Teamwork in enterprise and SMB commercial entities alike relies on exceptional project management that guides leaders to effectively plan, manage, and execute the tasks at hand. Unfortunately, time pressures and environmental volatility detract attention from vital data that could have the power to change the course of operations.
Enter the executive summary. Well-structured executive summaries are a great way to highlight crucial information without disrupting project flow and team cohesion.
The idea is to provide earth-shifting data insights and align communications that give readers the gist in minutes, not hours or days. In other words, it’s all about swaying minds “at a glance.” Remember, strategies within a business change or require adjustment in a dynamic arena – objectives shift, and new members join projects midway. So, executive summaries are an ideal way to bring newbies up to speed, ensure a cohesive plan direction from the beginning, ensure everyone is on the same page, and keep the synergy firing on all cylinders.
In a rapidly changing world, timeliness and efficiency is critical to ensure you are at the helm of innovation, and not lost in the crowds. As a result, executive summaries have gained traction as being a robust communication tool that highlights crucial data, thereby spurring involved groups into agreement, and, where relevant, adjusting action without wasting time.
Another thing to cover is the credibility and trustworthiness of the material you distribute. How do we do that? We live in a data-centric era where AI and machine learning interpret extraordinary volumes of raw numbers and facts, regenerating them as readable, concise, and functional reports. To put this into perspective, human effort would take months to process what the algorithms can do in minutes and hours.
Consequently, the executive summary challenge is key. Knowing what to include and exclude is an art in itself. The content below provides a comprehensive structure and tips to help you make it an effective tool in your business.
What is an executive summary?
The vision underlying every executive summary is to cover all the crucial information (data) the group requires to get a clear picture about the project. Here are four fundamental rules to heed:
- Keep it short: brevity is your friend as it helps communicate what is necessary without the reader getting confused.
- Provide key insights: Rely on one or two pages crammed with insights.
- Make it a story: Create a structured flow that resonates with your audience.
- Speak the right language: Keep your readers in mind to ensure the messaging doesn’t go over their heads. For example, project teams containing IT leaders require a different executive summary type versus engineers, board members, or investors.
Executive summary scope embraces an expansive array of data with the following as the most popular applications :
- A business plan (a brand new business, such as a startup)
- A business case (a new strategy in an up-and-running company)
- A project within a strategy
- The results of a research program involving surveys
- Investment funding pitch decks
- Sales decks
- Annual reports
- Environmental studies around a proposed project
- Market segmentation exercises
In many of the above use cases, the document should secure team collaboration, cross-integration of ideas, participant harmony, and reader agreement as priorities. In other words, an executive summary is an elevator pitch to level the playing field for all relevant audiences.
One significant differentiator affecting executive summaries is whether you’re looking backward or forward. So, for example:
- A completed research study (say “Lingering effects of COVID-19”) covers the findings of an event in our past. Of course, the data will be invaluable in helping us deal with a recurrence of the same in the future. Still, as far as the executive summary is concerned, it focuses on summarizing the data connected with what happened behind us.
- Focus on a future event, such as a startup with industry disruptive strategies. Projections, frequently AI-generated from mounds of data evidence, provide viable predictions. Summarizing these into a compelling narrative is crucial for communication success.
No matter what the executive summary focuses on – future, past, or different landscapes, it divides into four fundamental parts:
1. Defining the pain points: Define the reason for the plan, program, or project; what problems is it trying to solve? Define the gaps they’re attempting to fill; outline obstructions your initiatives aim to remove.
- Example of defining the pain points: The market research data on the East Coast indicates that our brand, New Star Cycles, is a notable player in the premium market layer as a luxury triathlon cycle at over $4,000. However, the brand name has resonated in the rest of the marketplace, and 67% of those riding other brands admit they aspire to ours but can’t afford it. In-depth, prospective customer interviews and an extensive survey by Nielsen Research indicate that a new cycle model (Version B) that costs between $2,000 and $2,500 would open the floodgates to the segments we haven’t tapped yet. Over 80% of respondents state they expect fewer bells and whistles on Version B but don’t want to sacrifice our advanced technology.
2. Providing a solution: How knowing the pain points changes your perspectives and what you intend to do to address these concerns in the short and long term.
- Example of providing a solution: As project leaders with insights into product development and engineering, you know our vision for our current cycle model is centered on “Made in the USA” with strictly European parts acquired from primarily German and Italian factories. However, our extensive research indicates that Chinese, South Korean, Vietnamese, and Mexican-made parts and assembly lines can emulate the features of our current model at significantly lower pricing, meet surprisingly high standards, and adhere to all the stresses and dimensions our current triathlete customers enjoy. Most crucially, the warranties and after-service guarantees we offer at present must apply equally to the B version. Why? Because the value proposition to potential customers will be the feel and resilience of our current model with the same company backing and stamp of confidence. As a result, we can’t tolerate severe quality gaps that will come to bite us after purchase.
Detailed cost evaluations indicate the overall cost of the Version B cycle would allow us to price the model at $2,000. Although the margin percentage will be lesser than our current model, the higher sales volume should compensate for it. We expect a comprehensive prototype proposal within the next two weeks.
3. Describe the benefits and value the solution delivers: How successfully your solution will address the outlined pain points and the value it will deliver.
- Example of describing the benefits: Our finance department’s projections after adding a Version B line as described above is a 35% increase in sales revenue in year one, 45% in year two, and over 50% in year three. Gross margin percentage will drop but align with a 20% improvement in the bottom line, growing by 30% in the third year. Our customer base is projected to expand from a 1.5 million brand-loyal customers to 2.3 million by the third year, not counting for the natural growth in revenue from our current model. It will also push us into the mainstream distributor category among the top three in our targeted segments.
4. Summarize, emphasizing the sense of urgency: This section is where you inject your passion for the initiative by drawing readers’ attention to why the action taken or to be taken has “vital” stamped all over it. For example, in a strategy executive summary, relate it to your audience by emphasizing that you expect them to be significant participants in the venture. Describe how they will benefit, urging them to take the following steps.
- Example of summarizing: Now is the time for New Star Cycles to enter the premier league of triathlon cycle distribution with a more affordable line but still worthy of our premium brand stature. We anticipate that every team member with allocated stock options benefit from this step up. The transition to foreign manufacturing resources was unavoidable if we were to compete in the more affordable markets. Nonetheless, the current model will remain focused on our flagship product.
We recommend you use the four-part guideline above to construct executive summaries that resonate with audiences and get the results. In addition, avoid fluff and filling document space with unnecessary content. Stay focused on defining the pain points, then build your story around minimizing or erasing them.
However, the best executive summaries aren’t just built with a guideline, but by truly understanding what everyone relates to. So to ensure you keep improving and deliver executive summaries that bring the team together, there is one more thing that needs to be done: a quick survey.
As your teams what information they loved and what they feel ought to be included. This will give you essential insights you need to ensure your executive summaries are customized to team preferences.