‘ConOps’ Can Make Complex Concepts Easier to Understand

By Mike Parkinson
Do you need to communicate complex information quickly? Is your presentation hard to follow? Then take a page from the U.S. government (yes, I said U.S. government) and use the ConOps approach.First I want to define ConOps for those readers unfamiliar with the term: Concept of Operations (ConOps) is a presentation or graphic that communicates the characteristics of a proposed solution or system from the stakeholder’s perspective (those who will use the solution or system).

ConOps can be a combination of quantitative and qualitative characteristics, and it shows how a set of capabilities may be employed to achieve desired objectives or an end state. Most ConOps solutions are complex, multidimensional and multivariable.Frequently, ConOps explanations are requested for Government proposal submissions. When done right, the audience quickly understands, at a high level, what the solution is and how the pieces work together.

Follow these three steps to clearly explain your ConOps in a way that will help your presentation succeed where others fail.


Step 1:
SimplifyWhy? Because your audience is not an expert with your information. Explain it in a way that the reader understands. Your presentation wasn’t created for you and your team to read; it’s intended for your audience.

Do not include content, acronyms and abbreviations that may confuse your audience. Keep it simple and clearly identify any benefits, outcomes and discriminators (things that set your solution apart from your competition).


Step 2:
Use a compelling graphicWhy? Because good graphics are easier to understand and remember than text alone. Additionally, graphics uncover omitted parts. For example, missing a step in a process is obvious when shown in a process diagram but might be overlooked on a bulleted list.

ConOps graphics are often a combination of multiple graphic types. The audience, content and message drive graphic type selection; however, most ConOps graphics fall into three graphic categories (see more samples at GetMyGraphic.com):
1. Graphic types that show how parts relate to the whole process or system.Use this approach as a roadmap throughout your document. Highlight each element and explain each in greater detail at the beginning of relevant sections throughout your document (see the temple graphic below). The following are two examples of graphics that show parts relating to a whole:

  


2. Graphic types that literally show the system in use.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These graphics use photographs, drawings, schematics, floor plans, models and other visuals that remain true to reality to depict your ConOps. The following two examples illustrate how each system functions in a real-world scenario:

  


3
. Graphic types that show process.Show how your system combines data, structures workflow, allows for continual improvement, manages risk or offers a unique process flow using these graphic types. The following graphics illustrate the process through which the final outcome is reached:

Add other graphic types with your ConOps graphic as needed. For example, consider gauge graphics to show quantitative data (below):

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 3: Validate your solution

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why? Because subject matter experts often miss or miscommunicate part of a solution due to over familiarity. Ask someone who is similar to your target audience to review and explain your ConOps graphic to you. Do they understand it well enough to articulate the presented solution? If so, you are on the right path. If not, use their feedback to improve your ConOps graphic.

The next time you need to share complex information, consider a ConOps approach and use these three steps to more clearly explain your solution.

About the Author:

Mike Parkinson is an internationally-recognized visual communication expert, trainer and multi-published author. Visit Billion Dollar Graphics (http://www.BillionDollarGraphics.com) and Get My Graphic (http://www.GetMyGraphic.com) for helpful presentation tools. Mike also is a partner at 24 Hour Company (http://www.24hrco.com), a premier proposal and presentation graphics firm.

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