“Channeling”: a technique for preparing IT presentations to management

The Skeptic’s Dictionary tells us about a concept called channeling: “Channeling is a process whereby an individual (the “channeler”) claims to have been invaded by a spirit entity which speaks through the channeler. ”

Lest anyone misunderstand, I’m not recommending that anyone get invaded by a spirit entity. But I am recommending that you learn to channel, and that you become a champion of that technique to your IT staff. Here’s what I mean.

The key problem I see in a lot of IT-to-business communication is when IT people fail to consistently anticipate and proactively answer the obvious and reasonable questions that stakeholders will have, particularly senior management stakeholders, including board members. Those questions are simple and almost always essentially the same, as I’ve mentioned before. On any given proposal, stakeholders want to understand these basics:

  • what exactly is it that you’re proposing?
  • what are the facts that lead you to believe it’s a good idea?
  • how much will it cost, and what will it save me and/or get me?
  • when can I have it?
  • what do I have to give up to get it (opportunity cost, business impact, etc.)?
  • what will happen if I don’t do it at all?
  • what are the alternative ways of getting it, and what is your recommendation?

What’s it like when a typical IT presentation doesn’t follow the approach of answering these questions up front, before they’re even asked? Well, such a presentation tends to feature a lot of misplaced fervent salesmanship on why the proposal is such a very good idea, really-truly-trustme. Every once in a while, costs will be alluded to, but usually not from a “devil’s advocate” point of view, only from the most optimistic view possible. Delivery time frame is usually rather vague. Alternatives to the IT-desired outcome, if brought forward at all, tend to be direly depicted straw men that are so unpalatable as to be not worth the time to discuss. Executives and board members have a nose for being oversold, and an often extreme wariness of it. It can get ugly.

The best way I’ve found to mentor IT staff in these basic precepts, and thus avoid presentation calamities, is to serve as a “senior management proxy” in our preparation sessions prior to presenting. And that means “channeling.” I intentionally become, in those meetings, the voice of the CEO, or the CFO, or the VP of Sales. I know from working with those people what their hot issues and pain points are likely to be. As I play the proxy, I go out of my way, more than frequently in an exaggerated fashion, to look at things from their (admittedly sometimes parochial) perspective, while I put my own biases aside. My goal is to force everyone to consider this: are we fully answering the basic questions that everyone always wants to know? Have we thought out what the opposing viewpoints might be and why? Do we have a planned response? If we haven’t, well, we’re just not ready.

My point is that everyone in IT needs to do this. Incredibly often, I’ve seen people prepare for a key meeting and not think through what they’re likely to be asked, either in terms of the basic questions above or the “pet peeve” questions that they should be already anticipating. Just like the act of writing, which requires that you assume the eyes and mind of the reader in order to communicate your points successfully, the act of presenting a proposal needs to do a lot of this kind of behind-the-scenes questioning and answering. Channeling, in other words.

So, let yourself be invaded, if not by a spirit entity, at least by your stakeholders’ sensibilities and biases, as you prepare to propose solutions to them. I promise you, not only will it not hurt, it’s bound to save you pain down the road.

Trackbacks

  1. […] answer from IT can’t be “these are our estimates, so you just have to accept them.”  Just as with making any management presentation, you need to anticipate the obvious questions, adjust your plan to accommodate them where possible, […]

  2. […] and analyzes only one proposed solution has a right to be intensely skeptical: astoundingly, that single-minded approach seems to be typical at many […]

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