Knowledge Bank Blog, Finding New Ideas

Breaking the Project Mentality

Are you delivering projects or outcomes?

What do the following have in common?

The Sinclair C5 – the small electric vehicle launched in 1985. New Coke – the reformulation of Coca-Cola launched in 1985. McDonald’s Arch Deluxe Burger – launched in 1996. Pepsi AM launched in 1989.

There were all billed as groundbreaking new projects. They all had lots of investment behind them. They were all delivered on time by the project teams working on them. And they were all spectacular failures.

Within 3 months of launch, Sinclair C5 production had been cut by 90%. After 3 months, Coke reintroduced the original Coca Cola formula and called it “Classic Coke”. McDonald’s withdrew the Arch Deluxe (posh burger targeted at “urban sophisticates”) after spending an estimated $150m trying to establish it. Pepsi AM targeted at the breakfast cola drinker (yes you read that right) lasted a year.

Why are we talking about this? In our industry there is a lot of focus on projects. Every company has many projects running at any one time – e.g. infrastructure projects, innovation projects, packaging projects, category projects, channel projects, research projects. Each of these projects takes a lot of time and resource. But a lot of this time and resource goes on project management, not outcome delivery.

Take an NPD project. How much time goes on properly thinking about the product? Doing everything you can to set the product up for success? Compared to the time spent on the project plan. The time spent on the process steps. The time spent setting up meetings. The time spent getting people to those meetings. The time spent preparing check-in meetings with key stakeholders.

These other things are all important. But they consume a lot of time and energy. The more time and energy you spend on them, the more likely you are to have a project mentality emerging. The main objective becomes just to get through and deliver the project. But what projects really need is an outcome mentality. Where the main objective is delivering a successful outcome. Not completing the project.

So, how can you make sure that you have an outcome mentality?

Be clear on WHY you are doing something. Importantly, make sure that this why is focused on the right reasons. Too often projects start with an input focus. For instance, a research project might start with “we need a new shopper segmentation”. Or a brand project might start with “we need to change our packaging”. Or an innovation project might start with “we have a new production capability”. Inputs are about what you can do. Not about what you should do – the problem you are trying to fix or the need that you are trying to address.

The starting point should be what does success look like? And this should stay top of mind as the project progresses. The further into a project you go, the more you can lose sight of why you are doing something and the more you focus on what you are doing.   You may find the ‘what’ may not be the answer to the ‘why’.

Make sure content is king. Delivery of a project is fairly easy. It is delivering quality that is much harder. But it is the quality of a project that determines success. No shopper buys your product because you delivered the project on time. They buy it (or not) because of the product itself. No research agency gets congratulated on the quality of their questionnaire. They get judged on the quality of their insight.

To deliver great outcomes you have to have great content – great strategies, plans and activities.   To deliver this you need to devote as much (we would argue more) time and energy to content delivery as project delivery.

Make project outcomes stick.   This is about making sure that people understand and remember what you need them to. For instance, do people understand and remember your category or channel strategy? Do they know what to do as a result? Are they motivated to actually do it?

Often we think something is delivered when we have hit the delivery phase of the project plan. The research debrief has been delivered. Or the product has hit the shelf. But really this should be when the hard work starts. How do we land the insights from the research? How do we drive trial and repeat with shoppers? With a project mentality, you quickly move on to the next project. With an outcome mentality you only move on when the outcome is delivered.

A project mentality brings rigidity. You stick to the plan because that is what you’ve been asked to deliver. An outcome mentality brings flexibility. You can learn and adapt as you go.

It allows someone to say “are we sure a breakfast cola is the right thing to be doing…?”

“…Really sure?”

On a separate note, our monthly article in The Grocer goes out in tomorrow’s edition .  There is a link to it on our website…

Feel free to forward.  Have a great weekend and speak to you next week.