‘Mr One Page’ – that is what one witty executive had nick-named the newly appointed CEO. In the 6 weeks since being appointed the CEO had asked for ‘one page’ from almost every manager heading up a department, business unit, project or initiative. The one-page summaries were the CEOs preferred way of getting up to speed, while at the same time avoiding getting lost in the detail.
Each page was printed ahead of sitting down with the relevant manager and became a support to the conversation. With passages underlined and notes in the margin, each one page was a handy quick reference guide or cheat sheet on the relevant business unit, department or project. The growing collection of pages soon filled a folder that the CEO kept near at all times.
Some executives spent days preparing their one-pager, asking their teams to create alternative versions or re-write particular paragraphs. The details on what was required were limited – ‘a one-page executive summary of what you feel the CEO needs to know about your unit, department, project or team. For example, your strategic agenda, the key opportunities or challenges, etc.’ Most interpreted the ‘one page’ to mean a double-sided page, few dared to go beyond that number. Some tried to condense 4 pages in to space, with densely packed text, others used stylish graphs to communicate the detail.
One-page cheat sheets are very popular – take the business canvass or the beermat business case as examples. With space so limited, they require the creator to be very clear and concise on what they want to communicate to the reader. For busy executives whose attention is limited, they have a real appeal.
The question is: Should there be a one-page cheat sheet for critical projects or initiatives? If yes, what should such a project one-page include? For example, is it a summary of the project plan, or a synopsis of the latest project review? Well, before deciding what should be on the project one pager, it makes sense to clarify what it aims to achieve. Those objectives will then guide us as to what should be included.
A key objective of any project one-pager is to enable not just a ‘typical’ project conversation, but rather a ‘strategic conversation’ regarding the project or initiative. That is the type of important conversation that:
Here are some of the other objectives of the project one-pager:
It means filling any gaps that exist and getting explicit about assumptions or scenarios regarding business impact, business urgency, project complexity (business as usual versus business usual), business / stakeholder needs, or what is happening in the market.
A project one-pager is also be a great way of checking alignment with respect to the project team, the organization and its stakeholders. It has the power to quickly reveal if people are ‘on the same page regarding the project / initiative’.
In the busyness of a project, it is an opportunity to get ‘back to the basics’ of a project – to focus / re-focus on what matters most.
Creating or updating a project one-page can clarify the ‘essentials’ of a project or initiative, helping it to stay on course to deliver against business and stakeholder needs as they evolve.
Being able to communicate the essentials of the project or initiative on one page can also help in the process of engaging stakeholders. It is ideally co-created with stakeholders to ensure that it captures their needs clearly.
When created the project one pager helps to keep those people working on the project ‘on message‘ delivering a consistent project message to stakeholders.
Many project leaders tell us it is easier to write 5 or 10 pages on a project than it is to complete the one-pager. Therein lies its power, however.
Being able to communicate the business need or business impact behind a project in 3-4 sentences is the supreme art of communicating with clarity and impact.
We cannot expect stakeholders to read the project plan. We must deliver the business needs, business impact and business urgency in a sound byte. In an age of information overload this is essential.
To sum up the one-page project view enables a strategic conversation that speaks the language of the C-suite and clarifies business needs, business impact and so on, ensuring that people are aligned, on message and focused on what matters most.
With the above objectives in mind, there are 9 pieces of information that the project one page should include: