Using 6 Page and 2 Page Documents To Make Organizational Decisions

1 Summary

2 Where To Use It

  1. Team’s annual plans of what they intend to build vs not build
  2. Tradeoffs of a product strategy (i.e. requirements, specification, ownership)
  3. Tradeoffs of a project or product delivery plan (i.e scoping)
  4. Tradeoffs of engineering implementation
  5. Recurring updates for large projects that require cross-org prioritization buy-in to succeed.

3 Comparison With Other Options

4 Philosophy and Tone

5 Document Format and Structure

  1. Body is no more than 6 pages.
  2. Body narrative must be comprehensible by the audience without referring to appendices.
  3. At least 1 inch margins.
  4. At least 10 point font.
  5. Document clearly versioned
  6. Numbered lists preferred to bulleted list when it makes it easier to call out a point.
  7. Numbered pages, sections and graphs.
  1. One paragraph, purpose of document. Ideally concludes with recommended solution.
  2. Tenets/guidelines/background — framework for understanding the system/problem.
  3. Details of the problem.
  4. Details of possible solutions. Ideally document presents at least 2 options.
  5. A clear recommended solution, with rationale.
  6. When possible: a plan of action assuming the solution.
  1. Appendices: detailed tables, detailed graphs, supporting data.

6 Getting Body Down to 6 Pages

  1. Reduce wordiness.
  2. Eliminate subjective and vague terms, and pointless adjectives.
  3. Eliminate weasel words. For every word ask what information is it conveying? (see Appendix 1).
  4. Prefer short lists of inarguable points to longer bulldozer lists which introduce arguable points. Arguable points take space on paper, headspace of the reader, and time in the meeting.
  5. Avoid digressions and pedantic detail. This isn’t a thesis assessment, stakeholders will trust the writer with some details if they are show they are being honest about addressing all sides of the problem.
  6. Use Appendices: if it isn’t centrally important to the argument but might come up in discussion, move it to the Appendices. Now it is easy to abuse appendices and end up with a 6 page document which needs more than 6 pages to be understood. As an example, the following content is fine: Long Tables, Detailed Graphs, FAQs on exceptional cases, Long lists of specific examples. Importantly, there should be no narrative text in the Appendices.

7 Review Meeting

  1. Presenter brings hard copies, everyone takes a copy as they enter.
  2. First 15 minutes: They sit down and start reading, no-one talks.
  3. Next 20 minutes: Presenter walks the doc, calling out the page numbers, asking for comments.
  4. Next 20 minutes: Discussion of the decision.
  5. Last 5 minutes: Bring the meeting to clear closure in terms of outcome.
  1. The document proposal is “disagree and commit” accepted by all stakeholders.
  2. The document is close, but there are a few details that can be closed over email.
  3. The document needs to be revised, and another review scheduled.

Appendix 1: List of Subjective or Weasel Terms In Documents

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Ian Nowland

SVP Core Engineering@ Datadog. Formerly SVP @ Two Sigma, and creator of Nitro @ AWS EC2.