Presentation vs. Content: What Matters Most to Executives

A collaborative team of employees, consultants and leadership work into the night to prepare a presentation for an executive meeting the following day.  This story plays out regularly in business environments where teams face the challenging decision, “What do the decision makers want to see?”  Unfortunately, the opportunity is lost too often as extensive piles of detailed content take center stage, diluting the strategic substance that would have made all the difference in delivering the intended message.

Business process management provides organizations with the ability to identify and capture opportunities to drive sustainable operations and growth.  Diagram models (such as BPMN) visually represent the complexity of business interactions and relationships between people, process and technology.
However, standard practices influence process diagrams to focus on content structure and technical notation practices, rather than illustrating processes in the way executive and leadership audiences will interact with the information.  This dilemma permeates through business process initiatives and at times can discount the value of process design in the initiative.  While standards are important, it is more important to enable executives and leadership to best leverage the information.  Hence, the question remains, “What do the decision makers want to see?”

Understanding the Audience

Defining an organization through business processes requires an intentional understanding of how the primary audience will engage, interact with and ultimately evangelize the developed content.  Executives and leadership need the ability to clearly and quickly view the business environment and where opportunities and risks potentially exist.  In parallel, the business process documentation must capture details to ensure all information is accounted for, so that the process is executable from an operations, technology, and organizational perspective.  Bottom line, leaving executives and leadership to rely solely on detailed process models to align political agendas, technical challenges and financial constraints is a guaranteed approach to losing an opportunity.

Listening to the Business Drivers

In managing everyday business challenges, executives and leadership must play to various stakeholder perspectives and preferences.  The single goal is to establish stakeholder alignment on what the problems are, where they exist and how they should be resolved.  The ability to establish stakeholder alignment depends upon how to best represent the various business drivers, key messages and competing interests.  The challenge lies in how to create a single “picture” that illustrates these elements layered across the relative business environment.  Business process models not only enable capture of detail documentation, but also can serve as the strategic business foundation.

Designing the Picture

Moving from detailed process to an executive perspective, the key is to turn the process detail into a visually appealing business illustration.  An effective business illustration can be a powerful work of art with the ability to influence decisions, align competing interests and maintain stakeholder consensus.  Too often, businesses choose not to create the “picture” either due to political disagreement, literal translation of enterprise process management intent, or lack of creative capabilities.  Typically, piles of slide decks and process diagrams are all that is available to represent the business environment.  As such, process intent gets muddled and is not easily aligned with strategic intent.  Executives need and deserve a higher level illustration of the business “picture”.

Three simple design factors (size, format, and structure) are all that is needed to develop an effective “picture” of the business environment.  Picture “size” is decided based on how the audience should engage information and to what extent detail is required.  Picture “format” is designed to influence how an audience should view and react to informational represented through layers, graphics, text and color.  Picture “structure” is developed according to how information should be managed, updated, ordered, related and used to derive additional content.

Sample Executive Business “Picture”

Creating the Presentation

There is nothing more powerful than a single piece of paper that illustrates the business and where it is heading.  The most important decision in determining what that piece of paper should look like is how it will be used.  For example, distributable documents typically will take the form of an 8.5”x11” or 11”x17” size paper.  If a business is looking for something more visible, a wall size plot at 24”x36”, 72”x120” or larger not only makes a statement in size, but encourages constant reference and attention.  Keep in mind, anything placed on a wall continues to be read even when just walking by.  Certainly, these illustrations are much more impactful and will sustain the intended business message.

In order to maximize value to stakeholders, executives and leadership will always want to access and view more information.  Business processes provide all the levels of detail content that could be required.  However, there must be a powerful “picture” to serve as the high level illustration of the business environment and driving factors influencing decisions.  Ultimately, in answering the question “What do the decision makers want to see?”, begin with the executive level business “picture” and rely on process models to support audience request for supporting detail information.


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By David Williams @ Dell - Digital Business Services | August 23, 2012

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