The Pyramid Principle, 1-Slide Progress Update, Sprint Backlog
Monday Ideas - Edition #29
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Every Monday morning, receive 3 ideas on how to work more effectively in product and dev teams.
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1) The Pyramid Principle
Communicating ideas in a slide deck can be hard.
Luckily there is a tried-and-tested method that senior professionals use to communicate ideas.
The most used method is the Pyramid Principle.
The Pyramid Principle is a tool to help you synthesise information into a structured argument. Then communicate the key takeaways and insights to stakeholders.
It was created by Barbara Minto while working at the McKinsey & Company. And it’s now used as the primary communication technique by consultancy firms.
Barba Minto describes it as a way to crystalise your ideas:
“The great value of the technique is that it forces you to pull out of your head information that you weren’t aware was there, and then helps you to develop and shape it until the thinking is crystal clear. Until you do that, you can’t make good decisions on slides or video.” - Barbara Minto
The pyramid has three levels:
💽 Bottom-level: This is the data, information and research you have.
📧 Middle-level: These are the key insights taken from your data.
🥡 Top-level: This is the main takeaway from the key insights.
How does the Pyramid Principle get SEO projects executed?
You need to focus on breaking down the Pyramid Principle into two parts:
✍️ Write: Write to structure your ideas to overcome a key challenge.
🎬 Present: Present to communicate your main takeaway and key insights.
Focusing on bottom-up (writing) and then top-down (presenting) is how many senior professionals clearly communicate their ideas in slide decks to stakeholders.
The Pyramid Principle can help you get your message across to any stakeholder.
How do I use this technique to improve my slide decks?
Think of writing as the “messy” back end and presenting as the “polished” front end.
Before you build any slide deck for an SEO strategy or report, provide in-depth technical analysis.
Try the following: Start in a document.
Write to structure your thoughts and then move to a slide deck. Switching back and forth.
When you open a document, write the following headlines:
Problem Statement - The key challenge you are trying to solve.
Questions - The questions you ask yourself to help overcome the challenge you’re trying to solve.
Recommendations - The key takeaway and insights you will be reporting to stakeholders.
Notes - The research and analysis to help answer questions and inform your key takeaway + insights.
Always start by writing down the problem. Asking key questions to help think through the problem. Then dump your notes, data analysis and raw insights into the Notes section.
It will take time to structure your key takeaways and insights. But by the end of it, you’ll have a clearer and stronger set of ideas to help overcome any problem.
I’ve moved to using this way of working for any pitch deck, SEO strategy deck. or technical insights.
It’s helped sharpen my message and key takeaway for stakeholders.
Once you have a clearer idea of the main takeaway. You can then start crafting a slide deck that starts with the key takeaway and moves deeper into the insights.
For a great newsletter on slide deck structure, check out Tom Critchlow’s SEOMBA 👇.
2) 1-Slide Progress Update
It was a cold January day in a basement office in London.
Everyone was huddled around a screen, getting ready to update the leadership team on the progress of the product and engineering teams.
Each product manager at DeepCrawl was in charge of a problem. They needed to update everyone on the progress of a squad of developers and designers.
The problem was that we were told we all had less than 5 minutes to talk.
The leadership team is busy, after all.
How would we distil everything that had happened in the last 3 months into 5 minutes?
Luckily we had a kick-ass boss who recommended a simple 1-slide progress report.
Keep it simple.
So, we settled on a simple Progress Update slide that contained the following headings:
🟩 Now - What are you working on right now?
🟧 Next - What are you working on next?
🟥 Later - What is coming up?
The leadership team were happy with the progress reports (but there were a few tweaks, of course).
And every month, we got into the rhythm of updating the team on the progress of our work.
How can this 1-slide progress update help us get things executed?
Simple. You need to market your progress and what is coming up next.
Grab their attention and keep them informed.
Business teams, especially managers, are busy. Their time is already allocated.
BUT they like to be up-to-date on what is happening.
If they don’t know what’s going on, well, that’s when they might start micro-managing you and the team.
This is going to slow the delivery team down (a lot).
Since leaving DeepCrawl, I’ve always kept up the habit of reporting on the progress of my clients. Either what I am working on with the development team or my own work.
The 1 slide template stops you from waffling and keeps the information clear.
It’s a simple format, but it works in meetings or in weekly email blasts.
3) Sprint Backlog
Everyone talks about getting SEO tickets into the dev backlog.
But did you know there’s a backlog within the backlog?
The true goal shouldn’t be to get SEO dev tickets into the ticketing system.
Instead, you should be focusing on making sure tickets are prioritised in the sprint backlog.
What is the sprint backlog?
In Scrum (the most popular agile delivery framework), the development team works in sprints. A sprint is just a time-boxed period of time to complete an agreed piece of work. Teams usually work in 1-2 week sprints.
Before any sprint, the development and product teams agree on the work that needs to be done. All the work needs to be broken down into tickets that need to be big enough to fit into the time-box period of time.
The sprint backlog is the list of items that are actually being worked on now.
The dev backlog is a prioritised task list for the dev team but can be changed anytime.
So, how can we use this information to get SEO projects executed?
It may seem trivial, but the difference between the sprint and dev backlog is worlds apart.
When any tickets are added to the development backlog, the game isn’t over. It has only just begun.
You’ve got to work with the development and product teams to move those precious dev tickets up the backlog.
This will include joining meetings such as:
📅 Planning - Where the team decides which tickets are being pulled into the sprint backlog.
🧮 Refactoring (Grooming) - Where the team reviews the tickets in the dev backlog.
Meeting by meeting. Conversation by conversation. You must ensure they are prioritised, agreed upon and ready to be pulled into the sprint backlog.
Because you don’t want your tickets raw and unready when it goes time.
Otherwise, they’ll get pushed further down the to-do list.
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