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#216: Helping Your Client Visualize Their Operations

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, January 11, 2010
Updated: Monday, January 11, 2010
I am not sure I have a simple way to communicate to my client where their investments should be focused. Financial reports are OK, but do not drive home the message to the entire audience of stakeholders, managers, staff and vendors. Got any ideas?

The usual advice is to tailor your communications to each audience. It is perfectly appropriate in presenting your message, the takeaway of which may well be different for each audience, to use a different format, metaphor, learning style or timing. Financial reports may well be best for investors, a video of customers using products for the community, a process model for production staff, or a group presentation for the training staff. Previous Daily Tips (e.g., #25, #63, #174, and #953) have discussed data visualization and techniques for creating rich meaning from a relatively simple graphic. What you seem to be asking for is something that satisfies the financial, strategic and impact needs of a varied audience.

I suggest you consider a "waterfall" graph. A waterfall is a histogram with some cumulative value on the horizontal axis and some measure of impact or performance on the vertical axis. A typical example is to show cumulative revenue on the horizontal axis and profitability of individual investments, programs or products on the vertical axis, with the most profitable on the left, continuing to the least profitable on the right. As is typical of most organizations, at some point, the profitability will trend to zero or below, showing all unprofitable activities to the right. This is a powerful display of how a large company may well be like two separate companies, with one set of activities (those on the left) subsidizing the others (those on the right). Each stakeholder can now see clearly the attractiveness of "their" activities.

See a waterfall graph for the relative costs of CO2 abatement, in which lowest cost strategies are on the left (they actually make money) and the most expensive are on the right. Note how some of the most expensive strategies are often the most highly publicized, even though they show minimal impact and at high cost. The debate would surely be more vigorous over where the biggest bang for the buck comes by using this graph.

Tip: Selection of horizontal and vertical axes do not have to be financial. For a human services nonprofit, one could plot people served against relative impact. A consultant could plot cumulative time of an organization's processes vs reductions implemented by hte consultant. Link the axes to the core items of an organization's mission and you will drive a powerful discussion that can engage all stakeholders.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  customer understanding  data visualization  innovation  presentations 

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