Outlining your ideas for a coming communication is helpful. It helps get your ideas out of your head and into some sort of order.

At McKinsey these ‘dot dash outlines’ were baked into our process.

Someone preparing a client presentation would draft one with the Pyramid Principle in mind. They would then review with colleagues and managers before preparing their paper or presentation.

They might also get expert help from someone like me who specialised in the Pyramid Principle.

So far so good.

It makes excellent sense to debate an outline rather than a whole document, which might not hit the mark. It saves rework and improves synthesis.

This works well when everyone has an agreed workflow and approach for structuring the messaging.

But outside consulting, ‘outlining’ is insufficient. Ambiguity, competing demands and a greater need for socialising a message before finalising a paper render get in the way.

Rising above this ‘corporate quagmire’ requires a structured way for leaders to review messaging without getting bogged in Track Changes.

Here’s how to change this dynamic.

  1. Understand why outlining keeps you and your team burning nights and weekends on rework.
  2. See how poor outlining leads to dysfunctional collaboration, communication and decision-making.
  3. Add rigour to your outlining to speed up iteration, deliver more insightful messages and elevate decision-making.

I’ll now explain further.

Understand why outlining keeps you and your team burning nights and weekends on rework. Here’s why. Outlining …

  • Lacks constraints that push you to think. Ideas can wander anywhere. How do you know if your ideas hang together? Do they form a coherent argument? Do they get to the heart of the right matter?
  • Relies on one of two dysfunctional editing strategies. Both providing input via Track Changes and meeting to work on the doc live keeps comments in the weeds. It limits everyone’s ability to zoom out and focus on the big picture message.
  • Is only a minor step change up from preparing the paper or presentation without one. Outlines can still be lengthy and require significant time to review as the main idea is buried.

Poor outlining leads to dysfunctional collaboration, communication and decision-making:

  • Iteration leads to murky messaging that doesn’t deliver maximum value to the team or the organisation.
  • Leaders leave their contribution until the paper becomes urgent because drafts aren’t quick and easy to review.
  • Everyone scrambles at the last minute to finalise the messaging inside the paper or presentation. Familiar?
  • Decision makers offer more questions than decisions as they seek to clarify the messaging, which is buried ‘at the bottom of page 47’.

Instead, adding rigour to your outlining speeds up iteration, delivers more insightful messaging and elevates decision-making.

Here’s how to do that:

  1. Mandate that everyone uses a single, highly structured PowerPoint page rather than a prose ‘doc’ to lay out their thinking.
  2. Limit drafts to an A4 or letter sized page with text no smaller than 10 points.
  3. Insist on full sentences for each point on that one pager so ideas are fully formed.
  4. Organise these ideas into a ‘shape’ that includes a short introduction, a single main message and 2-5 supporting points that are arranged logically.
  5. Iterate this one-pager, leaning heavily on the structure of the messaging, until the message clicks.

My new book, Elevate, helps you and your team go beyond ‘outlining’ to crafting powerful insights that drive decision making.

It helps leaders lift the quality of thinking in their team’s papers without rewriting them yourself.


Learn more here >>

PS – I am offering bonus Hub access for those who order soon, you'll find details on the book info page >>