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Three Ps April 8, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
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A big part of anyone’s job is absorbing information.  As leaders a lot of our crucial information comes from our team as they update us on the issues of the day.  I strongly believe that this flow of information must be accurate, timely, and succinct.

I worry that people spend too much time preparing and rehearsing what they are going to say when prompted for some sort of report.  I have sat in many meetings where people have produced beautiful PowerPoint decks or elaborate Word documents that summarize their work.  These things reflect a lot of effort, and it is clear that people put a lot of time into getting them done.

I appreciate that hard work and the desire to deliver a solid result, but I worry that a lot of that time is better spent on something else.  How do we coach people to deliver information without a lot of fanfare or flourish?  Ultimately, while I appreciate the packaging, I really want the content.

Long ago, I was taught how to present results using the Three Ps: Progress, Problems, and Plans.  Almost any activity can be divided into these three areas, and it makes for a good way to discuss any issue.

Begin by reviewing your progress.  What has been accomplished since we last met on this topic?  What action items were previously promised and have since been resolved?  Even if nothing has been done, note that as well and move on.  This part should be fairly brief, since the goal is to acknowledge progress, not shower accolades.  (You need to do that, but not in this setting.)

Turn to your problems.  This is really the meat of the discussion.  A problem is anything you cannot resolve yourself.  (It you could resolve it yourself, it should have shown up in the Progress section.)  As I’ve noted previously, for each problem you present, be prepared to offer a potential solution.  Drive the discussion to develop an approach for each problem as needed.

Finish with your plans.  What will you be doing next?  What accomplishments and actions should be expected when you next meet on this topic?  Depending on the solutions to your problems, your plans may change dramatically as the discussion evolves.

I like this approach because it brings consistency to any conversation.  Although one or more sections may be empty at some point in time, it helps to formally acknowledge that and move on.  Often, these kinds of conversations get bogged down in just one section.  I’ve seen people go on and on about progress to avoid problems, or focus on plans without reviewing what has been accomplished.  With this simple agenda as a framework, you can stay on track and make sure that everything that needs to be covered is addressed.

Have you tried this approach?  Do you have a different structure that yields good results?  I’d love to hear about it!