$75K in Hardware/Software
That’s how much I spent, during a budget freeze at the company where I worked!
It was 2008 – a bad year for a lot of companies in the United States (and beyond). The company for which I worked was no exception and we were hit with a budget freeze. No one was allowed to buy anything above a small amount ($500 or so, I think) without CEO approval. It hit us all, hard. There wasn’t a single department, team or project that went unaffected. No one was happy.
A few months in to the budget freeze, though, I got the CIO and CEO to sign off on my purchase order of $75,000 for a virtualization environment. It took less than 1 week to go from me saying “we need this,” to the CEO saying, “where do I sign?” – all while everyone else looked on, mouths dropping to the floor as they couldn’t get a $750 request approved.
I would love to tell you how great I am and how easy this was… but that would be a lie. I got lucky with this – but I believe it’s repeatable luck, because I’m pretty good at listening, and applying principles and patterns to new situations… and it was 2 years earlier that I learned what allowed me to spend this money in 2008.
2006: A Lesson Learned In Time / Money
In 2006, the same company as above was needed to build a fancy user interface for a project with accessibility requirements for disabled persons. The UI control suite I had been using failed miserably. I quickly found a new one and started using it on the project. A few months later, another project needed similar things so I proposed buying a site license for the company.
After continuously being denied my request, I was about ready to give up. My manager sat down with me to discuss it and asked me to justify the cost to him. How would it save the company money, or help the company earn more money? I had no answer. It wouldn’t save money – only development time.
He quickly pointed out that time is money and after some discussion, we had a rough estimate of how many hours it would save us to buy the UI control suite vs build it ourselves. Multiply the average developer hourly rate by the hours to build, and it was obvious that the expense of the control suite was justified. I wrote down those numbers and reasons, and got the control suite purchased.
Back to 2008: Buying In A Budget Freeze
When the budget freeze hit I knew we needed those virtualization servers, but I couldn’t justify the cost. Then something bad happened, and an opportunity presented itself. We had a server crash caused by software conflicts between projects on a single physical server. After nearly 2 weeks of work form the I.T. Department moving projects around and re-installing software in production environments, everything was back up and I had my justification.
I spoke with the I.T. persons that were involved in the cleanup from the crash and got an estimate of how much time they spent on it. I talked to project managers for the affected projects and got an estimate of time and revenue lost due. I asked about replacement hardware and new hardware costs associated with the crash and fix.
I took all of the information I had gathered and compiled it in to a document that very clearly outlined how much money we had spent, how much we lost, the risk similar projects in the future and how much the virtualization setup I was requesting would cost. The $75,000 I wanted to spend would save us a lot of money very quickly, as the company continued to grow.
After a few days of gathering and documenting everything, the CIO signed the purchase order. The CEO was out that day but signed it as soon as he got back, on the advisement of the CIO. I had my servers in the middle of a budget freeze!
Lesson Learned: Speak Like Your Audience
In the end, I was able to justify $75,000 during a budget freeze, because I took the time to research and write a document that outlined the pain points that the CIO and CEO cared about: lost revenue, lost developer time, unnecessary money spent, etc.
Everyone talks about how you need to know your audience when doing public speaking, teaching, training, etc. But the same holds true in any job as well. Whether it’s a CEO, a customer in your store or whoever it is, you need to know how your audience thinks and what makes them tick. You need to understand how they see pain, what pain they currently see, and how you can address that pain with your proposed solutions. If you can do this, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to get the things you need.