Category Archives: Projects

Planning to win

Stonechat

Stonechat

July in The New Forest and walking in the open forest is what summer evenings were made for. The sun is shining and the forest looks very different than it did six weeks ago, let alone six months ago. It’s a sea of green with bracken growing up to six feet high intermingled with gorse bushes. As Lucy (the dog) and I walk along, a strong twittering and chirping attracts our attention. The source of the agitated chirruping soon becomes apparent. Standing on the highest branch of a nearby gorse bush, a male Stonechat guards his nest. His equally agitated mate sits in a tree nearby, noisily encouraging us to move away. We move on and leave the birds to their solitude.

In the winter, it’s possible to walk anywhere in the open forest, apart from the boggy areas. In the summer, the ponies and visitors follow pre-defined paths through the bracken. You can still walk anywhere but it’s much more difficult to force your way through the bracken. It can be dangerous too as you can’t see where you’re walking – you wouldn’t want to tread on an adder!

We follow the well worn paths through the forest in same way that we follow the well worn plans that help us to manage our projects. How often so we stop and think about other ways of approaching our work? Just because it was done this way last time and the time before doesn’t make it right. Did we involve the right people – the people at the sharp end? Did we check the results of last year’s project? Was an evaluation of last year’s project ever written?

Take time to think about your plans and see if there might be a better way or at least a different way to reach the end goal. There almost certainly will be. Don’t make the mistake that just about every politician makes with depressing regularity – don’t fight the battles in this war with the strategy from the last war. Time moves on and the environment changes – ask the Polish Cavalry!

So think about looking for a new path but watch out for any adders along the way.

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Rob Horlock specialises in part time project management and in helping the commercial side of businesses to manage projects ands improve individual and team working efficiencies. If you would like to find out more, see www.ef-ef.co.uk or email: info@ef-ef.co.uk If you’re looking for a new job – advice here: www.mynextrole.co.uk

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Marketing Projects

Many pieces of work carried out in a typical marketing dept can be classified as projects.

·         A new product launch

·         A sales promotion

·         A new ad campaign

·         A brand extension

·         A packaging update

All are discrete pieces of work which could be defined as ‘projects’. Except that in a typical marketing department, they aren’t classified as projects. They are pieces of work which need to be done as part of the marketing manager’s job description – it’s just the day job.

That’s fine, but perhaps this leads to a less rigorous approach to the piece of work than would be the case if it was managed as a formal project.

One view that is commonly held by marketers is that ‘a project management approach will stifle my creativity and spontaneity’.  That may or may not be true, depending on your definition of project management. A ‘project’ is a piece of work with a discrete start and a discrete end and this can obviously vary in size. At one end of the scale, a project might be ‘build a new Football Stadium’. At the other end a small project might consist of a departmental reorganisation.  Both have beginnings and ends, so are both projects but the approach to each will be markedly different. There is much that marketers can learn from the world of project management, without stifling their creative juices.

·         Write a Project Plan – this doesn’t need to be overcomplicated, an excel spreadsheet is fine with tasks and responsibilities down the side and a timeline along the top. This gives a view of the tasks which need to be done, who is responsible for doing them and by when.

o   TOP TIP 1: Share the plan with everyone who is involved with the project tasks. Sounds obvious, but doesn’t always happen.

o   TOP TIP 2: Keep the plan up to date. When something changes, update the plan and re-circulate it. You don’t need to become a slave to the plan, just spend a few minutes every week reviewing it to keep it current

·         Monitor the project:

o   Understand the Risks involved in running the project. What changes will it involve? Who will be affected? How likely is it that the identified risks will actually occur? How serious is each risk? Have a proactive plan to deal with each risk (even if the plan says ‘we see x as a risk but will take the chance that it doesn’t happen’. This is an acceptable risk response, providing everyone involved understands that this is the decision that has been made).

o   Monitor the budget. Keep on top of cost, particularly costs incurred by third parties.

o   Measure progress against the plan

o   Update the plan when necessary, but don’t become a slave to it!

·         When the project reaches its end, have a ‘wrap up’ review. What went well, what lessons were learned?

o   TOP TIP 1: Document these learnings and save them in a central repository which is accessible to anyone who may run a similar project in the future.

None of this is rocket science but much of it is ignored by marketing execs who are keen ‘to get things moving’. Time spent thinking about the piece of work up front, planning and anticipating the potential issues, will free up time later on – guaranteed!

Sayings:

I don’t feel old. I don’t feel anything until noon. Then it’s time for my nap. 
– Bob Hope 
We could certainly slow the aging process down if it had to work its way through Congress. 
– Will Rogers 
Don’t worry about avoiding temptation. As you grow older, it will avoid you. 
– Winston Churchill 
Maybe it’s true that life begins at fifty .. But everything else starts to wear out, fall out, or spread out. 
– Phyllis Diller 
By the time a man is wise enough to watch his step, he’s too old to go anywhere. 
– Billy Crystal 

Rob Horlock specialises in part time project management and helping the commercial side of organisations to manage projects. If you would like to find out more about documenting processes or project management, see http://www.ef-ef.co.uk or email: info@ef-ef.co.uk

 

All quiet in The New Forest

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the numbers of birds that I would expect to see on my walks in The New Forest. This morning I took Lucy (the dog) to the part of the forest where we usually go to get some exercise. We strolled along many of the same paths as usual, looked across at the same clearings as usual and jumped across the same ditches as usual. But today was different. The forest was eerily quiet and hardly any wildlife stirred. The only sounds disturbing the tranquillity came from the hum of the commuter traffic on the M27 and a ‘plane coming in to land at Southampton airport.

What had happened to change the picture so radically from a few days ago? Snow had happened! Unexpectedly (at least to us humans) the rain which had been forecast had turned to snow and the forest was covered in a white slushy blanket. Lucy loved it and chased around like a puppy. She was going back to a warm house- the wildlife living in the forest had all ‘hunkered down’ until the weather improved (which it did – by 2pm the sun was shining).

The birds and animals that live in the forest were all still there this morning, but all were quiet and out of sight.

When you manage a project, do you have phases when all is quiet and you assume all is well? That may be true, but equally, it may not. Something might be going badly wrong but people have buried their heads in the sand, hoping that the problem will go away. Unless you ask questions, you may not find out about the badly deteriorating situation until it’s too late. Or at least until the problem is worse than it might have been.

When all is quiet in your project team, don’t assume that all is well. Ask the pertinent questions. The Risks and Issues don’t go away but, like the wildlife in the snow, they may not surface for a while.

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It’s a funny thing:

– You never ever run out of salt.

– Old ladies can eat more than you think.

– There’s no panic like the panic you momentarily feel when you you’ve
gotten your hand or head stuck in something.

– No one knows the origins of their metal coat hangers.

– Despite constant warning you have never met anybody who has their arm
broken by a swan.

– The most painful household incident is wearing socks and stepping on an
upturned plug.

– People who don’t drive slam car doors too hard

– You’ve turned into your dad the day you put aside a thin piece of wood
to specifically stir paint with.

– Everyone had an uncle who tried to steal their nose.

– In every plate of chips there is a bad chip.

– Triangle sandwiches taste better than square ones.

– Beneath every floating balloon is a tearful child.

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Rob Horlock specialises in helping the commercial side of businesses to review and map processes, manage projects and improve individual and team working efficiencies. This also includes improving the effectiveness of emarketing, particularly aimed at marketing managers who use digital agencies. If you would like to find out more, see http://www.ef-ef.co.uk or email: rob@ef-ef.co.uk

Marketing Projects – what are they?

What is a Marketing Project? ‘We don’t do ‘projects‘ in Marketing’, I hear you say. ‘We do strategy and conceptualisation; we uncover insight and manage brand equities, etc.’ Yes, that’s true. Ultimately, though, the purpose of Marketing is to sell more of your goods and services by giving the consumer (and the trade) more reasons to purchase your products rather than the competition’s offerings.

So, you develop New Products, you Repackage existing products, you develop Line Extensions and invest in various Branding techniques. You develop Advertising campaigns, Promotions, Sponsorships, Memberships Clubs and send out Email Newsletters. You’ll almost certainly set up a Website, you might highlight your Green Credentials to your target audience, you’ll definitely want to gain as much visibility as possible, whether that’s by Merchandising products in store or gaining Testimonials for your services. All great initiatives and all could be described as discrete pieces of work, or ‘projects’! Each piece of work has a defined beginning and end and it has constraints – Time, Quality and Budget – all of which sound very much like a project.

So, if marketers manage ‘projects’ on a day to day basis, then there are lots of helpful tools that can be used to improve the likelihood of success:

  • Write a Project Plan, keep an Issues Log, anticipate the Risks and (very importantly), capture the Learnings at the end of the project
  • There are several software applications to help you to manage your marketing projects, some very complex, some much simpler to use

To many marketers, this all smacks of process‘, a dirty word which ‘stifles creativity’. This mindset should be questioned, particularly with the growth of Web2.0 technologies and Social Networking. You need to collaborate with your colleagues and this means that you all need to understand where you’re at with the project, which will not be the case if all of the details are logged firmly in your head!

Our society enables us all to specialise and work together. If we hadn’t evolved this way we’d still all be hunter-gatherers, struggling for our own survival each year. So why, when we get to work, do we often revert back to working for ourselves? We keep our own spreadsheets, manage our own work in our own ways and often do little to collaborate effectively. Why not share more and reduce the burden on ourselves? That’s how Facebook has grown into the phenomenon that’s it’s become – they encourage anyone to develop their own software to share with other Facebook members.

There is no doubt that a more ‘process driven’ approach to marketing projects will grow the bottom line of your business – less duplication of effort, fewer misunderstandings and smarter team working are obvious benefits. There are many more. A bit of process will not stifle creativity, quite the reverse. If you’re more organised, you’ll have more time for thinking. If you can’t stand the thought of increasing your own admin, maybe it can be centralised within the department – there will be staff members who enjoy it! Why have brands such as AudiCadbury, Heinz, Hovis and Persil and a host of others thrived? Apart from all the other things that they do so well, they believe in the benefit of using processes to manage their brands.

How much duplication of effort goes on in your business? (a ‘best guess’ will suffice). If you applied a more process driven approach, how much less time would be wasted? Worth pondering?

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Quotations:

I had a rose named after me and I was very flattered. But I was not pleased to read the description in the catalog: – ‘No good in a bed, but fine against a wall.’

Eleanor Roosevelt 

The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending; and to have the two as close together as possible.

George Burns 

Santa Claus has the right idea. Visit people only once a year.

Victor Borge 

Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint. 

Mark Twain 

I was married by a judge. I should have asked for a jury.

Groucho Marx 

My wife has a slight impediment in her speech. Every now and then she stops to breathe. 

Jimmy Durante

I have never hated a man enough to give his diamonds back.

Zsa Zsa Gabor 

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Rob Horlock specialises in helping the commercial side of businesses to review and map processes, manage projects ands improve individual and team working efficiencies. This also includes improving the effectiveness of your emarketing, particularly in the area of turning prospects into customers. If you would like to find out more, see http://www.ef-ef.co.uk or email: rob@ef-ef.co.uk


When processes need to change

Early yesterday morning, I walked with Lucy (the dog) up to the top of Stagbury Hill in The New Forest. Not a huge feat as Stagbury, despite having a trig point at the top, is not very high! High enough, though, to be able to see the surrounding countryside in all its winter glory. Leafless Oak and Ash trees in one direction, green deciduous Pines in another. Red flowered heather tangled with the dead leaves of last summer’s bracken. New Forest ponies foraging optimistically for food amongst the grass and gorse. Rather a barren landscape and a typical winter scene in this part of the world.

If we came back again in the middle of summer, all would look completely different. What appears brown and barren now will look green and fertile. Butterflies and other insects will join the bees in drawing nectar from the many scented flowers on bushes and plants. Snakes will sunbathe on rocks and birds and frogs will compete to catch the insects. New Forest Pony foals will gambol next to their long-suffering mothers and the resident deer, foxes and badgers will all be defending their offspring against nature’s predators.

Nature’s annual processes will play out here as they have for the past thousand years and will continue to do so, in all probability, for thousands of years to come. But the processes are not ‘set in stone’. They frequently adapt, to meet prevailing conditions. A great example of this happened in the spring of 2006. April of that year was particularly cold with several days of frost. The buds and blossom that would normally appear during April remained dormant, to protect the delicate leaves and flowers against the frost. The plants adapted their usual ‘budding’ process to counter the abnormally cold weather. The result? Blossom appeared on trees and bushes four weeks later than normal. But when they came, the flowers were spectacular! The best display of spring blossom in living memory. This was almost certainly due to more of the plants’ energies going in to forming the blossom, over a longer period, than would normally be the case.

What is the significance of this in business you may be asking?

We always manage projects to deadlines. Usually, these are fixed dates which must be met. Quite often, though, the date is arbitrary – the beginning of the financial year, for example. If your project is behind schedule and you can move the end date, then gain agreement to do that. Don’t assume that the end date is set in stone – it may not be. Ask the question! Rather then rush the project and deliver a sub standard product, move the end date, if you can and deliver a brilliant product!

Take a lesson from nature and complete the task when the time is right. Not always possible to delay the delivery date, of course, but when it is, do it. If you wait until the right time rather than trying to hit an artificially imposed deadline, the final result will be far superior!

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An elderly Jewish man lay dying in his bed. While suffering the agonies of impending death, he suddenly smelled the aroma of his favourite  matzo balls wafting up the stairs. He gathered his remaining strength, and lifted himself from the bed. Leaning against the wall, he slowly made his way out of the bedroom, and with even greater effort, gripping the railing with both hands, he crawled down stairs. With laboured breath, he leaned against the doorframe gazing into the kitchen. Were it not for death’s agony, he would have thought himself already in heaven, for there, spread out upon waxed paper on the kitchen table were literally hundreds of his favourite matzo balls. 

Was it heaven? Or was it one final act of heroic love from his devoted Rivka of sixty years, seeing to it that he left this world a happy man? Mustering one great final effort, he threw himself towards the table, landing on his knees in a rumpled posture. His parched lips parted, the wondrous taste of the matzo balls was already in his mouth, seemingly bringing him back to life. 

The aged and withered hand trembled on its way to a ball at the edge of the table, when suddenly it was smacked with a spatula by his wife…… 

“Get off you old fool” she said, “they’re for the  funeral”. 

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=========================================================================================================

Rob Horlock specialises in helping the commercial side of businesses to review and map processes and manage projects. If you would like to find out more about documenting processes or project management, see http://www.ef-ef.co.uk or email: info@ef-ef.co.uk


Why bother to document processes and briefs?

In nature, life carries on ‘by instinct’. Birds and animals migrate vast distances – usually twice a year. Salmon cross the Atlantic Ocean to spawn. House Martins build their nests under the eaves of the same houses in Northern Europe every year, having visited the plains of Africa in the meantime. Spiders spin complex webs. Bats fly ‘blind’ without hitting anything. Foxes try to find a way in to the chicken run … They aren’t shown what to do, they just know how to do it; it’s all in their heads.

The same might be said of many employees who manage pieces of work, or ‘projects’. Not much written down in the way of a process – everything they need to know is in their heads. Which may (or may not) be fine until information is needed by another person (or a system). The other person may want a status update, they may want some guidance on what to do next, they may want to review the plan following changes that they’ve recently been told about. And so on.

Having the detail in your head is great for you but not so convenient for everyone else in the process or working on the project. Sales and Marketing people tend (as a huge generalisation) to work like this. They know what they’re doing, what needs to be done and what’s been completed down to the nth detail. They know the budget status (from the excel spreadsheet on the personal drive of their laptop), they know the project status (because they had a discussion about it with key people earlier in the week) and they know what needs to be done next. But very little is documented in a collaborative environment in which information can be shared, everyone involved can update their own parts of the project for everyone else to see and where the status of Issues and Risks can be easily reviewed by all concerned. And why worry about providing a written brief to the agency when a phone call will do?

Do you recognise this view of life in your office?

If you do, then think about the benefits of better documentation. It may add some time up front to a project but will undoubtedly save more time further down the line. You will always have information in your head which doesn’t need to be shared. You will also have information that should be shared and understanding where the line is drawn is very important. Which information to share, how to share it and where to share it should be considered when reviewing business processes and when setting up a new project.

Your company will have a collaborative working environment. It may be a shared system drive (usually called the ‘J’ drive), it may be Lotus Notes, Microsoft Sharepoint, a company Intranet or other similar environments. If you are not using your collaborative environment to manage your projects, ask your IT team to demonstrate the benefits to you. It will be time well spent and you will spend a lot less of your time answering your colleagues’ questions. Oh, and your projects are more likely to be completed on time and less likely to bust the budget!

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Puns:

  • Two vultures board an airplane, each carrying two dead raccoons. The
    stewardess looks at them and says, “I’m sorry, gentlemen, only one carrion
    item allowed per passenger.”
  • Two boll weevils grew up in South Carolina. One went to Hollywood and
    became a famous actor. The other stayed behind in the cotton fields and
    never amounted to much. The second one, naturally, became known as the
    lesser of two weevils.  
  • Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, but when they lit a fire int he craft, it sank proving once again that you can’t have your kayak and heat it, too.
  • A three-legged dog walks into a saloon in the Old West. He slides up to
    the bar and announces: “I’m looking for the man who shot my paw.”

  • ================================================================================================================
      Rob Horlock specialises in helping the commercial side of businesses to review and map processes, manage projects ands improve individual and team working efficiencies. This also includes improving the effectiveness of your emarketing, particularly in the area of turning prospects into customers. If you would like to find out more, see http://www.ef-ef.co.uk or email: rob@ef-ef.co.uk

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When is a project a project?

Many pieces of work carried out in a typical marketing dept can be classified as projects.

  • A new product launch
  • A sales promotion
  • A new ad campaign
  • A brand extension
  • A packaging update
Managing Marketing projects

Managing Marketing projects

All are discrete pieces of work which could be defined as ‘projects’. Except that in a typical marketing department, they aren’t classified as projects. They are pieces of work which need to be done as part of the marketing manager’s job description – it’s just the day job.

That’s fine, but perhaps this leads to a less rigorous approach to the piece of work than would be the case if it was managed as a formal project.

One view that is commonly held by marketers is that ‘a project management approach will stifle my creativity and spontaneity’. That may or may not be true, depending on your definition of project management. A ‘project’ is a piece of work with a discrete start and a discrete end and this can obviously vary in size. At one end of the scale, a project might be ‘build a new Football Stadium’. At the other end a small project might consist of a departmental reorganisation. Both have beginnings and ends, so are both projects but the approach to each will be markedly different. There is much that marketers can learn from the world of project management, without stifling their creative juices.

  • Write a Project Plan – this doesn’t need to be overcomplicated, an excel spreadsheet is fine with tasks and responsibilities down the side and a timeline along the top. This gives a view of the tasks which need to be done, who is responsible for doing them and by when.
    • TOP TIP 1: Share the plan with everyone who is involved with the project tasks. Sounds obvious, but doesn’t always happen.
    • TOP TIP 2: Keep the plan up to date. When something changes, update the plan and re-circulate it. You don’t need to become a slave to the plan, just spend a few minutes every week reviewing it to keep it current
  • Understand the Risks involved in running the project. What changes will it involve? Who will be affected? How likely is it that the identified risks will actually occur? How serious is each risk? Have a proactive plan to deal with each risk (even if the plan says ‘we see x as a risk but will take the chance that it doesn’t happen’. This is an acceptable risk response, providing everyone involved understands that this is the decision that has been made).
  • Monitor the budget. Keep on top of cost, particularly costs incurred by third parties.
  • When the project reaches its end, have a ‘wrap up’ review. What went well, what lessons were learned?
    • TOP TIP 1: Document these learnings and save them in a central repository which is accessible to anyone who may run a similar project in the future.

None of this is rocket science but much of it is ignored by marketing execs who are keen ‘to get things moving’. Time spent thinking about the piece of work up front, planning and anticipating the potential issues, will free up time later on – guaranteed!

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Thought of the day:

Young Chuck moved to Texas and bought a donkey from a farmer for $100.00. The farmer agreed to deliver the donkey the next day. The next day he drove up and said, Sorry son, but I have some bad news, the donkey died.’
Chuck replied,
‘Well, then just give me my money back.’
The farmer said,
‘Can’t do that. I went and spent it already.’
Chuck said,
‘Ok, then, just bring me the dead donkey.’
The farmer asked,
‘What ya gonna do with him?’
Chuck said,
‘I’m going to raffle him off.’
The farmer said,
‘You can’t raffle off a dead donkey!’
Chuck said,
‘Sure I can Watch me. I just won’t tell anybody he’s dead.’
A month later, the farmer met up with Chuck and asked,
‘What happened with that dead donkey?’
Chuck said,
‘I raffled him off. I sold 500 tickets at two dollars a piece and made a profit of $998.00.’
The farmer said,
‘Didn’t anyone complain?’
Chuck said,
‘Just the guy who won. So I gave him his two dollars back.’

 

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Rob Horlock specialises in helping the commercial side of businesses to review and map processes and manage projects. If you would like to find out more about documenting processes or project management, see http://www.ef-ef.co.uk or email: info@ef-ef.co.uk


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