Management by PowerPoint

Serious problems require a serious tool… Meetings should center on concisely written reports on paper, not fragmented bulleted talking points projected up on the wall.

-Edward Tufte

If every software meeting that you attend is being driven by a PowerPoint deck, don’t kid yourself: you’ve got yourself a serious problem. This is a sign of an acute infection of bureaucracy.

Let’s face it, most software decisions… whether it be design, prioritization, process, budget… are conversations that need to be had at a detailed level. PowerPoint presentations, almost by design, forces your meeting participants to gloss right over those details. It implies tacit agreement with high level, and mostly generic points and statements that often bear little to no significance to the problems being discussed.

Let me illustrate by identifying some glaring symptoms of the PowerPoint infection:

  • A detailed discussion breaks out about a specific topic between multiple participants. Perhaps this becomes an open debate and even gets a little contentious. The presenter interrupts and says “Those are great questions, let’s table them so we can move on to the next slide.” I’m very reluctant to stop any debate when it breaks out. There are times and reasons for doing so. But if you’re stopping this debate only so you can “get through the deck” then you are infected… seek help immediately.
  • After talking through a slide, the presenter asks “Does everyone agree with this slide?” as if the slide is an end unto itself! The deck itself accomplishes nothing and, at best, only serves to facilitate discussion and debate. If you think “agreeing to the slide” represents some consensus that is meaningful, than you may be patient zero in the epidemic.
  • As you and your boss are preparing the deck for the big meeting, you spend 60% of your time messing with the fonts, colors, shapes and layout of the deck… rather than actually laying out the details of the problems and solutions you are going to discuss. Seriously, if you find yourself doing this than just delete the deck straight out, pick up a pencil… and just stab yourself in the eye with it.

Look, your job is to inform, educate and make an argument about potential solutions to problems to your coworkers. You should not have to ‘dumb down’ these arguments to your peers and higher-ups to get their agreement. It’s insulting to them… and shows zero investment on your part in framing the problems, and presenting and defending your solution.

Want to know what you should do instead? Write a paper… a detailed paper… on all the ins-and-outs of the problem and your potential solutions. Then send that out and have everyone read it before the meeting… in which you will discuss everything that you’ve outlined. Your bosses should possess both the acumen and time to have intelligent discourse about the problems that your company is facing… if they’re neither of those things, then maybe your PowerPoint infection has become terminal.


Related info:

PowerPoint Does Rocket Science–and Better Techniques for Technical Reports  via edwardtufte.com

Jeff Bezos And The End of PowerPoint As We Know It – via forbes.com

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