Tuesday, November 28, 2006

PowerPoint slides

If you have sat through as many poor presentations as I have, you will find it easy to believe the quote in the Washington Post last week from a US Major.
"I thought I understood Iraq and the history because I had seen PowerPoint slides, but I really didn't." [Washington Post, November 21st, 2006 via Duck of Minerva].
Of course it is not Microsoft's fault if the Pentagon makes inappropriate use of the available tools. Loads of stupid documents have been written in Word, and loads of bad accounts produced in Excel. But it is PowerPoint gets most of the criticism.

Part of the problem is that people use a general-purpose tool like PowerPoint when they should be using a special-purpose tool - such as a planning or analysis tool. PowerPoint may often be good enough for communicating material, but it is not good enough for developing material.

There is a vast array of special-purpose tools out there for developing material. Analytical tools, modelling tools, requirements analysis tools, planning and scheduling tools, risk analysis tools, simulation tools. I have little doubt that there must be some pretty bright people in the Pentagon who are adept with these tools. So why on earth did they use PowerPoint for planning the US-led intervention in Iraq?

The recent book Fiasco reports a number of senior US military personal who were highly critical of this:
"... reliance on slides rather than formal written orders seemed to some military professionals to capture the essence of Rumsfeld's amateurish approach to war planning." [Further extracts quoted in Arms and the Influence. See also Presentation Zen.]

Do you sometimes use PowerPoint when you should be using some other tool? Do you sometimes use PowerPoint just because it's there sitting on your laptop, and because loading/learning some other tool is too much trouble and expense?

I don't mind admitting that I often use PowerPoint when I could (perhaps should) be using some other tool. But only on small low-risk tasks, and never when there are lives or billions of dollars at stake.

Related Posts: The PowerPoint Collection

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