How To Talk To Management

...if you have to. :-)

A colleague and I would like to run a workshop at OtTwoThousand on HowToTalkToManagement. The motivation is that many of us, especially me, are not very good at getting our case across to non-technical management. The idea is to run a role-playing session so that technical people can get a sense of what the view is from the other side.

The rough plan is to break into groups of about four, giving everyone a role description and a set of constraints. One or more of the four will be technicians trying to get something approved. The others could be product managers, senior management, finance directors, shareholders, etc. The scenario should build up a network of conflicting forces so that everyone in the group is subject to different pressures.

We'd welcome suggestions, experiences, arguments, and other general feedback.

-- SteveFreeman

Talking to management is much like any communication. You must know your audience (I think role playing is one very good way to teach this). You need to speak in the language of the audience and address the concerns of the audience. For management, this is often addressing issues such as cost, schedule, manpower, risk, and benefit. How can we best balance the trade-offs between these aspects? And remember, managers are people, too. Sounds like an interesting workshop.

Well, it depends on the kind of management you have. Management usually do not understand: I often used the "3 slides method". Imagine you try to explain something to a manager to get some decision (usually that the manager validates your proposal while knowing enough not to feel betrayed in case of a problem). Create 3 slides with the following content: Important: those slides must sell one and only one idea! Yeah, I know, it's hard...

You can have two kinds of reactions depending of the kind of management: Warning: one danger is the manager that seems to understand and that did not at all... This is quite rough. After some big investment on your side, you discover in a big meeting that your manager totally missed the point. Wahoo, that's bad! But well, don't get discouraged too quickly. Go back to your slides and re-do them until they get the point.

The most important advice: never consider talking to management as a waste of time. Just accept that learning HowToTalkToManagement will take you longer than to code everything you try to sell them!''

How about HowToTalkToBusinessAnalysts? too?

See also YouMustWorkInManagement

At my first job, we read of a small startup where everyone got to choose their own title for business cards. We were enamored of the idea, and played a few days at devising titles. The winning two were "System Anarchist" and "Speaker-to-Managers", the latter owing much to LarryNiven. -- PeteHardie

How to Dress

EricRaymond, OpenSource developer and advocate, says this about how to dress when talking to management:

Eric himself tries to adopt the Prince from Another Country stance, a term coined by science-fiction writer Norman Spinrad to describe his technique for being accepted in multiple communities: You adopt the attitude of being a high-ranking member of a different hierarchy, which gets you respect without subjecting you to hierarchical obligations. Thus, when Spinrad was trying to gain respect in Hollywood as a scriptwriter, he conducted himself as a respected science fiction author. Conversely, in the science fiction community, he billed himself as a leading Hollywood scriptwriter.

Following in the same mold, Eric dresses well but casually, and donates his time as a speaker on open source, rather than billing it as consulting time. Dressing "well" includes good shoes, meaning, in Eric's case, $90 Rockport walking shoes rather than beat-up Reeboks. He generally combines these with a neat polo shirt and slacks.

Don't dress like a hacker, Eric warns. Dress the way hackers do in the movies. You want to look like a credible, respected member of a foreign social system to an audience of executives who've never come closer to a real hacker than a Sandra Bullock movie. Therefore, "Birkenstocks are right out!"

Even worse than underdressing, as a strategy for being credible to executives, would be overdressing. A technology advocate dressed in a business suit would tend to come across as a bad imitation of a business person -- and thus a person to ignore. It's far safer to stick to neat, good-fabric casual wear.

From Eric Raymond's tips for effective open source advocacy by Rick Moen, LinuxWorld?, September 2000 [1]

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