Front end of new projects: The challenge of engaging clients,bosses and colleagues

The primary challenge for their innovation teams, according to the Innovation head of a Fortune 50 corporation, is to consciously engage the bosses at the front end of the project. The bosses sign off on initial costs and then when things progress to the stage of making prototypes and trial production- the bosses suddenly wake up. “I never realized that there are such big costs involved,down the line…” is a common refrain. For example,¬† a new project team asks for a $200,000 for initial market research, focus groups and web data analytics – the bosses of the 50 Billion $ company don’t flinch. Things look positive after initial research and now a prototype making plan and concept testing¬† involves $5 million. The amount seems huge and top management seems to balk. The same story repeats with customers and colleagues who don’t mind putting out some money initially and then get nervous when it is time to go Big or go home.

Here are some suggestions for all those entrepreneurial project leaders out there, who wonder why there is so much push-back after new projects  have crossed initial performance hurdles and its time to scale and see the real payoffs:

  1. Present a Road-map upfront: Most proposals have a road-map but almost in the footnotes.The road-map should  be up-front  and offer clear metrics of success and payoffs at every stage of the project (following the organizations’ product innovation charter).  The road-map for the new project should have a review meeting as soon as the initial data has come in from initial work. Thus , for a new product concept if customers say some good things and voice some concerns then these need to be reviewed by the very same bosses who approved the initial go-ahead. Do not send an email report to five people and assume that they read,understood or bought-in to the initial report. Meetings can be wasteful, but are essential if you want sustained buy-in with the project.
  2. Do not sugarcoat results at any stage: It is important for new project teams to not sugarcoat initial results or results at any stage. It is always better to under-promise and over-deliver to all stake holders.
  3. Let others take credit and ownership: There is nothing better than a customer or top manager taking credit and ownership for a project that you are leading. This one is not hard to do,if others have let you follow your passion and help you succeed. Just watch for folks who want to take credit but no ownership. A good technique to keep potential  “only credit” seekers on track is to ask for a one-on-one follow-up of subsequent progress. This way you have a supporter at the next big review meeting.
  4. Understand budgeting in the organization : Sign-offs on the marketing budget may be hard to get because there are many layers and parallel functions and vendors involved. In contrast, the selling budget may be easier to get at as for example the Criteo CEO explains in the Business Insider. Frequently, the so called sleepy top management wakes up when you ask for $5 million down the line, because there is no discussion or thought about potential budget line items in the initial road- map of the project.
  5. New projects may not pan out-down the line- don’t take it personally: Remember “nothing ventured nothing gained.” Most organizations and customers appreciate sincerity and detailed work by new project teams. And by definition even the most well managed projects may not pan out to the extent envisaged in the proposal. So long you have been communicating with and involving stakeholders regularly, it is likely that you’ll earn their support whether or not the project succeeded entirely. Either way its a good idea to conclude new projects formally.

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