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Thursday, May 24, 2012

How To Write A One-Page Proposal to an Executive

One day you may need to communicate with an executive. Pro tip 1:  executives do not have time for you to dim the lights and show them forty slides with charts composed of animated dancing leprechauns and flashing arrows that emerge from the void in a checkerboard pattern. Pro tip 2:   Guys, and gals with deep voices, executives also don't need you to use your "Radio Announcer Voice."

As a rule, what executives want is simple: one printed page. No matter what it is, it should be one page. And it should be printed, not emailed.  You should plan to hand it to the executive, and then you should be quiet when they read it and wait for their questions.  It's harder than it sounds.
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 So how do you do it?  Here are the steps:
  1. Write the deck that expresses your proposal in as many slides as it takes.  Use imaginative animation and blinking letters if you must.
  2. Remove your title slide.
  3. Insert a new slide at the front of the deck with "Appendix" written on it in big letters.
  4. Now insert a new blank slide in front of your Appendix slide, using the following template:
From here, you are ready to go.  Read and reread your own slides and figure out how much of your content you can afford to put into the limited space on the executive slide.  Put the right information into the goals, rationale, financial, status, and action sections.  Roughly translated:

Goal:  what do you want to have happen?
Rationale:  why?
Financial:  how much will it cost and when?
Status:  how far along is the thing you are proposing already?
Action:  what do you want the executive to do?

The title may turn out to be optional, which will buy you some additional space on the slide.  Also, if your goal is self-evidently good, you won't need the rationale.  If what you want isn't financial, you can skip that section as well.  Do not use microscopic type.  Executives require 20 point type at minimum.

Now, and this is important:  print out the one slide that has content and bring it to the executive in person.  If the executive asks, be prepared to email them the whole deck, including the appendix, when you get back to your desk.

Agilists, note that the executive proposal is reassuringly akin to a "story card:"

AS:  [this executive]
I NEED TO:  [action]
SO THAT:  [goal]

Effort Estimate:  [financial]   Value Estimate:  [rationale]

Isn't that nice?   

Pro tip 3:  the executive does not need to know about the awesome story card analogy.  With executives, the less said the better.