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Entries in Simplification (1)


The Impact of Simplification

At the CIO’s first department meeting he shared the story of the Pig and Chicken.

“While having bacon and eggs for breakfast you realize there were two parties involved in that transaction, the pig and the chicken. While the chicken was involved (laid the eggs), the pig was committed. I want all of you to be pigs.”

While the CIO was outstanding at motivating an audience, what I remember most about this experience was how one simple story could inspire so many people.. For many years, everyone in the Information Technologies department took great pride in calling themselves “pigs.” Vendors who sold hardware and software to us and did not take a personal interest in the sale were known as “chickens” (they had no idea of what we were talking about). We purchased pig and chicken pictures and statues and gave them as objects of recognition. We were sold.

It seems like the art of simplicity has been lost. Everything we do, today, must be complex and require a sophisticated explanation. We used to say “If it is in a report, it has to be real, and if a spreadsheet is embedded in the report, then it must be accurate.”

The same CIO (someone for whom I have the utmost admiration) stressed the importance of being “pithy and succinct.” I could produce a 10-page memo (correctly formatted and grammatically correct) in less than 30 minutes. It would typically be a “brain dump” and was not well organized. By spending another 30 minutes I was typically able to reduce the size of the document to a page or two and do a better job of making my point. Simplicity, combined with brevity, became my obsession and made me a better communicator.

How can IT professionals simplify communications? Here are some pointers:

  • Craft one paragraph or slide outlining the point you wish to make. This will be your executive summary or thesis.

  • Create a simple outline of the points absolutely necessary to convince the reader or listener of your thesis.

  • Limit your document to 1 or 2 pages and presentations to 4 or 5 slides.

  • Never use acronyms or technical terms.

  • Insure a logical flow from start to finish. When person has read or listened to your presentation will you have proved your point?

  • Have someone, preferably non-technical, proofread your document (this CIO and I would always proofread each other’s materials).

Simplify your message and notice how business users and executives of the firm respond. Communicating in terms they understand cause them to treat the IT organization as equals and increase the respect they have for technology professionals.