Wiglaf Internal Memo: Executive Milestone Meetings
A consulting engagement is usually undertaken to address specific executive challenges. In management consulting engagements, these challenges are generally decision questions. What is the source of a challenge? What should be done? How should changes or solutions be implemented?
When an engagement has succeeded in developing answers to these questions, a key deliverable will be a presentation of the results. This demarks an executive milestone meeting.
How should this executive milestone meeting be delivered?
While the specifics of the challenge and deliverable will vary between engagements, experience has demonstrated the structure and approach to delivering a successful executive milestone meeting is somewhat uniform. In this article, we provide an overall template which can be adjusted to meet your specific needs.
This template may be used in both old-school style slide presentation design and new-school style memo discussion.
Decision Makers Are the Primary Audience of the Executive Milestone Meeting
Many people are likely to attend the milestone meeting, yet the primary audience will be the key decision-makers who requested the engagement and posed the challenge. These are generally senior executives who wanted their questions addressed with proper due-diligence and in an unbiased manner.
However, most of the senior executives who agreed to the engagement will not have been engaged in all the details of the project. One may have been engaged in guiding the project as the client-side project sponsor, but many if not most of the other key decision makers are generally unaware of the methodology, specifics, and issues.
Yet, all the key decision-makers are in this meeting to learn the findings, meaningfully discuss and reflect on the recommendations tendered, and prepare to make a decision.
Purpose of the Executive Mile-Stone Meeting
The purpose of the executive milestone meeting is to deliver the recommendations that address the key management challenge in a manner which all the key-decision makers can consume, discuss, and act upon.
Recall, the goal of a management consulting engagement is to enable a decision. The executive milestone meetings are how these decisions are informed and enabled.
Template Agenda for Executive Mile-Stone Meetings
While the exigencies and contingencies of the of the engagement vary, we have found the following template useful for steering the meeting.
First, the person driving the presentation should be the client-side project manager or sponsor, if possible. This does two things. One, it enables that individual to demonstrate to her/his superiors and peers their competency and preparedness for further professional development. Two, it ensures that a member of the client team understands the details and reasoning of the recommendation.
While clearly the consultant side project manager and team should be present and active in the meeting, they do not have to be the key presenters. Rather, they act as support to address detailed questions as needed.
Experience has shown the following agenda to be effective.
Challenge Statement: Refresh the executives regarding the challenge addressed. State the key question(s) posed to ensure all participants in the executive milestone meeting know the topic. This helps to focus minds and keep the meeting on track.
Process: At a high-level, provide the executives a review of what was done. This reminds executives of the scope and due diligence leading to the recommendations, and thus why the recommendations should be fully considered.
As appropriate, also provide the project timeline in comparison to the initial project plan to inform executives how the project plan performed.
Individuals Engaged: State who was engaged in the project and highlight the key project participants. This will clarify that many different people were consulted in developing the recommendations, thus enabling executives to suspect that the recommendations being tendered are likely to be accepted by the larger organization. This also celebrates the individuals working on the engagement to engender goodwill. Together, these messages act as a safety-signal to accept the recommendations.
Combined with the process statement, these two sections alert the audience that the speaker has earned the privilege to address them and therefore should be given the opportunity to present their recommendations.
Recommendation: Provide key decision makers with the recommendation. This answers the question posed in the challenge statement. As the key point of the milestone executive meeting is to enable a decision, this is where you state what decision should be made.
Analysis: In the analysis section, provide the reasoning, tables, forms of analysis, and quantitative modeling that supports the recommendations. Importantly, the analysis should include alternative and competing recommendations that have been considered, the tradeoffs between these competing recommendations, and the reasoning behind supporting the recommendation tendered.
While the prior discussion items may be single slides in a presentation or paragraphs in a memo, the analysis is likely to require multiple slides or paragraphs. It is important to provide enough detail to support the recommendation but not so much as to overwhelm the audience. Keep this analysis section at a high-level. Details of the analysis can be held in an appendix of supplementary material that is referred to if and when an executive has a detailed question.
Next Steps: If further analysis could be done, or if the engagement uncovered further questions that were tabled because they were out-of-scope, the key-decision makers should be alerted to these opportunities for further review. It is not that the next steps or other questions must be addressed in a further engagement, but rather that executives must be informed of where further improvements in the analysis can be made if the current deliverable is insufficient for driving a decision.
Often, executives will declare the analysis sufficient and be enabled to make decisions based on the recommendations alone. However, in a multi-phase project, the milestone meeting is used to deliver the results of the current phase of the project and get approval to initiate the next phase. In any case, potential next steps should be included.
Analysis Details Appendix: While the above agenda items should be covered in the meeting, an appendix is needed to provide all the details of the analysis. This section may be lengthy, but it is not intended to be fully discussed during the meeting. Rather, it is useful to have prepared and included to be able to address any detailed inquiries raised by executives during the meeting that were not adequately addressed in the prior sections. Interested executives will review this section at their leisure.
Now, will you use slides to present findings? Or a memo, silent reading time, and follow up discussion like the approach used by Edward Tufte or Jeff Bezos and suggested by Carmin Gallo? Well, that depends on the corporate culture of the client. Agility is useful in our work.