20-80 technique for any project, presentation or plan

Whether you are working on a project, document, presentation, or a plan, I'd recommend this 20-80 approach (not to be confused with the 80-20 or Pareto approach of picking the most valuable parts of the project to do)

First get to the 20% Skeleton

  • Start with the goals of the projects, the audience, and what will make this tick for the audience.
  • Lay out the plan for the plan - milestones and dates to get to the finish line. 
  • Then you identify the main structure, sections and themes. 
  • You get to this by gathering context, research and knowledge from different sources, doing a lot of deep solo thinking on the problem and solution, brainstorming and testing ideas in 1:1 or small group discussions with smart and knowledgeable people, and working backwards from the end goals and deliverable. 
  • Add high level notes and ideas for content for each section. 
  • Write all of the above down clearly in a doc or deck. Make sure that it flows logically and is understandable to others. 
  • Finally, review it with a broader group of stakeholders to make sure your skeleton is complete, correct and easy to follow. Sharing and getting inputs early also fosters collaboration and buy-in. I recommend doing this synchronously. 

Then get to the 80% Draft

  • Start filling out the sections in the skeleton. First aim to get the content right - presentation can be a distraction at this stage. 
  • If you are working with a team, you can have brainstorming sessions for every section. I find that more productive than an open-ended brainstorm on a broad topic. Where needed, delegate sections to owners with clear guidance and templates. 
  • Once you have the content down, work on the presentation. If you are consolidating inputs from multiple owners, make the style, language and presentation consistent across different inputs. 
  • Do a quick check against the original goals of the project and audience goals. Are you fulfilling those?
  • Then review again with stakeholders to get feedback on the content and presentation. 
Finally, polish, simplify, polish until you have a concise, engaging and high quality work. Share it with stakeholders. If you worked with a team, share credit generously and present as a group if possible. 

One final note - progress isn't always forward. Often times you have to throw away your work and start again. Also be comfortable with making many dirty quick drafts, then iterating and perfecting them later.