Translating the overwhelmingly technical into the wonderfully simple
When an organisation is introducing technical and complex changes, the temptation is to place all the relevant information in lengthy documents and make it available to everyone that may be affected.
The assumption being, that everyone will read it, interpret it and thus know what they need to know. In most organisations, where the volume of information is vast, that is, at best, unlikely. In addition, if the information has been written by technical experts, it may serve more to confuse than to enlighten.
Although the obligation of providing information has been fulfilled and thus can be ticked off the project plan, it often fails to enlighten anyone and can create frustration and confusion. There is another way.
Alana bought a new carpet-cleaning machine at the weekend. (She is an official grown up now!). She shared on Monday morning the excitement of unboxing it, which rapidly turned to amazement and then to confusion at just how many parts it seemed to have. Her mood shifted to despair as she realised how much needed to be done to assemble these items to produce a fully functioning bit of kit. Perhaps the carpets could wait a day or two?
Thankfully, the despair was short lived, because the very thoughtful carpet machine manufacturers had created a wonderful technicolour spread of just exactly what went where and the order in which it went. As well as clear assembly instructions, there were visual diagrammatic steps for operation too. What attachment was for what surface, how much solution to mix and which brushes were specially for homes with pets. A potential technical minefield easily explained and the previously terrifying array of bits was swiftly transformed into a fully functioning domestic delight. Result – a delighted Alana, some very clean carpets and a slightly disgruntled Murphy dog.
Wouldn’t it be great if the same happened in business? Technical, complex and dry but necessary information conveyed in a way which people can quickly understand and apply.
Here is the thought process we go through when we are faced with the challenge of translating technically complex information into the understandably simple.
1. What one thing do we want people to know?
2. What do we want them to do afterwards?
3. How do we want them to feel?
1. What is a metaphor, a phrase, an analogy or concept that conveys all this information?
2. What creative vehicle could we use to clearly demonstrate that concept?
3. What other information needs to be conveyed that can be weaved into this overarching idea.
This diagram illustrates some examples. These creative ‘hooks’ can then be used throughout the messaging to reinforce the key point.
Having a strong hook isn’t going to be able to describe your complete IT network in 5 minutes but here are a few other techniques we use in order to make the technical more simple:
1. Make it Visual
Take a leaf out of the carpet cleaning machine manufacturer’s book- make it visual. Need to show the relationship between the head office and the factory floor? Show it. Depicting the environment in which people work makes it immediately relatable and recognisable.
2. Don’t try and include every little thing.
You will run the risk of getting stuck in the weeds and never actually getting to the end of articulating what you need to. Extra discussion can address the more detailed data once you have delivered the basics.
3. Make sure it is relevant
Sense check it with individuals from the business who live it day to day. They will soon be able to tell you if it lands with them at a human level or not.
4. Include the benefits
This works well in process visuals – to be able to see the benefit of a certain process step really helps in getting buy-in from individuals. Click here for examples of process maps and other visual creations.
5. Have some fun!
Can you include in-jokes? No car parking? Temperamental printers or dodgy light switches? Feature a nod to these! The laughter of recognition is a great icebreaker.
Here is a recent example of a before and after:
Whilst we are not suggesting that the assembly of a carpet cleaning machine presents the same technical challenge as say, introducing a new ERP, we are ultimately seeking the same outcome.
A communication vehicle that can simply explain process and procedure and convey the required complex technical information in a simple and effective way. Visuals really are the key.
By the way, should anyone want their carpets cleaning …Alana recommends VAX. If it’s strong simple visuals you are after, then please feel free to get in touch!