Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Powerpoint vs Presentation: The Art of Communicating Effectively

A lot of people would say that the word "powerpoint" is the same as the word "presentation" and, sadly,  a lot more would define "presentation" with the word "powerpoint" embedded somewhere in that definition.

The truth of the matter is that a presentation can exist without a powerpoint and a powerpoint, unfortunately, can also exist without the presentation. Most companies can fill up rooms of powerpoint documents that failed in getting the message and the decisions across but don't blame the powerpoint for it - in most instances, it was a failure in the presentation and not the powerpoint.

I have learned (and I continue to learn now) that there is a process to a successful presentation that does not start with opening up powerpoint (gasp!). Here are some key tips I have learned so far:

1) Key Message - The thought process should start with the key message - what is the one primary objective of the presentation. It can be a sales pitch or a decision driver, for example.

2) Outline - Breakdown the key message into an outline. The art of the presentation starts with an objective and then goes first into a high level story telling approach - what are the key points that would support the objective.

3) Simplify - When you have the outline ready - review it and ask yourself the following questions - is the story build up good?Does it have direction? Does that direction logically lead the audience to the objective? Is there information that you can consider extraneous? Does it fit the time allotted for the presentation?

4) Approach - When you have the high level outline done and you understand what you want the presentation to do - decide next what is the best approach for the presentation. It is not always through a powerpoint document that a presentation becomes effective. It may be best to just stand in front of the crowd and talk them over it or maybe start with a video for that emotional build up or a series of photos to set the stage.

5) Effective Powerpoints - If you do decide on a powerpoint, keep in mind the following tips that I have learned over the years:

  • Keep it simple - each slide must have one message and one message only
  • Word it right - imagine that each slide is a billboard on an interstate and your audience is driving a car on that interstate at speed limit and think about how many words they can read on your billboard as they speed by - that is the number of KEY words that you should have on your powerpoint. Studies vary - from 8 to 10 words.
  • Keep it tight - the message of your slide should be heard and understood within 5-8 seconds. Imagine that you are presenting your slide while inside an elevator - borrowing from the proverbial elevator speech - each slide should only take as much time presenting as a 2 floor ride in that elevator.
  • Images help but don't overdo it - studies have shown that learning is enhanced if senses are involved in the process at the same time. The saying that "a picture speaks a thousand words" still hold.
  • Bottom line - each element in your slide, from that picture to that movie to the words used, must have a distinct value and purpose to be on that slide. If you can't figure that out in 3 seconds - remove it.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Leader vs The Visionary - 6 Steps on How to Connect the Dots between the Vision and the Product

A lot of people associate leadership with being a visionary as if one quality naturally begets the other.

Unfortunately, this is not so and there are people who are great at visioning an idea but truly cannot lead it to execution. There are also people great at executing but cannot envision a strategy.Vision is important but vision without execution is futile. Execution is important but executing without a vision is folly.

The people we remember the most as having changed history are those that can envision a strategy AND can also see it to fruition.

How do you connect the dots between a vision and its execution? Here are the steps I have observed of the people who I believe were able to not only envision ideas but also saw them through fulfillment.

1. They OBSERVE their current environment and look at opportunities or gaps. It can be a simple product that takes half the time of doing a task or it can be a grand plan of remodeling a city to make it more sustainable.

2. They create possible solutions and define the BENEFITS vs COST for each one(quantitatively and qualitatively)

3. They PRIORITIZE the possible solutions and define risks vs opportunities for each one and decide which solution will make the most sense to do.

4. They further scrutinize their ideas and define what RESOURCES they need to make their visions into reality and start the process of connecting the dots between the idea and the final product.

5. They MARKET their ideas to the relevant stakeholders and get buy in and support.

6. They see their ideas through with such persistence that they don't rest until their ideas either become reality or they realize that the actual cost is costing prohibitively more than the foreseen benefits.

At the end of the day - a visionary who just envisions but cannot fathom how to execute is just a dreamer and a person who just executes without the guidance of a strategy is a lost soul.

Friday, January 25, 2013

How to Estimate Project Cost High Level

Sooner or later, we will alll need to estimate costs and though there is an entire science on this subject and it can fill many books - sometimes you just need a "high level" number or a "ballpark figure" just to assess whether a project will be cost prohibitive or not to do.

I just want to share with you what my "rule of thumb" process when estimating technology project costs and I hope it helps you now and in the future. I found that the numbers I get from this process are within 10-18% of where the science will take me - enough to drive a decision on whether to proceed with the project or not.

My Definitions:
  • Base Estimate - Ideal Estimate assuming all things go right
  • Base Budget - the internal budget we use to actually move the project forward
  • Planning Budget - the budget we use for planning and budget requests 

1. Base Estimate = summation of all the resource costs you need for the project (eg Labor, Hardware, Software Licenses, Conference and Travel, Support and Sustain costs, Implementation and Training Costs)

2.Base Budget = Base Estimate + Impact of Known Risks (see below how to estimate)

3.Planning Budget = Base Budget * Unknown Risks/Contingency Factor (see below for rule of thumb)

How to estimate the Known Risks

1.Analyze the risks you identified and determine which are related or dependent to each other (if one risk happens - the other will happen too) and classify them into risk groups

2. For each risk group identified - estimate the dollars it would take to recover the proejct or the business if the risk happens * probability of it happening (there is a more accurate way that includes impact - talk to me if interested) . Note - if the probability is > 50% - then it is an issue, not a risk.

Sum the resulting dollars
How to estimate the Unknown Risk Factors/Contingency Factor - this is more a gut feeling based on experience or parametric analysis of historical projects

If your gut or experience is telling you that

1.There is a low probability of unknowns - add 5-10%

2.There is a medium probability of unknown - add 10-15%

3. There is a major probability of unknown - add 15-20%

 Sum your numbers.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Four Critical Components in Successful Project Implementations

As most project managers know, having solely a project plan does not guarantee project success. We can fill entire buildings with project plans that are associated with failed projects.

I have found in my experience that there are generally Four Critical Components that a project manager must consider when implementing programs or projects to assess the probability of success for his project.

1. Senior Management Support - this is a key ingredient to success. The project must have full senior management support and this does not mean just financially, but that helps of course, but senior management must believe in the output and must advocate for it to the general business community. This is where excellent stakeholder management skills come into play. A project manager must understand what BUSINESS KPIs are important to senior management, how the project supports those and what is the ONE PROJECT KPI that senior management will protect in times of crisis - cost, schedule, quality, scope?

2. A Solid Strategy - Thee project must tie up to an overall business strategy that can span multiple years and it must be an important part of that strategy. The strategy must be concrete (not just a vague vision), comprehensive, sustainable and drives significant incremental value to the company or client. If the project feels more like an off activity then it probably is a rogue project and we all know that at crunch time - nice to have projects are no match to critical to do projects.

3. An Enabled Talent Pool - we all know this - even the best project plans out there will not bring any benefit to the company and the project if the people leading and executing the plans are not properly enabled and/or not the caliber required by the project. Don't be deceived by some people saying that project managers are generalists - the best project managers I have seen are actually specialists. Not to say that they can't run general projects but they excel in their chosen fields. The project team members must also complement one another, know their roles and must be properly resourced to execute their jobs. The most mature team are those that understand that individual superheroes do more damage than good to a team and at the end of the day - it is the entire project team - working as one - that can deliver successful projects.

4. A Consistent and Appropriate Set of Tools and Processes - from process definition, handovers and even documentation requirements - all of these must be consistent and appropriate for the project being undertaken. A good PM will know the different process and tools (like those from the PMBOK) - a great PM will know which processes and tools will be most effective in the project. Discuss early on in the project what processes will the team follow, who will do what at every task (RACI), what documents will be required at what phase and what tools will be used to create and share project assets across team members. Regularly assess as well how the tools and processes are helping the project and be open to changing them if need be.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Finding the Balance between the High Level and the Devil

It is amazing that a lot of projects get derailed because new details are found late in the project and some of these projects even become un-recoverable but sponsors still avoid discussing details during the initial phases of the project.

Understandably, at the early stages of the project, not much is known about the deliverables but sponsors and project managers must consciously allocate time early on to talk about potential risks and not put those discussions on the parking lot with the hope that eventually people lower than the managers will think about it.

Sponsors and Project Managers always say that "the devil is in the details" but let the devil remain uncontrolled. Control the devil - or at least identify the worst case scenarios - early on and the probability of project success increases.

The key is finding balance between defining deliverables and identifying critical risks that might derail the project.