J.D. Meier's Blog

Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness

Presenting Numbers with Skill

Presenting Numbers with Skill

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At Microsoft, we get a lot of chances to present numbers.   Whether it’s making a project pitch, or writing our reviews and quantifying our impact, numbers are everywhere.   And when we aren’t the one presenting, we are often reviewing the numbers that other people are presenting.

It’s one thing to know the numbers.  It’s another to share the numbers in a meaningful way.

As a Program Manager for several years, I’ve had to manage, show, and report on budgets.  I’ve had to quantify impact.  I’ve had to report status on key metrics.    I’ve had to figure out velocity and burn down.   I’ve had to show schedules and variance.   I’ve had to present estimates and calculate risk.   It comes with the turf.   Part of making impact, is knowing how to show it.

The problem is, we don’t always get the best mentors or the best examples.   We don’t really learn how to present numbers in school, at least not with the same focus we get on learning how to read, write, and speak.   The more I see complicated charts and confusing figures that obfuscate key points, the more I appreciate the value of simplicity and elegance in presenting numbers.

I found the perfect compliment to Edward Tufte’s, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.  It’s Painting with Numbers, by Randall Bolten.    It’s the best book I’ve seen on how to present numbers with skill.   Randall was a CFO for twenty years in Silicon Valley, so he’s got the benefit of seeing all the various ways, shapes, and sizes that people throw numbers around.  He’s exactly the right person to learn from when it comes to seeing through the numbers, knowing what they mean, and knowing how to present them more effectively to speak the truth, and to make better decisions … in work and in life.

I wrote a post to elaborate on the book and get specific on the problems it addresses.   You can read more at Quantation: How to Present Numbers with Skill.  

It’s a book I’m going to recommend to the people I mentor to help them advance their careers and take their game to the next level.