Sometimes it may seem as if every week your project is called on to provide a demonstration to someone. And for me, that someone or group is really important (Like clients, stakeholders, or executives). Often a priority demonstration gets onto your schedule with little notice or concern about the impact to other project tasks.
Difficult as it may seem to believe in the heat of the moment, the opportunity to give demonstrations is a good thing for your project and your organization (and when done well, doesn’t hurt your career either). I thought I would share some tips and tricks on how I prepare for having a demo on my projects.
Benefits of Project Demonstrations
Marketing, business development and senior management view the demonstration of capability as essential to gaining customers and winning business. After these professionals have talked and talked about your organization and its bona fides, a demonstration adds believability to the claims made.
Besides helping the organization win business, project managers receive benefits also in the form of information about customer’s needs and preferences. By listening to questions and comments, a project manager better understands how customers want to interact with products and what their problems are. In some circumstances, a PM can use the demonstration to ask questions about the client’s operational imperatives and constraints.
Project Manager’s Responsibilities
Have several demonstrations or versions ready at all times throughout the course of the project. The demonstrations may cover different aspects of a project or product and varying level of detail. Demonstrations must work. That means designing, coding and testing – and then freezing the code, or if it is a design – then wireframes, mockups, PowerPoint slides, etc.
The target audience’s needs should drive selecting a demo and deciding what to say about it. Therefore, it is prudent to request information about the attendees and the amount of time available for the demonstration beforehand. Technologists, users or senior management want to know different things. PMs should approach the presentation with sensitivity to attendee’s probable level of technical knowledge.
Assign someone to run the demo who has experience – I know this seems obvious, but I have seen a software engineer pulled out of her cube and told to go do a demo she had never seen before; it was not pretty. Just in case there are detailed questions, ask a senior developer or system designer to be present to take on tough technical questions about design, algorithms and performance, if you cannot be present. And be sure whoever you pick can communicate well – this is not a skill every project team member has.
At the beginning of the project, prepare several sets of slides and presentations (viewgraphs or foils for those of us old enough to remember!) targeting different aspects of the project and level of detail. Get content approval from marketing or senior management for presentation content. Mark all materials appropriately and, if you are not sure of your company’s or client’s official procedures to protect proprietary information through document marking, find out. Use the presentation to introduce the demo, if needed. If not, go straight into demo mode.
Constructing a Memorable Demonstration
Select two or three capabilities to highlight in the demo. Too many features or too much detail can overwhelm the audience and probably just bore them. Construct the demo around a scenario that will resonate with the audience’s needs and experiences. Have data available from testing that shows off key features such as speed of response, number of items evaluated, user interface, completeness of output or ability to query the system for explanations.
Starting the demo with a question or bold statement engages the audience, but it has been done too frequently – stick with a story. Be sure you can back up any claims with performance! Remember your credibility is on the line too. Finish the demo by showing how the project is relevant and solving a problem – do not just walk through a process.
If you have a successful demo strategy, please share.