Avoid Project Pitfalls; Don’t Forget Anyone

Eric TalbotHealthcare, Marketing, Pharmaceuticals, Project Management

Red Ribbon on FingerHave you ever run to the store to get something only to realize that you left your wallet at home? It may have been a nice drive but in the end you were not able to accomplish your goal. Starting an analytical project without buy-in from all the stakeholders is similar to showing up at the register without money.

Too often over years of consulting, I have witnessed projects; really great projects become academic exercises because no one took the time to enroll key stakeholders. Nothing against academics or their work, but in business the purpose is to generate financial value for the organization. And if the project recommendations are not implemented the value is not recognized, thus they are an academic exercise.

Yet time and time again projects fall into this trap. The cause of this can be summed up into three key reasons:

Isolation: Working in isolation is a common issue as we tend to be collaborative within our small groups but often do not take a broad enough view of the larger organization. The RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed) framework can help avoid this pitfall. This structure will help the project teams identify stakeholders, beyond those who are Responsible and/or Accountable but also who needs to be Consulted and Informed of the project objectives and plan.

Avoidance: There are not many people who enjoy conflict. This is understandable but not always productive in the long run. Further the two types of avoidance pitfalls can be the hardest to recover from.

The first is “not asking” which take the form of simply not consulting a stakeholder or not providing enough depth to sufficiently draw out any objections. I had a boss who constantly reminded us to “invite objections” because you can only address objections when they are out in the open.

The second type is when the dissenting stakeholder takes a passive aggressive position. The red flags here are statements such as “I do not want to hold this up” or “this is not my project”. Whenever such statements are voice, watch out. As Dale Carnegie said “a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still”, even if they are not vocal, failure to address concerns can have a detrimental impact on the project and more importantly the implementation of any recommendations.

The key to overcoming the avoidance trap is to ask for input and not just from those who support the project but also from potential objectors.

Time Crunch: Projects are like public transportation, few run on time and fewer are ahead of schedule. There are many reasons for compressing timelines before a project starts but regardless the impact is the same. The urgency to get into tick-off milestones means not enough attention is spent to ensure all the stakeholders (RACI) objections have been identified and resolved.
While more time cannot always be created the business assessment and needs analysis section is not the place to save time. Cutting corners leads to scope creep and changes which in the end leads to further project delays. The solution is to realize sometime we need to slow down to go faster.

All three pitfalls can turn a high potential project into a white elephant. To prevent this from happening allocate appropriate time, ensure you have vocal support and participation from senior management and when using outside resource make sure they are holistic in their view of your organization and that they are thinking about more than just the modeling.
Focus as much time on the enrolling people as the technical aspects; this will reduce the risk of creating a white elephant. This is important because done right analytics help deliver better business through better insights.


Eric Talbot is with Epiphany Insights, a marketing analytics consultancy helping companies increase sales and profitability by advancing the use of data and insights via evidence-based decision making. Prior to Epiphany Insights, he was VP of Strategy & Insights with Univision and is a healthcare industry veteran with nearly 20 years of consulting experience.