I had a wonderful session with a team of engineers from an energy company this week.

They told me they had done something risky and that it worked.

They ditched their corporate template​​ when preparing their business case and got a ‘fast yes'.

“We managed to have 6 people working on the business case at once. Everyone knew their part and how that fitted in to the overarching storyline.

“We had two years of supporting information that we were able to quickly sort through and synthesise.

We ended up writing and getting it approved within 2 weeks which was an amazing outcome.”

Charles, team leader

In the past they had thought they had no option but to fill in the sections within the business case template even though they hated it. It was frustrating to use as it caused them to repeat themselves while also including all sorts of irrelevant information.​

The template was typical: it included a long list of ‘pots to throw ideas into', or categories they needed to fill in. You will be familiar with the sort of thing. It's useful for collecting ‘data' and making sure the team has thought of everything during their analytical process.

Background

Proposal

Goal Statement

Scope

Approach

Key Milestones / Deliverables

Enterprise Architecture (interfaces)

Constraints / issues

Dependencies

Financial consideration

Summary

Assumptions

Benefits

Non-financial benefits

Benefits management plan

Risks (3 types)

Change assessment (many types)

Next steps

Recommendation (at the very end …)

The template design created extra tension for them as they were caught between ‘filling it in' and a leadership team that wanted them to keep it short.

So, the team decided to do something different.

Here's what they did instead.

Step 1: Agreed the storyline structure. The team leader sat down with one other senior team member who was also advanced in their use of our techniques to think through the high-level storyline structure they needed to prepare.

They went back to first principles to think about what they needed to achieve and where their audience's ‘heads were at'. They then thought about what they needed to explain if they were to achieve what they believed they needed to with this presentation.

Although they then discussed some ideas around the messaging, they didn't fill in the structure. They just made a call as to which of our seven storyline patterns suited their situation the best.

Step 2: Brainstormed the messaging for each part of the storyline. They then called a team meeting to talk about preparing the paper for the business case. During this meeting they used the storyline as a framework for the discussion, which led to a brainstormed list of points to be discussed under each of the four key messages that supported their main point.

Step 3: Wrote it up. Four people took away one section each to write it up, which turned out to be fast and easy to do. Why? Because they all

  • Had a clear view of the overall story
  • Understood how their piece related to the whole, and so avoided overlapping with what their colleagues were to contribute
  • Were confident in the messages they needed to convey within their own area
  • Were able to tell the story in a logical, cohesive way that enabled them to support their single point of view without feeling as though they need to discuss topics that were not relevant to their story

Step 4: Finalised and presented the paper – and got a ‘fast yes' from the leadership team along with a series of compliments. Here are just two:

“I didn't even need to read the whole thing. The thinking was so clear and transparent at the top, I knew I could trust what you were saying.”

“This was super easy to read”

Interestingly, none of  the leaders complained that they had deviated from the corporate template.

The team was also pleased that the story flowed with what they felt was a ‘unified voice' even though different people had crafted different sections.

So, there you have it. 

A great real life example of where a business team thinks from first principles about ‘getting things done' rather than following procedure because it's the norm.

 

This post was prepared by Davina Stanley, founder of The Clarity First Program and author of The So What Strategy.

Davina has been helping experts communicate complex ideas since joining McKinsey as a communication specialist 20+ years ago. 

She helps experts clarify their thinking so they can prepare powerful and strategic communication in any format. It might mean preparing for a difficult meeting, getting ready for a project steering committee, putting forward a business case or writing a board paper.

She bases her approach on The Minto Pyramid PrincipleⓇ combined with other powerful techniques to help experts of all kinds globally strengthen their communication skills.