In the first part of this series on senior management communication for those more comfortable with grep-ing an exception log or tracing through lines of code to find that elusive bug the conclusion was:
No matter how technically proficient you are in your respective discipline, not investing in effective communication skills will limit your over-all effectiveness in your organization.
In the second part of this series, we used an example of engineer Bob recommending his company invest some cash and resources into an operating system upgrade. The initial logical conclusion that a sequence of facts surrounding how awesomely technically cool the new OS is would convince anyone to make the investment. Yet, spewing facts isn’t as compelling as it is to:
Relate the facts and figures to senior management’s goals/vision
To do this, structure a presentation into a story following this sequence:
- Describe the Current State including gaps/challenges/issues/problems
- Describe the “Optimum” Future State
- Describe the Roadmap to get from Current to Future State
- Outline the immediate next steps to get started on the Roadmap
- Throw anything ancillary or supporting to the above 4 steps in Appendices
In the Bob’s case, consider “telling the story” of ultimately what aligns to senior management’s goals/vision in this example context: computing capability at reduced cost.
Using the above sequence as a template for Bob:
1. Current State
- Number of servers running prior OS, server count over time
- CPU utilization
- Maintenance costs (total cost of ownership if it can be computed, support contract costs)
- Indicators when “bad news” like special support contract costs, etc. show “doing nothing” is a negative
- Intersection with any other projects that need capabilities provided by your Future State
2. Future State
- All servers running new OS phased in over timeliness
- CPU utilization
- Maintenance costs
- Upgrades broken into simple chunks
- Chunks representing some useful grouping (rather than random)
- Testing or other functions supporting the upgrade
- Costs over the duration
4. Next Steps
- $$$ approved to buy hardware
- $$$ approved for 2 resources
- Initial steps within your organization to get a formal project going
- Data showing why 2 resources are needed, what happens if you get 1 or zero or 12
- Any other data, facts, figures around “hot button” issues that might come up like a trend to out-source or in-source work, strategic vendor partnerships, etc.
Your goal in telling this story is to have a compelling deliverable in the form of your presentation that conveys to anyone that it would be just plain silly not to execute your roadmap. That “anyone” needs to be both technical and non-technical people. I am certain your technical peers are going to be 110% behind anything that involves implementing new, cool technology. What techie holds the position of “nah, I still want to be a Windows 98 shop.” At the same time, the more holes that can be poked in your analysis the more likely your great idea is going to get trampled by the masses and not acted upon.
Sure, others might suggest not putting this much effort into a request that “should just stand on it’s own to support action”. A recent (how timely!) tweet from @rands suggests as such:
And although it might seem highly desirable to be able to convey your technical request in words and have immediate understanding and support, those veterans of large corporate IT shops know there is a big complex organization with overlapping, competing and sometimes contradicting priorities that can easily mount a campaign against your plan. Thus, those quick to dismiss the value of a slide deck deliverable in corporate IT might be missing a critical element of this series: producing a deliverable.
Sure, once you have a deliverable out there others can still mount a defensive. But, you also empower your management with a strong case to move in your direction that can be forwarded along and forwarded up. The more compelling your story, the more it stands on its own as a viable business case to make a strategic company investment the more the financial/business minded in IT will be able to comprehend and support your plan.
So, before you write-off the value of putting the effort into crafting a story deliverable that compels the non-technical decision makers to act on your plan, consider the alternative: a verbal request to spend money on some cool technology? If you are planning to invest a significant portion of your own money, do you want to buy some cool technology or act on a strategic technology investment with data backed returns?