Friday, August 10, 2018

Working Backwards

One of the hardest things for technology people to do is be succinct, replace the details with a story about benefits, and to ask for the sale.  After all, isn't this what marketing and sales people do?  Perhaps it's a surprise, but that is what you need to do if you hope to get a technology project, new product or new way of doing business, approved by a senior management team.

And please be brief!  It's not that senior managers have short attention spans, they need to get to the bottom line and make a decision.  Your job is to help them do that.

Each semester, I ask students to prepare a presentation for a mock senior management team.  Masters students know how to do the research and write the effective paper.  The goal of a senior management presentation is different.  It's about making the "ask," the bottom line decision you need them to make to proceed, and that's based on how much it will cost, how long it will take and how many people we need to commit to do it. Along the way, it's good to identify the benefits we will realize, the risks the organization will be taking to do this, and how you plan to mitigate those.  All of this should take less than 15 minutes with 10 slides plus Q&A.

Senior managers will want to know you are competent (what are your credentials and have you done this before) and that you've done your homework.  The 30-page report is impressive; it's not likely anyone will read it... beyond the executive summary.

A student team did a fine job talking about their research and the conclusions of their study.  When it came time for the Q&A, the CEO said, rather bluntly, "What the hell are you asking me to do?"  That's not the likely response to a presentation in an academic environment.  But it is what you should expect from a CEO, whether from a corporation or nonprofit organization.

A CEO told me once, "I can't use the students schools a graduating today; it takes me too long to retrain them."

"Retrain them how," I asked?

"To be able to talk with customers, manage a project with a diverse and dispersed team, and get to the bottom line of things!"

So to learn effective presentations, we start with the bottom line and work backwards.  That way, we are keeping the end goal in mind.  Here are ten slide headlines for a hypothetical project, in reverse order from an approved and funded proposal:

  1. The ask - what Senior Management Team decision are you asking for?
  2. Time and cost - how much time will it take to complete your project proposal and at what cost (one-time and recurring)?
  3. Risks - what risks are there to your project's success and what are the mitigations you see?
  4. Benefits - what benefits accrue from going with your recommendations; what's the value proposition?
  5. Your recommendation - Among the options, which are you recommending?
  6. Options - what are the alternatives you studied and the pros and cons of each
  7. Approach/method taken - how did you go about your investigation, sources consulted, tested conducted, etc.
  8. Assumptions made - what is the scope that you narrowed, what is your scenario?
  9. Problem - what problem are you trying to solve? what are the key questions you are trying to answer? 
  10. Intros - who are the members of your team and what are your credentials?

Everything else may be important, but it is appendix.  Now reverse the order.  Go.

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