“Say I’m convinced that my company should choose one technology over another. How can I tell the whole truth, cover all the bases, explain all the alternatives, while making certain I make the case that the technology I’ve made, or would like to make, is the right one?”
In case you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to speak at Cisco Live, this is one of the things you face — perceptive, interesting, and hard questions. In public, in the middle of a session. I remember this question, asked in one of my sessions today, because it’s perceptive, and it’s hard to answer. It’s definitely worth thinking about. The answer is three-fold.
First, make certain you’re not allowing a personal bias to shape your thinking. Network engineers are geeks, by nature, and geeks like new toys. I was once called to work with a company that wanted to switch routing protocols. The network wasn’t huge –neither was it tiny– and it was working perfectly fine. There were no major outages in the last several years, and the company was not thinking about switching equipment vendors. So why the switch?
“Because,” I was told, “we have several people studying to get their CCIE, and they’d like to get some experience with another protocol.” Okay –but haven’t you ever heard of a lab?
Seriously… ? I don’t want to be harsh here, but as network engineers, we need to take a hard look at every decision we make, to make certain we’re not buying this equipment, that product, or rolling out that protocol over there because we think it’s interesting, or cool, or… Because it will advance our career. Networks support businesses, not my career path.
If you’re certain you’re not making the choice “just because,” then you can safely move to the second step with confidence, because there must be some reason you really think one solution is better than the other.
The next step is to tie the decision to a specific business requirement. Don’t wave your hands and say, “this solution scales better than that one.” You’re talking your own language, not the language the people writing the checks are going to understand. Dig through business plans, spend some time thinking about what your company stands for, what services you offer, where that market is going, the problem the company, itself, is trying to solve. Connect your technology choices to one of these things, if at all possible.
Be realistic the return on investment, the way the business is run, and what part technology plays in it all. If part of your story is that technology should, or could, play a bigger role, then sell that story.
If you’ve really tried, and can’t find a solid line of reasoning in the business, then the third way is to build the relationship. People trust people who’ve done the right thing before, who seem to really want to help, who seems to really care about the business. I hate to say this, but IT folks often wrap themselves up in a little corner and ignore the rest of the company, building an “us verses them,” attitude.
In reality, network design is not often a choice between two really clear cut options. It’s more often a choice between multiple pretty good answers filtered through a crystal ball of what you think the future looks like. So more often than not, you’ll find yourself going a particular direction because that’s what you think the market is going to do, or because you think it might support the business better in the long run, or because… Well, because you simply like one solution better than the other. Or even because you think one solution is more elegant than the other.
If you’re in that position, then what you need is a solid relationship with the person who writes the checks, so they will simply trust you to make the right decision. If you can’t quantify the risks or benefits in a way others can understand, then they will either trust you, or not.
So, three things:
– Make certain you’re choosing for the right reasons.
– Try and justify the choice by looking at the business.
– Finally, rely on the relationship.
And if you don’t have a relationship of trust with the person who writes the checks, maybe it’s time to build one.