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Modern PM

Modern PM is a blog about modern project management in all its facets: classic, agile and hybrid. I will share my thoughts about the developments, trends, problems and challenges we face in our daily routine as project workers — and hopefully some solutions.

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Perfectly presenting the project status

Half-life of knowledge

Two hats in one (or: what we can learn from a children's book)

Is the minimum viable product really the answer to everything?

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Perfectly presenting the project status

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)

Presenting done right

Categories: Modern PM, Presentations

Four points, that make the difference between a good and a really good presentation. (And no, that's not me in the picture.)

Presenting projects

We project workers spend a lot of time communicating. According to the PMBOK Guide between 75 and 90 percent. Half of this time we spend with (hopefully) active listening. The other half we are presenting, lecturing, and telling different people different things. In short, we are transporting information. And in my opinion, it is incredibly important not to transport just some thing, but the right thing. I know, right now I am sounding like a motivational poster. Na no na ned, as we say in Austria - of course. Of course, we do not communicate just something somehow. Nevertheless, I can see exactly that pretty often. But what is the essence of a good presentation? 

Of course, a lot is depending on the frame of my presentation. Is it formal or informal? Am I about to give a brief status update to management, am I hosting a two days long scope finding workshop, or am I having a team meeting? But after nearly 20 years of holding and experiencing presentations, a few elements have emerged that are valid everywhere. And at this point it is the same as with every craft: if I know my 101 by heart, I can concentrate on the nitty-gritty. And the nitty-gritty, ...

Cheap Trick

..the nitty-gritty is less the way of presenting, but rather the content of the presentation. And yet, I am regularly seeing people standing on a stage and rattling off their NLP-Hocus Pocus. Cheap trick, so to speak. What is the talk about? Who cares. It is all right as long as the audience is mesmerized by all those sleight-of-hand tricks. Only, the audience does care. They want to hear some content.
And I do not mean that it is enough to be a geek who is mumbling a sermon to himself. It is about communicating relevant content. Not relevant for me, but relevant for my audience. Tailored to their particular level.

And please do not misunderstand, I do not mean that craftsmanship does not matter. Phrasing, timing, patterns of movement, all important things, no question. But not to call attention, but to communicate my content effectively to a larger group of people. Just as the Ri in Shuhari (and yes, I know, many of you guys are critical of Shuhari - and you are right; I am using the term as an analogy here).

Junior Woodchucks camp

It does not matter if someone is one of those people who are moving in with a stack of moderation cards, or - like me, I admit it - to those who prefer to conduct their presentations on the fly. In any case, there is one particular secret behind a good presentation: an incredibly intensive preparation. I'm not talking about the presentation itself, but about the topic. How can I tell others about a topic, if I am not having a good grasp of it? Not at all, in my eyes. It is necessary to know more than my listeners. Otherwise, such a lecture is a waste of time for all involved.

Walk like a duck, quack like a duck

The next duck-heading, I'm sorry, I can not help it. But it just fits too well. Let us switch the meaning of this witticism: if I wade like a duck, I will quack like one. That means, you should, and you have to pay attention to a proper posture in your presentations and moderation. Why. Two reasons:

  • When I am standing around like a potato bag, I will appear like a potato bag standing around. And let us be honest. When a bag of potatoes is telling us something, we will meet it with a solid amount of wariness. How does it know all these things about which it claims to be an expert? So we should use this bias for ourselves and stand straight and upright. Head up high, even if the neck is dirty. (And shoulders down.)
  • I do not know if anyone of you ever heard a potato bag speaking, I certainly did not. But I have heard many people speaking that have a posture like a potato bag (and that's enough potatoes for now, I promise!). And they are all mumbling, as if they are not getting enough air. And how should they get enough air, when their lungs do not get enough space. So again: head up high, shoulders down, back upright. Just like Mom told us.

"Here's looking at you, kid!"

Finally, our headlines are leaving Duckburg. My last point is a realization. When you are standing in front of a group of people and give a lecture, there are many faces. So virtually a 1 to n relationship. But turn the situation around. If you are one of those people in that group, technically it is still a 1 to n relationship, but for you, it feels like a 1 to 1 relationship at that moment.

Good presenters manage to give every person in the room the feeling that the presentation is less like a presentation but more like a personal conversation. And I'm not just talking about looking into eyes after eyes. (By the way, the German translation for the above film quote is literally "Look into my eyes, kiddo." - which brings us back to the cheap tricks from above.) Looking into eyes is only the beginning (not just when it comes to presentations, but that is a whole different story). Ask yourself. Would you be able to give that presentation to just that single person? Because from their view that is exactly what is happening right now.


Regarding that there are so few points that make the difference between a good and a bad presentation, I've already written way too much. So here is my crisp summary:

  • Content, content, content - they are not here, because you look so great and master so many cheap tricks.
  • Preparation - you also won't take part in the Olympic Games without training.
  • Posture - this is followed by good breathing, which is followed by a pleasant voice, which is followed by a good presentation.
  • Look a guest in the eye and imagine if you could deliver your presentation just to them. Because from their point of view you do just that.

And I know, those points alone do not make a good presentation. But for me, they are the basis for one. Because without these four points, it will definitely be a not-so-good presentation. And unfortunately, there are far too many of those. But that is another topic.

Posted on: May 23, 2019 01:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

"Either he's dead or my watch has stopped."

- Groucho Marx