Presenting projects with your audience in mind: The Client (4/4)

In this last post of this series, we want to round out the discussion at the “top of the food chain” and talk about the conduct of project presentations with the client.

The Client

Project managers may have occasion to present to clients, especially project managers in smaller businesses. Presenting to clients requires the utmost in care and requires careful preparation as more is usually at stake. So, what are the characteristics of the client?

  • Unless you’ve successfully presented to them before, you are a true outsider. Although most clients are willing to be open minded and accepting as a matter of courtesy, the honeymoon doesn’t usually last long and you only have one chance to make a good first impression. Your actions, presentation, and how you handle the conversation will set the stage for the remainder of the relationship.
  • You are a service provider and a subordinate. You may be walking in with some credibility, but that won’t last long if your presentation doesn’t consider the three Gantt Art process attributes we detailed in Part 1. Sustaining that credibility and getting off on a good foot for a long term relationship is dependent on what you have to report and how you go about it.
  • Your goals may not be the same as the client’s. You may have revenue and quality goals, while the client wants to minimize cost and keep on schedule. This tension is almost always there in the relationship, so recognizing that and handling it well is important.
  • The culture you are most familiar with, your terms of reference, and your norms may be vastly different from that of your client. Expect it, look for the differences, respect them, and adapt. One doesn’t necessarily have to try and mimic the culture you find; that isn’t usually credible and won’t garner respect.
  • You are the spokesperson for your team and your company. You are the authority figure for the project and you are accountable for cost, schedule, and quality. Taking on this responsibility and acknowledging that you are in charge helps enhance credibility and makes your presentation acceptable, even if it’s a presentation containing bad news.

The example below is a typical client-focused schedule chart which considers the Gantt Art process attributes. It provides transparency on schedule and status without getting mired in the details:

The attributes of the Gantt Art process come into play at this level too. We’ve already mentioned the importance of earning and maintaining credibility. Presenting the relevant information and doing it clearly rounds out the application of the Gantt Art process for presentations to clients.

Summing It Up

This four-post series on presenting projects to different audiences introduced the talked about making schedule presentations at three levels: the project team, corporate executives, and the client.

Along the way, we introduced the Gantt Art process by which the project manager can prepare for a schedule conversation, no matter the level, by focusing on providing relevant information, providing that information clearly, and assuring the information is credible. When considered carefully and applied creatively, with the characteristics of the audience in mind, and with the right tools, the Gantt Art process results in presentations that are thoughtful, economical, and trustworthy.

Presenting projects with your audience in mind: The Corporate Executive (3/4)

In the previous post, we discussed how to present to project managers. This week’s post will discuss the preparation of schedule conversations for corporate executives.

Corporate Executives

At this level, how does the project manager relate to corporate executives, convince, and illicit a decision? Looking at the characteristics of a corporate executive group is a starting point.

  • The corporate executive team is usually familiar with each other, their roles, and the “political” component surrounding their relationships. Recognizing this first characteristic and knowing that you may not be aware of all the detail is a note of caution when addressing a corporate executive team.
  • The project manager is presenting to a group which, organizationally, is higher in status. Expect that their view of the organization is different, perhaps more global in nature, and certainly conditioned by their level of responsibility. Respect that. Know that you are there to inform, convince, get your decision, and get on with it.
  • At a high level again, your goals and objectives need to fit with the corporate executive’s goals and objectives. Know where you and your project fit. Know how you contribute to the corporate executive team’s success.
  • Be aware that there may be different cultural norms at the corporate executive level. The terms of reference may be slightly changed, and discussions between equals and non-equals may have slight nuances. Remember, you are not a “card carrying member” here so you have to earn respect and trust.
  • At the corporate executive level, you ARE the spokesperson for your team. This position requires a projection of confidence and that confidence is gained through preparation and the application relevance, clarity, and credibility; the Gantt Art process.

Applying Gantt Art

The presentation to corporate executives requires more preparation, more fact checking, more attention to proposed alternatives for dealing with issues, and careful consideration of visual presentation aids. Since schedule is perhaps the most focused upon leg of project management’s “three-legged stool,” preparation for dealing with schedule questions is most important. Here the three attributes of the Gantt Art process serve well. Taking the characteristics of the audience into consideration, as best you can, the Gantt Art process tells us to:

  • Weed out irrelevant information, focus attention on the key issues;
  • Make sure that displayed information is clear, and within context; and
  • Be prepared to stand by your facts.

Again, Back to Basics

Without achieving some high score on these three, you may fail to achieve the focus on the issues that your schedule conversation intended. Once achieving that focus, based upon first making a credible impression, you will be able to move forward toward agreement and the desired decision. Look at this example and compare it back to the example in Part 2. The visual is high level, clearly shows the current situation, and highlights three areas for the schedule conversation.

The audience characteristics we’ve noted above should give you a leg up when presenting your project to corporate executives. However, nothing takes the place of “on-deck” experience with presentations at this level.

Some are fortunate to be apprentice to real masters, and can watch how they operate. Most project managers find themselves thrown into the “lion’s den” with no previous experience to guide them. Regardless, the three attributes of the Gantt Art process (relevance, clarity, and credibility) apply no matter the level of the schedule conversation.

In the final segment of this series, we’ll consider presentations to the client. Hope to see you then and looking forward to your comments and inputs.

Presenting projects with your audience in mind: The Project Team (2/4)

In Part 1, we introduced the topic of presenting your project to different audiences, and laid out the “Gantt Art” process for doing so. In this post, we’ll cover how to present to your project team.

Successful project presentation is a good way to advance your career. Understanding the audience, its needs, goals, and world view are keys to achieving that success. So let’s start off with the presentation to the project team.

The Project Team

Here are the common characteristics of the project team that are important to consider when making a presentation:

  • Unless you are brand new to the team, the project manager and the project team are familiar with each other.
  • Typically, the project manager is in a leadership role. In matrix project situations, these roles may be more complex.
  • The project manager and the project team members are pursuing the same goals and objectives, which can have serious implications on compensation and career growth.
  • The project team has often developed a “culture” mirroring the culture of the organization. As such, the project team has developed ways of conducting itself that become the group’s norms. These norms express themselves in particular behaviors, word usage, and methods of communicating and interacting with persons outside the immediate team.
  • The project manager is usually the “voice” of the group and has the responsibility to represent the protect team and advance their collective goals.

Putting Gantt Art to Work

All of the above project team characteristics are important. They have a bearing on how communications within the team are conducted, and factor into the project manager’s ability to communicate and to lead. So how does a project manager apply the “Gantt Art” process when preparing to conduct a meeting with the project team?

Back to Basics

The three attributes of Gantt Art (relevance, economy, and credibility) remain at the forefront of the preparation. At the project team level, there is usually more detail to consider. The visuals can be more information-rich because the project team, representing diverse facets of the project, needs to see their concerns addressed in the chart.

Economy isn’t as much of a consideration, but too much clutter may impede focus.

Above all, credibility is of utmost importance, no matter what level a project manager is presenting. The project manager needs credibility, and must cultivate the trust of the project team.

It isn’t easy to put a quantitative scale on the Gantt Art attributes. Judgment and experience weigh in heavily here. But, one might consider these attributes in question form:

  • Is this information absolutely necessary for the objective I have in mind?
  • Am I presenting too much or too little information?
  • Am I absolutely sure of my facts and, if not, what do I need to say up-front about my confidence in the information I’m going to present?

At the team level, there may be more time to wade through more information, cast out what’s not totally necessary, and be more forgiving on the matter of confidence in the information presented. Here’s an example geared towards the project team:

Agile project schedule created in OnePager Pro

In our next post, we’ll look at presentations to the corporate executive level and see how the Gantt Art process has utility for these schedule conversations.

Presenting projects with your audience in mind (1/4)

In this next series, I will share some of my experiences presenting and discussing projects to a variety of audience types:

  • Project team members
  • Senior executives
  • Clients

I’ve divided this blog series into four parts, with the first post serving as an introduction to the “art” of Gantt Chart preparation, and the next three posts focusing on the various audience types mentioned above.

But first, a short story is in order.  I first got into the project management field as a young Air Force Captain assigned to a federal agency in Washington, DC dealing with computer architecture analysis.

Later, I had the opportunity to be under a senior Colonel’s wing during the development of a very large project. What amazed me the most was how the Colonel was able to “size up” his audiences, tailor his presentations to their needs, select words that had relevance, and make calls for action that they willingly accepted.  What a salesman!  How was he able to do that while maintaining the integrity of the goal?  What were the secrets to his success? And, can that be learned?

As this series proceeds, I’d like to ask readers to provide comments, and whether you agree or disagree, based on your own experiences.

Getting started

When presenting your project or schedule, there are two main points to keep in mind:

  1. Define the information that is required
  2. Identify an understand the audience

We’ll start by introducing the concept of Gantt Art, which helps you define the attributes and information required to make your project presentation successful. Then, in subsequent blog posts, we’ll cover the taxonomy of your audience.

From Gantt chart to Gantt Art

We often take Gantt charts for granted, and assume that our audiences do the same.  But how often in the past have you watched with embarrassment as an unprepared colleague is impaled with questions based on the presentation that was prepared in advance?  Just thinking about this brings a chill.  So what goes wrong when these troubling occurrences happen and how can they be avoided?

Typical MS Project Gantt Chart

Our answer here at Chronicle Graphics is to shift the focus from the Gantt chart to the concept of Gantt ART!  Outside of a cute play on words, what is Gantt Art?  In short, it is a high level process for defining and building a project presentation.

The Gantt Art process starts by thinking through what information is required for the project discussion. This information has three attributes:

  1. Relevance– No information should be introduced into the schedule conversation unless it is important to decision itself.
  2. Clarity– The information presented should be absolutely clear to the audience, in their vernacular, within their frames of reference, and unambiguous.
  3. Credible – All information presented must be accurate and vetted.

When successfully considered and implemented, these attributes confer on the presenter an “aura” of thoughtfulness, economy of presentation, and trustworthiness in the mind of the audience.  In so doing, the visual captures the audience’s attention and provides a focus on the conversation:

Gantt Art Process

Why is Gantt Art important?  Communicating involves a sender, a receiver, and a message.  The sender is you and the receiver is your audience, so the message is the variable that you can control the most.  The “art” is crafting the message so that it communicates the three attributes above.  The Gantt Art approach gets you to an agreement through consensus on the facts, the options, and the rationale supporting the recommendations.  Ultimately, a successful decision is the final outcome.

Making your Gantt chart into a work of Gantt Art is a process which combines relevance, clarity, and credibility into a visual chart focused on project issues.  The goal: achieve agreement on the issues and move on to successful decision making.

In the next three parts of this post, we’ll look at audience attributes.  See you then.