By Dr. John Richard Horne
Faculty Member, School of Business at American Public University
To communicate the status of a project to busy executive directors and other management, you must convey information clearly, quickly and concisely in 60 seconds or less. The best way to accomplish this task is to construct an “elevator speech” that distills key points and helps executives make prudent decisions for the organization.
But how do you create this type of speech? Break the “elevator speech” into two parts. The first part to consider is the project’s scope, time and cost. The next part is to talk about the opportunities the project presents and any obstacles occurring in the project to date.
Communicating Project Scope, Time and Cost
Managers will first want to know if the project is on schedule. It may be appropriate to start your elevator speech with a phrase such as “We are on schedule at this time” or “We are about two weeks behind/ahead, because…”
Keep your elevator speech short and to the point. If management wants details, they will ask. Be prepared to provide answers to their questions.
What should you say about “scope creep,” when the time or the work required for the project grows beyond the project’s normal parameters? Use your best judgment. Scope creep is only bad when there’s been no formal extension of the scope by the stakeholders. Some scope creep is actually a reflection of the project’s leaders taking advantage of opportunities as they occur during project execution.
Project cost – vital information on the project’s health – should also be included in your speech. Management will want to know if the project is over or under budget. I recommend communicating project cost in terms of a percentage; percentages are a universal and easy to understand language.
If project costs are over or under budget, be prepared to provide reasons if you’re asked for them. A little variance is always expected, so don’t panic if your information needs to change later.
Discussing Project Opportunities and Obstacles
The second part of your “elevator speech” involves project opportunities and obstacles. With opportunities, talk about the key benefits or opportunities for business improvement that you can see coming out of the project currently.
For example, create a short statement to encapsulate the information about the opportunities and recap the project benefits to the organization. For example, using a short sentence such as “Yes, it looks like our new receiving process under development now, coupled with the series of hand-held scanners, will speed up receiving by about 40% in labor and get us close to 100% accuracy” helps executives to clearly see what is happening and its beneficial results.
The last part of the elevator speech is the obstacles faced by your project team. Convey them to your listener so he or she understands what actions will facilitate the success of your project.
Before you communicate obstacles, state that everyone on the project team has already exhausted all their means to handle the challenges at their level before calling it to the attention of senior management. Be prepared to state briefly the actions you have taken already. Managers expect to hear about independent initiatives and actions you’ve taken to handle all but the most difficult challenges.
Avoid the temptation to criticize other employees or cast yourself as the only person on the team to deserve credit in your speech. Give full credit to every member of your team who is working hard on the project.
Also, don’t spring unexpected surprises on an executive who is your project sponsor. There should be no obstacles in the “elevator speech” that are unfamiliar to executives who may already be working on solving those problems.
Good Communication Saves Time and Is Beneficial
Ideally, your elevator speech should be a high-level summary of a project’s current status, the key opportunities occurring in the project and the expected improvements to the organization. By clearly communicating actionable information, you’ll save time for both executive decision makers and yourself.
About the Author
Dr. John Richard Horne worked for the federal government, the Navy and Marine Corps for 35 years, spending most of the time in the logistics arena including supply, aviation maintenance and installation management. His specialty was business and program analysis and organizational and process improvement initiatives. He was in the Army Reserves for 30 years working in both military intelligence, and logistics. He completed one full deployment to Iraq/Kuwait in 2003/2004.
He completed a quantitative dissertation on corporate performance for firms winning national quality recognition. He is published in several academic journals on topics relating to corporate performance measurement and analysis.