Category Archives: project management

The president gets 100 days. You get 90.


If you know someone about to take a new job (and in this recession that’s a lot of people), tell them to read The First 90 Days. It’s the best book we’ve seen on the psychology of succeeding in a new organization, and has implications for ongoing management roles as well.

Here’s the gist: New managers have 90 days to prove themselves; your first three months set the momentum for your ongoing victories or failures; you won’t succeed without a specific plan and milestones; and what helped you succeed in the past is not necessarily the same skill set required to thrive. For example, one major mistake new managers make is not recognizing the organizational context. Author Michael Watkins suggests there are four types of organizations, each with different needs:

1. Start-up
2. Turnaround
3. Realignment
4. Sustaining success

Based on your organization’s psychology, you need to play a different game. In a start-up, people are excited but lack direction, so successful managers need to channel energy into rapid but focused execution. Turnarounds require overcoming demoralization. Realignment companies often require battling bureaucracy and denial (“this can’t be done!”) before the organization can reinvent itself. And sustaining-success organizations may sound ideal, but managers will battle complacency.

Watkins recounts the story of a brilliant former CEO for Coca-Cola who rose quickly through the ranks, a real numbers guy. Douglas Ivester knew the organization, was named CFO by age 37, was soon COO, and when the top executive suddenly died he seemed the perfect replacement. But Ivester didn’t let go of the numbers, refused to hire a new COO, and reportedly fumbled strategic decisions such as acquisitions and a Coke contamination scandal in Europe. What made him succeed in the past had not prepared him for the future. Ivester erred as CEO, Watkins writes, because he didn’t adapt his past brilliance to the new role’s context.

As the world struggles in recession, organizations themselves can change. Managers who have thrived for decades should look around carefully and see if the needs of their team are changing. Is your sustaining-success group sliding into a reorganization, or worse, a turnaround situation? If so, how must you adjust your skills to fit the new dynamic?

Organizations are complex things. If you’re stepping into a new one, you better understand your environment. Book summary is here.

A look behind the silly Pepsi brand manual


Ad people are chuckling over the supposed Pepsi brand manual now floating on the internet — which compares the logo development with Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Grecian mathematics and the earth’s magnetic field. But we say bravo, TBWA/Chiat Day or clever jokester behind the brand architecture, because someone had to motivate the company to do something.

The lesson here is you have to sell hard to get anything good done.

Group execution requires consensus, and consensus is the enemy of genius because it usually requires negotiation, modification, and dumbification. The problem grows bigger with every extra body in your team. For example, two people come to agreement relatively easily, but first they must juggle four possible outcomes in their negotiations to get to “yes-yes.”
But the network dynamic expands exponentially as you add more decision-makers. A team with only five people has 10 internal debate lines and 40 potential decision points. This is why committees often stall.
Given such multiple players, there is never a simple path to consensus — and there is a 39/40 chance in a group of five that the idea will be modified into porridge. The only pathway to brilliance is either a strong leader with vision, or a supporting team that sells an idea way too hard (see: Pepsi brand manual). Gary DiCamillo, onetime CEO of Polaroid, was famous for “80% solutions,” the belief that there is never enough data to prove any initiative will work, so if one is 80% of the way to assurance, why, go ahead and launch. The Pepsi brand document may be a spoof, but it illustrates beautifully how difficult it is to convince a team a single idea has merit. Hey. If a circle worked for Da Vinci, it will surely sell soda.

Via This Is Herd and Brandflakes.

Keep it simple


We worked on several projects this week where things got really complicated. And then it got simple. After all the discussion and logic, either projects go live or they don’t; web site conversion rates go up or down; the advertising creative pulls response or fails.

Love me. Love me not.

It’s important to cover every angle in the planning phase. It’s also important, as you prepare to execute, to make a decisive, single stroke. This can create conflict in an organization where some people are brilliant at planning all the angles, and others chafe to pull the trigger. Neither are right or wrong; both are needed; the trick is making contingencies and clarity come together.

A good exercise for your next project is to whiteboard the top 10 key decisions — then look at each and ask, “what is the simplest way to make this part work?” Too few considerations, and you fail. Too many requests, and you end up with a bad logo.

Rob Biddiscombe: A role model for conquering committees


We redesigned our agency web site and man, it wasn’t easy, because agency people all have IQs of 134 and so have to battle fiercely about who is right or wrong … um, something like that. Thankfully we got to work with Rob Biddiscombe at the Plaid interactive shop, who fielded 2,034 silly requests and through it all kept the site focused on the core mission: Attract more business.

And we realized. Greatness doesn’t come from groups. Greatness comes from leaders like Rob.

Here’s why. Close your eyes and imagine you’re going out to see a film with a friend. You have one conversation between you, and you can each decide yes or no on which picture you want to see. That one connection makes four choices — no/no, no/yes, yes/no, or yes/yes. Picking a film is relatively easy, but you had to work through four decision outcomes to get there.

The more people you add to a group, the more complex the decision process becomes — because connections between all those people grow exponentially. This is why committees often fail. Here’s what a small group of five people look like:

Yep. Five people create 10 real connections, and since each connection has 4 possible yes/no outcomes, there are 40 potential decision points before any final outcome. Groups of people are complex, writes Clay Shirky in his new book Here Comes Everybody, and he’s right. Expand a group to 15 members and you get 105 connections and 420 yes/no potential outcomes. Even moderately sized groups create unimaginable decision points to reach a final consensus.

Shirky notes that this morass is why organizations such as the military, corporations or a church typically build command-and-control structures. But there is a big problem emerging as social media makes it easier for organizations to “be flat.” If you rely on consensus from everyone before taking action, you may never get anywhere.

So next time you’re fed up in a big team bureaucracy, or exasperated by an email debate among virtual colleagues, here’s what we suggest. Nominate two people to get it done. Set the expectation. Then set those two people free to go do it.

You’ll like what you get, and if you’re lucky, one of those leaders will be a guy named Rob.