Archive for the 'Consultancy' Category

8 tips for boulder bashing (aka keeping projects rolling)

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There is nothing worse than a project that makes you feel like Sisyphus.  You know, the ancient Greek guy who was condemned to an eternity of rolling a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll down the other side.  We all know the feeling.

I do a lot of work across countries, timezones and operational teams.  Keeping projects moving is one of the singular goals (and joys and banes) of my existence*.  These might be no-brainers, but these are my 8 tips for keeping projects moving, even when you’d rather give up and just go home.

1. Be realistic about timelines
Projects always take longer than you expect.  And there is nothing more demoralizing and energy draining than endless delays and missed deadlines.  Think…really think…about what (and who) it’s going to take to get your project done. And plan accordingly.

2. Talk about roles and responsibilities
In tasks that require a group, don’t assume you know whose going to do what.  Be explicit.  And be accountable.

3. Catch up regularly
This is particularly relevant for teams spread across locations or online based teams.  Keep a basic work in progress document or action items and hold a weekly or bi-weekly catch up to keep the team on track and motivated.  Weekly accountability, even informal, keeps momentum and makes problem solving easier.

4. Make the goal real
If the team knows what they’re contributing to, it helps.  Particularly on internal projects, where deadlines slip the most.  Seriously.  Being a cog in the machine is utterly soulless if you can’t see how deadly important your specific cog-i-ness is the smooth functioning of the machine (and if you don’t know what the machine is doing in the first place, then you’re really borked).  Metaphor tortured enough?

5. Empower your team to make decisions without you
Every project hits a wall when a decision needs to be made.  And if oneperson (usually busy) is the only decision maker, you’re basically waiting around until they can get to you.  If your team feels empowered to make the day-to-day decisions, but know to come to you with the big ones, you’ll have far more momentum.

6. Put a deadline on the big decisions
If you’re not able to reach consensus quickly, ask the senior member of the team to make a call and put a time frame on the final decision, whether it’s an hour or a day or a month.  Endless debate stagnates a project, but appropriately swift decision making can really move things along.

7. Call time
If a project isn’t going anywhere, take some time out to think about why.  Either have the courage to shut it down and move on to something new.  Or consider what – or who in the team – needs to change to get it back on track.

8. Look back
This is probably the one step that’s most underrated. At the end of each project, look back.  What helped move the process forward and what held it back?  Which were the bad decisions – and there are always bad decisions – and what might you have done differently (with more time, or less pressure?) What can you take into the next project?

Any to add to the list?  How do you help to keep your team on track?

*particularly because these lovely people are generally working on my projects over and above their day jobs.  Did I mention how lovely they are?

SAA Sucks

Well it does. Big time.  I travel a lot.  And, sadly, service from our national carrier is consistently bad.  There are exceptions, of course.  But on those rare occasions when I am treated like a human being by the SAA staff, I want to do the happy dance or I’m left wondering where the hidden cameras are.


Justin Hartman seems to feel the same (you biscuit!).  Except, he’s got some clever tech at his fingertips.  And woe betide, SAA, he’s created a platform for disgruntled customers to rival Helkom.


This is exactly what all the new media pontificators pontificate on…how the power of the interweb can combine the collective ire of the people into a scary little monster for brands who aren’t paying attention….and I suspect SAA Sucks is going to be an interestin’ thorn in the side of the SAA PR machine.  I hope it’s enough to get some serious reaction.


So lock ‘n load people….post your SAA horror stories here.

Rapid Prototyping

Imagine if Rapid Prototyping went mainstream?  In the words of MyBrandedLifeRapid Prototyping is a fancy way for saying “printing 3D objects”. (Thanks lady!)


For someone like me, who literally can’t see 3D unless something actually is 3D, this could cack open the doorway between concept and creation.  Forget the incredible design applications, in insight work, having a machine that could 3D a concept in minimal time could change the way you brought ideas to life.  Imagine a workshop session where the designers and brand people and consumers and creatives work together to develop and refine packaging or comms or product concepts, all in real time.   


How cool.


Image from MyBrandedLife

Image from MyBrandedLife

Image of a printed head.  Printed from the back of the head to the nose.


Part of my role includes administering a grad programme.  It’s work that I love.  It’s work that keeps me up at night.  I waver between feeling a huge obligation to the amazing young people who are part of the programme and a kind of hurt surprise when they don’t grab every opportunity the programme offers them with both hands.

But I’ve only recently realised that in most cases, what I’m registering as reluctance (at best) and an attitude (at worst) is just fear.  Fear of failure.  Fear of not making the right choices.  Fear of success.  Fear of letting people down. 

And so I’m learning to address the fear first and the attitude later.  To take a lesson from Ben Zander and speak only to the best of their possibility.

And to remember all the great mentors I had and be grateful (damn grateful) for their own patience and guidance.

Those lessons and this one have taught me this; when starting something new (a job, a project):

  • Be enthusiastic (even if you aren’t).  People, even difficult ones, respond to positive energy.  And people will remember that energy the next time they’re putting together a team.
  • Be willing.  Follow through.  And communicate.  (This is just as true for senior team members as it is for the newbies.)  People who are willing, who put themselves forward, often get a stab at choosing good tasks.  But delivering on even the boring parts, brings you attention.  People want willing participants.
  • Be brave.  Even if you think you can’t do something, volunteer.  The quickest way to prove yourself is by doing.  And the rush from nailing a task you didn’t think you could do is always worth it.
  • Ask for help.  People love to share their knowledge, it makes them feel good.  So use it.  Get in there.  And the more you ask, the more you learn who gives the best answers.  And so you find your natural mentors.
  • Embrace failure.  If you’re aware and open to learning, you’ll never make the same mistake twice. 
  • Ask for feedback.  Ask specifically for one thing you did well and one thing you could have improved.  Develop a thick skin.  And be prepared to take action on improvement areas.
  • Use your fear.  Challenge yourself to use the emotion as an impetus to move forward, rather than letting it hold you back. 

It’s strange, but I was afraid to take on this role.   I’m still scared.  Scared that I’ll make mistakes that will affect the trajectory of someone’s career.  But the fear is my prod to do better, to try harder.  And it’s taught me more about myself than I ever imagined.

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