Most guides to writing an executive summary miss the key point: The job of the executive summary is to sell, not to describe.
This from Guy Kawasaki’s recent post, The Art of the Executive Summary. Guy’s article is structured towards pitching an idea to a potential investor. We’re going to apply the same rationale to the communication that is key to successful product development – communication from the team, to stakeholders and sponsors.
Two types of communication – tactical and strategic
For this post, we’ll assume that we are part of a team delivering a new software product for our company. We have users, marketing, product management, development, quality, and SMEs (subject matter experts). We are all working together to deliver great software. We communicate with each other as part of executing on our tasks. This is tactical execution.
James Shore posted Two Kinds of Documentation last month, where he presents an Agile perspective on documentation. The two types of documentation he identifies are ‘get work done’ documentation and ‘enable future work’ documentation. The purpose of these documents (or more precisely, the communication they represent) is to help our team execute either now or in the future. Internal communication is tactical communication.
We also communicate with people outside of our team. We communicate to set expectations with customers, users, and clients.We communicate with sponsors, customers, and others who fund our software development. Without these channels of strategic communication, we won’t have a project, or worse, won’t have a customer when we’re done. External communication is strategic communication.
Tailoring strategic communication
Guy’s quote is very insightful – there is only one reason for presenting to the executive – to get funding. Why? Because the executive has only one reason for listening to us – to decide if we should get funding. All of our strategic communication should focus on one goal. – The goal of our audience.
Here are three tips on providing targeted communication to people external to the team.
- It’s the economy, stupid! When President Clinton ran for office the first time, this was one of his slogans. He capitalized on the fact that his opponent was busy talking about what his opponent thought was important. Then Governor Clinton talked about what his audience thought was important. This is the hardest thing to remember, especially when we’re passionate about what we’re creating. We need to run our communication through the “so what” filter. If it isn’t important to our audience, don’t make them listen to it (or read it).
- No habla Ingles. Once we identify what our audience cares about, we have to make sure that we can communicate that information in a language that they understand. In one of our earliest posts, Intimate Domains, we talk about how people are so rooted in their areas of expertise that they almost speak different languages. If we can’t modulate our signal to a band-passed frequency*, we might as well be speaking jargon gibberish.
- Brevity. Clear. Concise. Contextual.
[Update 25 Apr 06]
We have added a post, Targeted Communication – Status Reporting as a detailed example of targeted communication.
*If we can’t get the message across in terms our listener understands,...