This is my second post from my Cynical Corporate Lesson of the Day series.
Today’s cynical corporate lesson is inspired by the most mismanaged project I’ve seen in my recent work history.
It inspires me, now, because it could actually have been saved by a very simple work concept — chain-of-command, supported by two other basic concepts — documentation and objectives-setting.
Again, I’m aware that these aren’t cool to talk about. Read my note on my initial post.
Let me start off with a story.
The telltale signs of needing to Cover-Your-Ass.
The project in question is kicked off by a big Client.
He wants a digital campaign to support the launch of a brand.
Our team’s Management takes the pitch on. The team holds brainstorming sessions, creates presentation slides, presents their ideas to Client. Client reacts, they go back to the drawing board and repeat the cycle.
It took them five revisions (or five sets of brainstorms) before they got to some level of approval.
By that time, it was too close to the launch to even design and develop a customized website.
What was wrong with this picture?
Or “why you need to Cover-Your-Ass”.
Let me present the evidence to the jury.
1) Client who asked for the project (the guy directly interfacing with the team), is the brand owner (The manager of the brand to be launched).
But, he isn’t the digital manager, meaning the one in charge of integrating all digital activities from his division.
What that means is, for this story, that our team was talking to someone who wasn’t particularly accountable for what he was requesting for.
Because, when the project moves, he won’t actually be in charge of interfacing with us since he’s too high up “the food chain”.
On top of that, the digital manager (the person actually responsible for the digital activities of their team) was never in the room whenever those meetings about the project happened.
That’s tough, because, at the end of the day, you need to be talking to that Client who’ll stand up for you and your agreements.
(Note: In a perfect world, when you’re the brand owner, you’d also be responsible for all activities concerning your brand.
However, given that he’s the overall division head, overseeing multiple brands, there is a separate executive to head the digital counterparts of all the brands in that division.)
2) Although meetings have been repeatedly held, no contact reports have been sent outlining the objectives that Client has been saying.
Or “how to execute Cover-Your-Ass”.
What are the lessons we can get from this?
1) For all employees working with Clients, particularly for design deliverables: Please, please find the pertinent decision-maker.
Find (or elect, and, this is VERY IMPORTANT, document) that particular person — or body of persons — responsible for approving your project.
That person who has the power of “the final say”.
That guy who will be owning up to calling the shots.
2) Also, please please document each conversation about product definition, product objective or any changes in direction.
Because Clients might feel that “blue sky” thinking is a popular thing (that concept of open ideation).
But you don’t want to end up with moving targets and no way to protect yourselves (figuratively) from Client’s whims, or – worse — conflicting directions from Clients who can’t agree on what they want for their project.
For additional reading, Facebook’s head of design wrote a much more eloquent piece on having your wits about you at work:
Please read Don’t Be A Gatekeeper, by Julie Zhuo.
Because no one wants to have to redo brainstorming and presentations four times over.