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Dump PowerPoint – Physicists, Generals, and CEOs agree

This week National Public Radio (NPR) Alan Yu had a fascinating report.   In it he sites top level scientist and leaders in both the military and business who are boycotting PowerPoint presentations for communication and  information transfer.

A PowerPoint slide is projected on a screen prior to a lecture at the 28th Chaos Communication Congress computer hacker conference in Berlin.  Adam Berry/Getty Images

A PowerPoint slide is projected on a screen prior to a lecture at the 28th Chaos Communication Congress computer hacker conference in Berlin. Adam Berry/Getty Images

A PowerPoint slide is projected on a screen prior to a lecture at the 28th Chaos Communication Congress computer hacker conference in Berlin.     Adam Berry/Getty Images

Scientists at the Large Hadron Collider noticed that the transfer of information was hindering communication.  All of the communication was one-way.   The report quotes one of the scientists:

“The use of the PowerPoint slides was acting as a straitjacket to discussion,” says Andrew Askew, an assistant professor of physics at Florida State University and one of the organizers of the forum at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois.”

The scientists were discovering that instead of a two-way communication, everything was one-way.    In one-way only communication, people in the audience typically zone out and often tune out.

And this is not only true in scientific circles, PowerPoint is being thrown out at the top levels of business and in the military.  The NPR article goes out to state:

The CEOs of Amazon and LinkedIn have eliminated the presentations from meetings. In his recently published memoir, former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates calls PowerPoint slides “the bane of my existence in Pentagon meetings; it was as though no one could talk without them.”

So, what is happening is that people are noticing that something happens when PowerPoint or other multi-slide presentation modes are used…people become disengaged.   And when they disengage, meaningful discussion stops.  This is ultimately a time waster.  And even if there is meaningful content in the presentation, it is missed, overlooked, or just not heard.

Danger exists if key information is skimmed over and not taken into account.   One such event has been documented in numerous spots, and this NPR article notes it as well: the potential failure of the o-rings at low temperatures on the space shuttle solid rock boosters was actually known and in a NASA report.   But the presentation of the data was not made clear or presented in a form to delay the launch of the shuttle.  This resulted in the tragic events that we now call the Challenger disaster.

So if PowerPoint isn’t used in scientific reviews, board rooms, and at the strategy table, what takes its place?  It is interesting that the military said only maps and charts can be used.    What they are getting at is that the information has to visible and easily understood.

The visual presentation of information on a single page is the key.

A3

In lean, we favor one single page of information on an A3 (approximately 11″ x 17″) size sheet of paper.   This single page houses all of the information about the topic.

The A3 forces the author/presentor to:

  • Keep it to one page
  • Be concise and make decision on what to show or not to show
  • Show their thinking
  • Favor graphics, charts, and graphs over text
  • Refer to the document when speaking

The A3 document helps the audience:

  • Focus in on the information that is important
  • Know what information to point to when asking questions
  • Know where to look in the future to recall and reference the information
  • Have confidence that the key information is being communicated

There are multiple documents that can be converted into an A3 format.   Status reports, project plans, proposals, decision documents, etc. These are all potential candidates.

The A3 format is particularly powerful for communicating new knowledge that is gained during the research and development phases of projects.   So the A3 becomes a very important tool in Lean product development.

In all of these cases, it is important to ask for the A3 style document instead of PowerPoint.  Or better yet, demand it!

So, throw away your PowerPoint, and start communicating on a single A3 page.

Lean Development: Spotting the Wrong Questions

“The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a creative mind to spot wrong questions.”

This quote came to me from John Maxwell. 

 It reminds me of why we are looking for Knowledge Gaps and writing A3’s in Lean Development.  Ultimately, we are just making sure that the right questions are being asked and spotting the wrong questions.  We are attempting to expose the things that we don’t know. 

 The exercise of writing Knowledge A3’s in Lean Development is meant to help us spot the wrong questions and in fact it goes a step further.  It helps us ask the right questions, and then it points us to think about who can help us get the answers to the questions.   This is what we do in the LOOK and ASK steps of LAMDA (the steps that Al Ward identified for Rapid Learning Cycles).   We LOOK for questions to ask and then we think about who we should ASK.  If we aren’t ASKing the “people at the ground” (a.k.a. People at the Keyboards, SMEs, Users, etc.) who will be using the program or innovation we are developing, then we are not going far enough.  In Innovative Lean Development, this is described in the PLAN step of the Rapid Learning Cycle.

 By starting with the problem statement, or as we sometimes have called it – the central question, we can stretch our minds to wonder if we have asked the right questions about different aspects of the program.

 A corollary to Maxwell’s statement would be “An uncreative mind asks the right question at the wrong  time, but a creative mind asks the right question at the right  time.”

 So – I am not at all surprised when we need to put an A3 on hold, or take one through the initiate phase and set it aside until later.   We are simply identifying that it is too early to ask the questions yet.  But, it is so important to at least identify the questions.

 And here is something else to think about … the more questions and A3 writing that we do up front, the more complete the solution will be in the end.

 

Timothy Schipper,

Author – Innovative Lean Development