your company develops successful project stories or case studies to win new business, you should be creating case studies around what you bring to successful projects.

You can even structure these the same way your company does. Take the time to make them super slick too—the delivery of a case study makes all the difference, both in terms of the physical design and also how you present the facts. 

Don’t take for granted that your project sponsor, senior leadership, or other stakeholders will immediately “get it.” Weave them a story using language and analogies from other functions or areas of the business that they’re familiar with and fond of. 

6. Quantify Impact Where You Can

The testimonials from your supporters and your well-crafted case studies will no doubt include plenty of qualitative reasons to believe in project management. Regardless of how data-driven your organization is, you’re going to need some quantitative data to support your cause. 

Some typical metrics that can be used to quantify the impact of effective project management are:

  • Hours or time saved
  • Costs saved through efficiency and/or by avoiding risk
  • Increase in business results
  • Increase in net promoter scores, whether internal or from your partners or customers

If you want to learn more about using data to communicate impact in the context of agile project management, have a listen to this podcast with the co-founder of The Digital Project Manager, Galen Low, and agile delivery champion, Bill Moroz.

7. Adjust And Pivot

Last but not least, be prepared to adjust your case for project management based on who you’re talking to. What will sell project management to your CEO will not be what sells it to an entry-level engineer.

You first need to understand the difference between those two value propositions, and then make sure you can clearly communicate both. 

Be Patient, But Move On If Your Values Aren’t Aligned

In a scenario where not everyone understands the value of PM (when it comes to strategy or otherwise), be prepared to not only adjust your sales pitch, but also to adjust your vision for project management (within reason, of course). 

If you’re collaborative, adaptable, and take a “yes, and…” approach to projects, those around you are bound to want to keep working with you. It might be a grind, and it might not be perfect to begin with, but in my experience, once you’ve been exposed to a successful project manager there’s no turning back.  

That being said, there are many different flavours of project management, and you might end up in an organization that just doesn’t share the same vision for PM that you do.

There’s no fault in that, and if you can’t seem to get on the same page as your company, trust that there is another organization out there who would do anything to have your skillset on their team. 

If you need some help fielding the most common questions about the value of project management, check out this DPM podcast, and subscribe to The Digital Project Manager newsletter.

We also offer digital project management training for agencies and other organizations looking to align their project management team's values and methods.

And make sure to check out our membership and access our Slack group, where we’re talking about this challenge and other challenges in project management. Sign up to connect with and discuss these challenges with other project managers working in the field.

Sarah Sime
By Sarah Sime

Sarah Sime is the head of project management at the Canadian office of Initiative, a global media agency. For over 12 years she’s helped teams understand and navigate the human elements of projects. Her approach delivers solutions focused on results over rigidity.