Vertical and Horizontal

If you were following the comments on a previous post, you may have noticed an arcane commentary about “Vertical” documents versus “Horizontal” documents.

It’s consulting gobbledegook, but the differences between vertical and horizontal documents are important. Our friends at the NZ Institute are a bunch of consulting refugees, and their output will serve as good examples of the difference in formats.

Here is a horizontal document: (the broadband report)


Horizontal documents are word, data and diagram packed powerpoint slides – aimed at being used in a small setting, for being written on and for pushing thinking along. They are the notes for a conversation, where the clients and consultants fill in the gaps.

And here is a vertical document. (the NZ emissions report)

NZ InstituteNZ InstituteNZ InstituteNZ Institute

Vertical documents are horizontal documents with the words filled in. Notice the charts and tables in the above – they are pulled directly from a horizontal predecessor to this written document. It’s a much higher quality piece of work as a result, worthy of serious contemplation.

It is much harder to write a good vertical document than a horizontal one, as the writing needs to be incredibly structured as well as readable.

The same high standard of logic applies to the horizontals, but for the verticals you also need to fill in the gaps of logic, and bring out examples and evidence that support (or counter) your case.

However – it’s much faster to read the horizontal deck, and they are much better to quickly engage people with. You do need to maintain a conversation though, to make up for the lack of detail.

The art of the vertical is a disappearing one in consulting-land, which is a real shame, but it does mean clients and consultants spend less on writing up and more on the thinking, which is what they are there to do.

However as someone that has worked both sides of the fence I’ve at times been absolutely appalled at what consultants have left behind. Sadly I cannot name names or clients, but I’ve seen some shockers.

So these days I try not to leave anything at all behind, especially in powerpoint form. Consultants are infamous for advising and then leaving, and while that’s enjoyable for the intellectual challenge, it is much more rewarding to stay the course and see the results come from the clients themselves.

If you must retain a consultant and if you must want a report – insist on a vertical, and be critical on the quality – hand it to people that were not involved in the project and ask them whether it makes sense before you sign off on it.

Published by Lance Wiggs


One reply on “Vertical and Horizontal”

  1. Depends on the purpose, and the money/time you’re prepared to spend for the crafting of the vertical document. Making it vertical doesn’t guarantee clarity – often the reverse as poor wordmanship can ruin an idea.


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