Project Management

Perfectly presenting the project status

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Categories: Modern PM, Presentations

How we can survive upper management. This time with a conclusion right at the beginning.

Some time ago I shared my tips for good presentations with you. (Do not worry, they are timeless.) These tips are very general. On purpose. But we project people find ourselves often in situations where things are very specific. I am talking about those moments when we have to present the current project status to middle and/or senior management. Project Dashboards, Project Cockpits, Project-whatever-they-are-called-in-your-company. And one thing I have often been able to experience sitting on both sides of the table: a deliberate, planned and controlled procedure is the cornerstone in such situations. So much for the conclusion.

Talking turkey

What is the basis for a good review? Honesty. Unmerciful, if need be. And I do not mean to give it straight to one's own board of management, but to be honest about the project status. Not only when the sun is shining (usually at the beginning of the project), but also when clouds are rising (often seen at halftime).

One can experience often that such a just-not-so-great-presentation is then seen by all parties as a kind of a confession. That is not what it should be about in my eyes. Use this moment for you! You have so many people sitting around that table, who can help you. Make use of that power source.
And you can easily admit that you just do not know something. That is still a thousand times better than saying anything that later turns out to be wrong.

Of expectations

Imagine, you go to the opera and there is a Death Metal band at the scene. Or you go to a festival and they perform the Magic Flute on stage. (As a Salzburg native, I almost had to take Mozart as an example.) What I mean by that is: Think about who is going to take part in your presentation. I know, you already knew that. But I mean that on several levels.

  • Which roles will participate?
  • Are there tensions and conflicts within the group of participants?
  • Who is my ally? Do I have to involve someone in advance?
  • Are the right people listening to and watching me?
  • Do I have a say in the cast?
  • What do they expect from me?

And that brings us volée to our next point.


That is the most important point for me. Ok, every point here is the most important. But this one in particular: What is really important? What do I want to communicate? What does my key message look like? Can I wrap the content of my entire presentation into one sentence? If not, I may have too much information (unnecessary information at the moment) with me. Of course, this goes hand in glove with our previous point. Who is there and what do they expect to hear from me?

And yes, I know. All that material we have for our presentation is important. But is this really the case? We are so good at prioritizing. This is something we really are capable of. We were able to do that even before Scrum. But with our status reports, we often fail with that. Where it is especially important. Maybe that is why. So we have to be twice as sensitive and prioritizing here.

About the less, which is often more

The great Sol Stein once gave me the following advice:

One plus one is one half.

Now we have tailored our presentation to our audience and found a message that we want to convey. And then we often feel the urge in us, especially when it comes to important presentations, to take it and pack every graphic and every measure that we can get hold of in it. I often felt the same way. The result is hopelessly overloaded PowerPoint orgies in which the statement drowns in massive ornaments. Of course, that is handy when things are not going so well. But we wanted to be ruthlessly honest. So what can one do about the dazzling accessory? Years ago, I found a simple rule for me: one message per slide, or one message per flipchart sheet.

Weapon of choice

Speaking of PowerPoint. Yes, that is a great tool indeed. But think back to the last review you sat in and where someone presented something via PowerPoint. Those present (pardon the pun!) looked briefly at the screen and then looked back into their unfolded laptops and unpacked smart phones. If we are standing in front of a flipchart and draw, everyone has to be attentive. They can not help it. We human beings are terrified of missing something. Use this weakness for you.

And I know what you are thinking now. My great transition effects. And I don't know how to draw. And certainly not while speaking. If you feel uncomfortable when seeing a bare flipchart and you are unsure without the buzzing sound of a beamer, go step by step. In any case, it does not always have to be PowerPoint. A flipchart and a pen are the tools of a true master. Says Yoda. I think.

"I'm late! I'm late! I'm late!"

Who knows whom I am quoting here? It is the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. And he says something important here for our presentations. Because such a presentation has one thing above all: a beginning and an end. Ok, that's two things. But you get the picture. A predetermined start time and a predetermined end time. So it is a timebox. This is often a company culture thing, but try being a good example here and be on time. And also have the courage to point out the remaining time. Kind of moderate your own presentation so to speak. And if the time is too short? Suggests follow-up appointments for the topics that still need clarification.

Now there are the contemporaries who come around a corner every now and then with detailed questions that no one else is interested in. We all know that, we all are experiencing it regularly. Again, be brave! Point out the timebox and the agenda. Stay polite and kind. And above all, understanding. Because such characters just want someone to listen to them and nod their head every now and then. So you are good here too with follow-up appointments. And if you want to take the wind out of the troublemaker's sails of, suggests that you like to forward detailed information via email. And that brings us to our grand finale.

Stay calm

Stay cool. Stay distanced. Stay souverain. There is this wonderful saying, based on a quote from George Bernard Shaw:

Arguing with a project manager is like wrestling a pig in mud: sooner or later you realize that they like it.

We all love to argue. That is why we are taking care of projects. And that is important and right. But not when we have to present a project status. In upper management levels we often can find people who are not used to argue. They are usually where they are because they do not like to argue. So better not even start with it.

Be honest (I know, we all are always and everywhere), think about expectations, prioritize and reduce, look at the clock, bite your tongue every now and then and rock your presentations!

Posted on: August 16, 2019 02:39 PM | Permalink

Comments (15)

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Great post Stephan.

So True!
"Arguing with a project manager is like wrestling a pig in mud: sooner or later you realize that they like it."

Interesting and elaborative post thanks for sharing!

Thank you!
Drake, I actually own a coffee mug with that sentence printed on it.

Great share. Thanks for sharing it.

Stephan, your posts are very impressive. I like your writing style. Cheers !

Presenting project status can be a tall order especially with customers who want all the details. One interesting book I read on the subject is “The new one-page project manager" by Clark and Mick Campbell.

Rami, thanks! That honours me! I enjoy reading The Bug Time a lot.

Stephan, Thank you, the honour is mine. Keep those posts coming !

Rami, I'm missing a like button here :)

Manouchehr, I have to say thanks!

Stefan, thanks! I have never thought of using the Campbells' system for presentations.

Stephan, we’ve been telling PMI to add this button :-)

Rami, I've been telling them twice already :)

Stephan, oh and by the way, my blog is called The Big Time, not The Bug Time :-) You made it look as if it is a national geographic blog haha

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