The importance of evaluation

The control element is a vital stage in project management, occupying a core position in frameworks such as APIC (analysis, planning, implementation, control). Broadly, it covers two distinct elements – monitoring and evaluation. From my perspective, the latter of these has been grossly overlooked.

To some extent, monitoring is the easiest of the two as it focuses a project manager on visible outcomes that link to key performance indicators. At the basic level, assets (principally time and money) are monitored, and performance (output, sales etc) is assessed to ensure a project is on track, and that the iron triangle is in balance.

So far, so good.

A project evaluation should cover not only this but far more. Unfortunately, it seems that they rarely go beyond the additional measure of some outcomes or intangibles (satisfaction, brand reputation etc).

A proper evaluation should not only measure the what, but strive to understand the why.

Specifically, project managers need to go beyond the self-serving bias. A project manager shouldn’t take the credit for all the success, and attribute the blame externally in the case of failure.

A full project evaluation is crucial irrespective of the outcome, whether success, failure or indeterminable (and the latter shouldn’t exist).

If a project is a success, laurels shouldn’t be rested upon. The recent HBR article on Why Leaders don’t learn from success is fascinating in this regard. All aspects of a project should be critically assessed – was success down to luck, competitor failure/inaction, or were the critical success factors actually internal? Furthermore, a project will never be without issue – these should be identified and remedies to mitigate them reoccurring installed.

Likewise, failure shouldn’t be a blame game. A project is a rarely an unmitigated failure. As Seth Godin writes in Poke The Box, failure should be celebrated at some level – it’s better to attempt a risk than to do nothing. After all, you can only win the lottery by playing it.

Obviously, celebrating success is a morale booster and this should continue. But a bit of critical thinking is vital to long-term development. By learning as much from the past as we can, we can better reshape the future.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulk/5131407407

The Beyond Bullet Points guide to presentations

To ease myself into my goal of doing more stuff, I’ve read my first book for a little while – Beyond Bullet Points by Cliff Atkinson.

Overview

cover for Beyond Bullet Points, written by Cliff Atkinson and published by MicrosoftThe book’s tagline is Using PowerPoint to Create Presentations that Inform, Motivate, & Inspire. Given that the book’s publisher in Microsoft, it is partly a guide to structuring a presentation and part PowerPoint manual. The book almost explicitly delineates itself into those two sections. Of the two, the latter half is pretty weak – even beginners don’t need a half-dozen pages on the virtues of Clip Art.

Nevertheless, I did pick up some useful PowerPoint tips. Aside from relatively minor things (for instance, I didn’t know that you could hold shift when resizing an image to retain the proportions), the main thing I took was that I should make more of the three separate views in PowerPoint. I normally stick to the normal view, but it is true that the note layout can be used to convert the document to a handout, and the slide sorter layout can equally function as an executive summary.

To be fair, the book was worth me reading for that realisation alone. Furthermore, the first three chapters – on structuring a story – were also very interesting. Atkinson is a big proponent of the rule of three, and thus it is apt that his style has three primary influences.

Influence 1 – Hollywood

The Hollywood influence is that an output requires a process. In this instance the three key milestones all correspond to the three key PowerPoint views..

  1. The script – the script of the piece is written out in long-hand, including stage directions. A presentation is slightly different in that detailed notes aren’t as important as headings. These summarise and navigate the content. The remaining components of a presentation (the flow, notes and graphics) stem from the heading
  2. The storyboard – the scenes are stitched together. Headlines are sorted and resorted to give the optimal flow. A presentation should have consistent pacing – multiple slides rather than builds should be used in order to manage the pace and keep notes distinct.
  3. The production – Only when the individual components are planned, can the production fully commence in its execution. Likewise, the slides and visuals should be the last aspect of a presentation that is completed. Within this, there are three further points to bear in mind
  • If revealing or teasing the answer in the introduction (which Atkinson advocates), then always start with the most important point as cascading conclusions require strong justification
  • Constantly remind the audience of the purpose of the presentation, and use  active and personal language to assist in persuasion
  • Use consistency and repetition throughout the presentation, including variations on a theme

Influence 2 – Aristotle

As part of the power of three, Atkinson obviously refers to Aristotle’s three act structure. He has embellished this slightly, and in fact has created a quite useful template that you can download from his website.

  1. Act 1 is an appeal to emotion whereby the story – the setting, protagonist, imbalance, balance and resolution – are set up
  2. Act 2 turns to reason, and justification for the solution. Within this, there should be three key points of descending importance. The depth and detail of each point depends on the length of the presentation. This section is a dynamic interplay between the questions of “how” and “why”, with one answering the other and vice versa.
  3. Act 3 ties the previous two acts together, framing the reasoning for the reiteration of the crisis, the solution, the climax and resolution

Influence 3 – Mayer

Richard E. Mayer has written extensively on multimedia learning theory, and ten of his principles are outlined in the book to justify why slides should be visuals and headlines, with the spoken details in the notes pages:

  1. Multimedia principle – people learn better with words and pictures than words alone
  2. Redundancy principle – people understand better when words are presented as verbal narration alone, instead of both spoken and on screen
  3. Segmentation principle – people learn better in bite-sized chunks
  4. Signalling principle – people learn better when information is presented using clear outlines and headings
  5. Personalisation principle – people learn better when conversational rather than formal
  6. Spatial contiguity principle – people learn better when words are near pictures
  7. Coherence principle – people learn better when extraneous information is removed
  8. Modality principle – people learn better from animation and voiceover than animation and text
  9. Temporal contiguity principle – people learn better when animation and narration are simultaneous rather than successive
  10. Individual differences principle – people learn better when prior knowledge, visual literacy and spatial aptitude are taken into account
Conclusion

I’d recommend this book with a caveat – understand what it is (and who published it) before deciding whether you want to read it. Around 60% of the book is pretty basic PowerPoint advice, and the style of presentation is much more American than European (I don’t think the sailing motif would work so well in London). However, I found the explanation of Atkinson’s structure to be very clear and useful and the chapters on storytelling are certainly worth reading.

sk

FYI I haven’t applied the principle to this blog post, since this is evidently a different medium.

Can our opinions exist without us?

This article from Jeff Jarvis got me thinking about the evolution of content and opinion over time. Extrapolating past patterns could lead to some bizarre scenarios in future.

(NOTE: the remainder of this blog post is incoherent speculation).

Broadly, the past evolution of storytelling roughly covers four ages

  • Oral stage
  • Hand-written stage
  • Printed stage
  • Multimedia stage

Within this, there have been many trends and patterns in the types of content, the means of production and the methods of consumption.

Many arguments focus on the dumbing down of culture. But instead of rehashing that ground, the article got me thinking about content length

I’m no historian but the following spring to mind:

  • Oral accounts would take pretty long to recount and spread
  • Hand-writing/scribing has similar scalability issues
  • The printing press achieves scalability but also encourages verbosity
  • Newspapers and magazines encourage serialisation and the consumption of articles rather than full-length tracts (I suppose pamphlets come under this heading)
  • The computer age propagates articles, blog posts and shorter-form content
  • Social media reducing creation and consumption time down further – currently at 140 characters

How is this extrapolated further? Two scenarios – one logical progression and one step-change – come to mind

Progession

A logical extension would be to reduce opinion down to its underlying sentiment – why use 140 characters when a single word or gesture will do (thumbs ups, retweets etc all fulfil this function, but alongside other forms of opinion)

It is conceivable that a social media service in future could be a single spectrum of opinion, from like to dislike. Links, names, words etc could be placed on that spectrum. Our contacts would take something we like as a recommendation and consume it, and avoid things we dislike.

Would this work? Probably not, since it has no nuance. It would further encourage the balkanisation of online opinion and, even with a potential velocity measure to capture trajectory of opinion, it would make it difficult for new content to rise upwards.

Step-change

As the shortening of opinion can’t evolve beyond a single word, an obvious revolution would be to move from active to passive.

In other words, once I input parameters or some past behaviour, a service can automatically generate my sentiment to new content that crosses my digital path. With refinement over time, this would become more accurate.

We already have digividuals, based on composites of others. Could we have digi-extensions? Possible, but again unlikely. But it raises some interesting questions about the nature of digital personas. Once my online persona starts acting independently, does it still fully represent my real-world self? If someone died, their digital persona could continue to exist without them although it would cease to evolve.

If you’ve read this far down, then congratulations. This post doesn’t really have a point, or any obvious application, but I wanted to write this down to help formalise my speculation (my thoughts on this were even more jumbled before I started writing). And, on the off-chance that something similar happens around the time of the singularity, then I can go the wayback machine and glow over a small victory.

sk