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Articulating your proposition – or - what is your problem?

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The importance of an elevator pitch was drummed into me very early on in my career (I started off in advertising).  This was because the ability to succinctly describe a client’s problem and our proposed solution significantly improved the chance of winning work.

There were a number of reasons for this: Firstly, it demonstrated to them that we had heard and understood their concerns.  Secondly, it showed that our recommended strategy was not a random idea but an effective solution for their specific problem.  Finally, it meant that we were providing them with a simple way of explaining the idea to their internal stakeholders.

Some people think that elevator pitches are only useful for salespeople who need to promote their products and services.  But they can also be extremely useful in other situations.

Within the DH digital team I am responsible for assessing digital spend requests from the department and its arm’s length bodies (ALBs).  Sometimes, even when the business cases have had a lot of work put into them, it’s not always clear what’s being proposed, and this inevitably causes problems and delays.

Being able to articulate a proposition in a way that is clear, simple and accessible is every bit as vital for government as for the commercial world.  Particularly because the approval process will often involve people who are not close to your project, who don’t have an in depth knowledge about the policy area.

When creating your elevator pitch or proposition summary, you should seek to answer these questions:

  • Who is the audience/ who are the users? (Where appropriate, segment the population in to a number of separate groups)
  • What is the main problem they’re experiencing?
  • What is the scale of the problem?
  • Why does the problem exist?
  • What are the implications of the problem for the users?
  • What are the implications for the health and care system?
  • How do you plan to solve the problem?

You’ll only be able to answer these questions in full once you have completed your discovery phase.  Until you have the findings from your research you might want to include initial assumptions as a placeholder, but be explicit about this.

Once you’ve got the go-ahead for your project, it is likely that the scope will evolve in line with the results from your user testing. Ensuring that your elevator pitch remains well defined, and that any alterations to your plans are in line with this, will make it much more likely that everyone will continue to understand and support what you’re doing.

Here is a recent example of a good initial proposition from Health Education England:

“Healthcare professionals are increasingly using e-learning and other types of innovative technology to access and deliver effective and scalable training.  There are currently a huge number of disparate legacy systems and resources in existence.  This means that staff are wasting time trying to locate the correct resources, platforms and materials and when they do find them, they can’t always be sure that what they’ve accessed is the best or only option available.  This is a concern as they may not be accessing the most effective type of training, or they may waste valuable time and resources developing something themselves, not knowing that it already exists and can be accessed.

In time the multiple sites and/or resources will be rationalised but as an interim solution, we are proposing to create a hub which can act as the ‘go to’ place to signpost to the most relevant content and resources.”

As this project goes forward we would expect HEE to clarify these points further, including:

  • which groups of healthcare professionals they most need to target with this resource
  • what areas of training are the biggest problem and will therefore be prioritised e.g. there are 15 different resources for hand washing
  • how they will measure the effectiveness of this resource, and from what baseline.

We would also want to see that they are putting plans in place to reduce duplication of resources in the future and to deal with the legacy systems.

But from this initial proposition it is easy for us to understand the who, why, where, what, when and that means we are better placed to support the team through the various stages of their project, and the necessary approvals.

So, next time you’re planning to pitch a project to someone, think about these questions, and ask yourself if you could get their support in the time it takes to travel up a few floors of your building. It’s harder than it sounds but it will help you no end.

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