Project Management

Making it Work

making it work acrobatsIf you’ve ever been to Cirque du Soleil and see their strength acrobats (the kind in the image illustrating this post), you know that the human body is capable of truly amazing things. Each person in the group has a precise role and skills, such as strength or flexibility, based on what is required to make the pose. When everyone works together in a well-coordinated manner, it’s incredible what a team can accomplish.

Some of the issues these acrobatic teams face, however, are the same as the ones that impact teams working together on less physical forms of teamwork. There are also unique challenges that a marketing transformation team needs to overcome that are just as specialized and difficult as what these circus performers do and you need to keep these in mind as you embark on your adventure.

  • First off, be goal-oriented. Obviously, you want to remind the team of the ultimate vision all the time so they stay on track. This is a key component of Agile and other management systems but you should also weave it into your discussions with the team and ask them to ensure that extended team members they work with have a solid grasp of it as well. More than just the result, though, I find it’s useful to remind people why the marketing transformation is going on.

For example, I work on a team where there is a software component to the transformation. The development team is, like all good software development teams, really focused on ease of use of their software. Being more focused on some of the strategy, I am a fly in their ointment who comes in sometimes and says “that’s really nice and easy to use but you’ve removed the elements of X marketing technique we’re trying to teach them to use as part of this transformation.”

The development team had a great deal of turnover so none of them had the initial briefings on the cultural change we were trying to establish. As a result, they “improved upon” some of feature requests we asked them to create to the point of contradiction. Learn from my mistake and ensure everyone understands why the vision is what it is, even to the point of a “new hire briefing” that explains the marketing aspects to non-marketers.

  • Never assume anything has to stay the same just because that’s how is it today. Do an analysis and make sure every tool, every process, every role who is assigned a particular action is the best choice for what you are trying to achieve or at least determine what other business reason compels it to stay the same so you can work around it. On one project, when looking at the framework a large marketing organization used to define how to interact with the target buyer, I found – after much investigation, since no one seemed to know – that the framework was appropriated from another project with a totally unrelated goal and that the project team had never intended it to be used outside of their special purpose. Staff changed and the idea to replace it with an accurate framework disappeared under other priorities until t reached the point where no one could explain – or was assigned to change – something that was patently inaccurate. Everyone just assumed the powers that be had approved this monster and kept making poor decisions because the decision-making framework was wrong!
  • Remember, team members are human and not machines so the team will not succeed in every way, at everything. Remind everyone of that before you start planning and again – several times – before you begin implementation. When the inevitable fail occurs, don’t give up or change everything else in all other areas on the fly. Assign one or two people to figure out where the mistake in the plan was, how to fix it, and any downstream implications. Keep everybody else going on project areas that look solid or you will lose your momentum.
  • Avoid as many mistakes as you can by spending more time in the planning process than you originally allotted. Map out downstream implications of your marketing transformation changes. Talk to subject matter experts (SMEs) about those implications and incorporate their feedback into the final process. Look at the timeline and consider future changes you need to plan for now and get SMEs in those areas involved now, before decisions on platforms and processes are set in stone. It will cause wrinkles in the work already done but, remember, you should already have picked people with a high uncertainty tolerance and ability to adapt (see my earlier blog post on the composition of teams).
  • Take the feedback of people who know other areas of the business seriously. This seems obvious but I’ve seen a team leader decide it was “not worth it” to expand the planning to address connections to other areas of the business. You can imagine how inaccurate the resulting process was and how not many questions the team got about implementation of the transformation that they couldn’t answer because they didn’t address other parts of the business that were impacted. Their new team lead (yes, a new person was assigned) had to change things in real time even as the project deadlines remained the same for business reasons. I give him a lot of credit for stopping and taking the time to rethink, though. Not everyone would have taken the time to do that but he was all about doing it right, not just fast, and I admire him tremendously for it.

There are a lot more things to consider as your team comes together to work on a transformation project but these are the ones that I’ve seen create the most havoc.

Comments welcome, especially if you have examples of how your team works.

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