E F P T O Z...
©2020, George J. Irwin. All rights reserved.

If you recognize the sequence of the letters in the title of this post, you might not need to read the rest of it. But just in case...

Both inside and outside of Black Belt Land, I have come across slides that are, frankly, unreadable, whether they are projected on screen, sent to me as part of a presentation, or printed hard copy as part of a handout.

I suppose I should back up to note that the term "slide" is an anachronism. I don't mean "slide" in the traditional sense of an overhead transparency or literally to a mounted 35 millmeter slide that started as film exposed in a camera. But no matter. Unreadable is unreadable.

This is, simply put, because either there is too much jammed onto said slide, or what is there is rendered in a size too small to be legible or in a font, also called a typeface, that is too exotic to be correctly interpreted.

The common term for an unreadable slide is an Eye Chart. The six letters EFPTOZ are the first six in the Snellen Eye Chart, a common tool used to test a person's visual acuity. First developed in 1862, it's largely been replaced by the LogMAR chart, which is too bad because "DSRKN," the first line of that chart, just doesn't have the same ring to it as "EFPTOZ."

Sad to say, many Lean Six Sigma Practitioners are particularly prone to creating Eye Charts for slides. I have not been shy in calling this out, especially when I review decks during coaching sessions and presentation rehearsals. And yes, the way I point this out is by saying "E, F P, T O Z" and if the slide creator doesn't get it, I explain. And yes, I've needed to coach myself too.

But wait, there's more. Have you been in a presentation where the speaker shows an eye chart and then apologizes for it? Let's be blunt, folks: that's an insult. What you're saying when you apologize for a poorly constructed slide is that you don't respect the readers' and viewers' time.

I've heard the complaint that the information that needs to be presented is complex. Yes, control charts and regressions and so on are often detailed and do not squeeze easily into a slide... and don't even think about getting a Value Stream Map into a single page. So how do you get around that? Isn't the point to illustrate the detail?

No, actually, the point is to make the point. Not "what is the data" but "what is the data saying." Place the support information in an Appendix, and refer to it in your discussion. If part of a Value Stream Map warrants attention, then show only that portion. I've also had success embedding the entire full size whatever it is into the slide, usually in the top right hand corner so that it's apparent that I'm not trying to hide it. You'll get an icon which you can click on to display that embedded file, just like clicking on an e-mail attachment.

I recognize that the battle against eye charts can be uphill. I'm familiar with companies whose "recommended templates" almost encourage their creation. But Lean Six Sigma is meant to lead, not follow. Here's a chance to lead by example. Your audience will appreciate it.

More from the Notebook...