Have Your Project Demo Ready


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.

Advice to Project Managers – When the Client Comes to Visit

An email just hit your inbox – The Grand Pooh-Paw from XYZ Corporation (or Organization) is visiting. Not only must you present your project, you are responsible for his entire day of activities. I hope that you have time to prepare because there are several things you need to know, plan and do to ensure that the visit is successful.

Define Success
Find out from whoever sent the memo, your supervisor, or relevant senior managers what they want to accomplish during the visit. This is more subtle than communicating project status information. They (your management team) may hope to build new business with the client, put to rest concerns, gain information, solidify your organization’s position as a valued vendor or all of the above. The underlying goals shade the tone and content of your presentations and activities.

Do Your Homework
If you have not been with your project since its inception and came on after the start, check historical documents—hopefully available in your organization’s content management system. You need to understand the original goals of the project and changes in requirements and schedules along the way. If you do not know the customer’s organization—beyond your project work—Google them. Find out about their customers, their business and products, their plans, and any news tidbits.

While you are at it, Google the visitor by name. He or she may have a blog that gives you insight into their thinking and experiences. They may have written an article or given a presentation recently that from which you can learn. The more you know, the better you can tailor your presentations to their interests and perspective.  You should know as much about the visitor and his organization as one of his employees!

Preparing Your Project Presentation
Break your project presentation up into logical segments depending on what your team is developing. If the project is large enough, give each segment a part in the briefing that includes accomplishments, status, plans, issues, and possible future activities. Be sure the presentations are given by knowledgeable employees with good presentation skills.

Use an agenda for the day and have handouts, both written and digital, for each presentation. Remember to make the materials as proprietary where appropriate. As the project manager, you need to introduce the agenda topics, the over-all status of the project, and the key team members. If possible, break up talk times with demonstrations and be sure to allow time for questions during each segment.

Back in July, I talked about How to have Effective Conversations with Senior Management. I think the content from that post is applicable for presenting to clients, also. Do not forget to spell check every presentation—twice—and schedule a dry run a couple days before the big event.

Other Activities
It is a nice courtesy to provide coffee, tea, water, and snacks in the morning along with a few minutes of social time before the briefings begin. Invite other organization players to the first 15 to 30 minutes so they can be part of the welcome and can hear the overview of the day’s presentations and events in case they want to attend.

Lunch? Well, that depends. Your organization may already have plans for the lunch hour as that is a convenient time for senior management to entertain and chat with the client. If you are responsible for lunch, decide if you want a field trip to a local restaurant or a catered lunch. If having the lunch at your company, a fix-your-own salad or sandwich provides your guest with the opportunity to select his preferences. Do not forget that government customers need to be able to “pay” for meals, so have a contribution box for them.

Stay-in lunches are a good time to have demonstrations of other projects and products your company is working on. Set the tone as informative, not sales oriented. If lunch is more social than business, use the background knowledge you acquired, to steer the conversation to your corporate objectives and the client’s interests.

At the end of the day, you may be asked or offer to accompany the client to dinner or provide them with information about the restaurants and interesting sites nearby – or  not. Your management should provide guidance on evening activities. If they do not offer information or advice, ask.

Bottom line:  Be a good host.  Make the client feel comfortable and welcome.  Show them you are managing the project well and listen to what the client says.

Let us know your suggestions and experience hosting important clients.

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