Three Slides Deep

I had to create a communication package once for the CIO, CEO, and President of HP on difficulties in their “going direct” supply chain process. Perhaps it was my Caltech Science background, or having a lot of raw data, but I came up with what I thought was a wonderful, lucid, though 400-page, presentation. My SC and IT team had been through the HP-Compaq merger, and we had reams of analysis of both companies, and likewise on the four or five attempts by both companies to try to leverage indirect fulfillment supply chains for direct sales (hint: it doesn’t work well). I started walking Bob Napier, CIO at the time of HP (Bob is no longer with us), through the presentation. He was an old Navy guy with a deep voice like dark polished wood, and he filled his office with a booming laugh. “Oh Joe. It’s the first time.”

True, I hadn’t made many Officer-level presentations on supply chain yet, but I had supplied ample material to different groups in time. “Three Slides Deep.” I stared at him. That was cryptic by even my standards. I was famous for one-line email responses to thirty-page messages. The light went on. “Powerpoint slides.” Bob gave me some great advice which has been enormously valuable over many years. “I can’t get their attention for more than 15 minutes. Three slides deep is all they go.” Bob said, and all I could say was “Ah,” with my binder in hand. “OK.” I went back to my office and got my team together, and said “Three slides deep.”Too many slides After a lot of hubbub and work, we decided that what would work best for high-level supply chain conversations was:

  • Slide 1 – Frame the problem.
  • Slide 2 – Analyze the issues.
  • Slide 3 – Present a solution.

Gosh, that’s easy isn’t it, but to be honest it has served me well through clients I built in HP’s consultancy, my private consultancy, through my job as Executive Director of one of the world’s premier Supply Chain research organizations dealing with literally thousands of companies and Supply Chain teams.

When you have to explain supply chain to senior management, you need to frame the problem in at most just a few lines on the opening, or else it gets very complicated and you lose attention. Analysis takes the framing problem, and turns it into numbers, so you can visibly see the analytic gap– it can’t just be opinion. The solution needs to eliminate the gap of course, but must have some concept of cost, and timing. Oh, and remember, the slides are just backdrops to a conversation. The moment you lose the eyes of your audience, you are not communicating, they are reading and hearing noise.

I’ve had a similar conversation with CEO’s and Chief Supply Chain Officers – I’ve heard a range of 3 slides to 10 as what is practical, but the message is the same – Frame, Analyze, Solve. Use the conversation to communicate, the slides as context. I can tell long before someone goes in front of a group of company Officers how successful they will be just by glancing through slides – supply chain, because there are a lot of engineers involved, tend to be very focused on detail and analysis, little on framing, and complex solutions and can leave the team with a “what did I just see” feeling.

Marketing by contrast tends to be great at a framing context, less on analysis, but good on tangible interesting solutions, and tend to leave the audience feeling good. With Bob, I made a framing slide from two pictures, the Green Bay Packers versus a Beach Volleyball team to provide the essential context of converting a volume indirect to a small shipment direct one. Slide two was a breakdown of all the key numbers, supply chain KPI’s, and so on. Slide three articulated exactly the steps which would resolve the KPI’s and give the most viable path to direct business.

There was backup of course – where the numbers came from, how analysis was done, alternatives to the solution, costing and further analysis, but the essence of the presentation was captured in three slides to guide what became a half-hour long – and ultimately a re-positioning of an acquisition – conversation. Supply chain had a lot of credibility, and authority – it was generally well-explained, and understood. My take-away here is where you have feeling that supply chain has low credibility, that reviews of problems and solutions are not well-received – perhaps overall supply chain is not viewed as a strategic asset – consider how well explained it is, and how well its understood what it brings to the company.

And remember. Three Slides Deep.