Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Power of the Deck

I have surrendered to the ubiquity of the deck. Mostly.

I don't know where you work, but at the last few places I've been, information is not taken seriously unless it is crammed onto a PowerPoint slide. Never mind that a Word document would be better. Never mind even if it's an Excel spreadsheet with more cells than a Bin Ladin family reunion. (Ba-dum-dum-bum.) Just stick it in PowerPoint and you're golden.

(In fact, I've become so corrupted that I worry that I won't be taken seriously if I actually use PowerPoint correctly -- that is, all fonts must be at least 20 pts, etc. If there aren't a few eye-chart pages with 5 point type, I can't be doing anything really complicated.)

So when I finished the survey for my father-in-law, I naturally created a PowerPoint deck.

That's because I do think a PowerPoint deck is an important measurement communications tool. You will need to communicate the results of all the work you've been doing, none of which is resulting in a newsletter article, poster or letter to employees. A deck helps you organize your thinking and sell your analysis and conclusions so you can move forward with needed changes and improvements.

Here's what goes into my decks;
  • An executive summary: I generally open with a page that explains the purpose of the survey or other measurement effort, plus some high-level details of how it was conducted. I include the statistical validity of the study, if possible, or at least the raw numbers of what was collected and how. Any team members who helped get a mention.

    The rest of the executive summary contains brief conclusions drawn from the data. "Employees overwhelmingly prefer chocolate deserts. (2 top box = 82%)" "E-mails from the North American leader are opened by 78% of addressees, nearly double the rate of 40% for e-mails from the General Communication mailbox."

  • I usually place conclusions, recommendations and next steps at the end of the executive summary. This may include plans for changing communication activities, validation of current practices and plans for future measurement efforts. Occasionally, if I'm presenting it live and there is time and a good reason to walk people through the entire presentation, I may put them at the end.

  • After the executive summary, I place a new section with a page devoted to each question, in order. I provide the actual question wording and results, generally with a graph that appropriately illustrates the results. If there's space, I may include selected write-in comments that further illuminate the issue.

    For write-in questions, I look for common themes and summarize the number of mentions of specific topics, or provide a general sense of positive vs. negative comments, for example. This is more of a straight communication task -- read carefully and summarize responsibly. (There are Six Sigma methods for measuring and analyzing write-in data and as soon as I've done it myself I'll pass it on. Don't hold your breath...)

  • If I've done any additional work to break down comments by region or business unit or other demographic, I include a page on each of those efforts.

  • After this section I add the appendices. One appendix includes all the raw numbers and the rationale for assigning statistical significance to the data -- what were my assumptions about the overall population being surveyed, such as size, location, make-up, etc.? How did I calculate the sample size, etc.?

    The other appendix includes all the write-in comments verbatim. If this is a pretty good volume of text, I will use a small but readable font size of 10 to 12 points to avoid having 50 pages of comments. This is data that will obviously be read as a document rather than projected on a wall. I will also include the write-in comments in a separate word document. What's important to me is that I don't stand in the way of decision-makers getting to see the comments, though I will remove identifying names if necessary to preserve anonymity.

I find this whole practice very valuable. Once I get my data I love to play with it on a spreadsheet. Pretty soon the spreadsheet has 14 tabs and I can no longer find anything I've uncovered. The deck helps organize my thinking and let's me find results easily and clearly.

So, I did a short deck for my father-in-law, like I said. He was mightily impressed -- he thought a 14 page deck was huge! I haven't yet heard a report of his board meeting at his social club. I'm sure he killed.

By the way, he does not have PowerPoint. He's retired and can't work it anyway. Over the phone, I walked him through the process of downloading, installing and using the free PowerPoint viewer, which you can get here. You can't edit slides from this utility, but you can view them and print them.

I'm getting ready to put a survey in the field here at my new job, so I can get a baseline of where we are currently before I start introducing new communications tactics. More on that next time.

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