I.M. Wright

It’s that time again, when we highlight “Hard Code,” an opinion column for developers by I. M. Wright, Microsoft development manager at large. The column’s motto is (and we hope always will be) “Brutally honest, no pulled punches.” If you enjoy this column/podcast, you’ll enjoy I. M. Wright’s “Hard Code” (Microsoft Press, 2008), which includes 49 columns and numerous Eric Asides contextualizing, clarifying, and complementing I. M.’s unpulled punches. (Eric Brechner is Director of Development Excellence in Microsoft’s Engineering Excellence group.)

The podcast for the July 2009 column can be found here.

I. M. opens this month’s column/podcast this way:

“It's the end of the fiscal year. Most engineers associate this time with performance review season, but for principal-level engineers and higher it's also executive review season. Time to waste weeks of your life writing slides for executive presentations that will be rewritten five times before they are never presented.

Executive reviews aren't a waste of time—occasionally you need an experienced, authoritative voice to blow apart your assumptions and refocus your efforts on desired business results. Preparing isn't a waste of time—being forced to explain yourself to others always helps your thinking, and I've got no desire to look like an idiot in front of the person who approves my compensation. The real waste of time is the focusing on getting the right slides for every season and situation instead of getting the right strategy.

Smart, high-level people simply don't know how to cope with executive reviews. They think it's a time to show off instead of a time to listen. They respond inappropriately to executive criticism of their badly presented, unsuitable slides. I've done it too—it's a trap set by our superiors filling out the poor templates dictated by their superiors. It's the misinformed leading the uninformed. Well, now it's time to break that cycle, avoid the pitfalls, and focus on what matters—valuable feedback on your clear and concise plans.

Wisdom to know the difference

Why do so many otherwise intelligent people bungle executive reviews? I believe there are two reasons—exuberance and confusion.

  • Exuberance over the importance of the moment. It's so important that we must cover every detail rather than focus on what's important. Twisted huh? Who defines what's important? The executive. What's important to the executive? Ask. Press for clarity. Don't accept second-hand smoke from an assistant. It's not good for your health.
  • Confusion between executive reviews and presentations. Both use slide decks. Both involve presenting. The difference is that in presentations the presenter is in control. In executive reviews, executives and their posses are in control. Failure to recognize this difference leads to failure in your review.”

Enjoy the rest!

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