5 Signs You Have Chosen the Wrong Project

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I had a chance to speak with a growth leader at a mid-sized firm last week who was working on a cross business unit breakthrough program.  He asked a great question: how do I know when a firm has chosen the wrong project?  

Here are five of the key indicators that you are on the wrong track.

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#1: When you sit with your target clients, they just don’t get excited

This is more common than you might imagine.  I am called on to do joint customer visits from time to time and when you are in the room, you realize that all the energy is only on one side of the table.  While you just might be with the wrong people to see the benefits, if you truly are talking to the stakeholders, this is a huge signal.  My experience is that most groups, when they are on to something big, will quickly attract mutual energy, which is often represented by deeply engaged joint work and compensation for the effort.  If you can’t build mutual energy, it’s time for a serious review of why – and a decision to rework or drop the endeavor.

#2: People are not looking to work on your team

This speaks to the internal energy around your project or program.  Every time I have been on a successful project, I have had top talent seeking out a way to join the team.  A corollary to this is that the team starts early and works late.  When teams are on a mission, the clock becomes a non factor and victory is grasped from the jaws of defeat – even in firms that have become bureaucratic.  If you are pulling teeth to get talent to work on your project, something is amiss.  As I have written elsewherein large firms these days, top talent is attracted, not assigned, and if you are not getting your fair share, it’s time to re-evaluate your project.

#3: You are having a hard time finding an internal sponsor

Eventually every good project is going to need some air cover to survive.  It is an art to build the coalition around your work to shepherd it through the minefield that is the modern firm, and it’s simply impossible without a sponsor.  If you are having trouble getting a senior leader to serve as your contact to the C suite, several root causes emerge – and none of them are good.  Perhaps your project is outside the risk reward boundary for the firm’s current leadership.  Another reason is that this might just be the wrong time for the firm to take this product on, either because of the enterprise life cycle, the market itself, or an unrelated new product that you might not be aware of.  Lastly, you may not have a case that says your project will improve the overall value of the firm to its stakeholders – the primary measurement of the senior team.  In any case, lack of senior sponsorship always needs to be understood and addressed to assure you have the “right” project.

#4: Your beta customers are not seeking you out for changes and improvements

The early portion of successful breakout projects always includes a phase where there is deep learning and value addition by the early adopters.  If there is a lack of this conversation, and the internal team is driving all the changes and “improvements,” be very, very careful.  It is not uncommon for a firm to build something in a vacuum that it thinks the customers need.  I am very wary when a firm has all the “experts it needs” inside the four walls.  Without engaged, two-way dialogue, some truly large flops have been completed and subsequently dropped from the portfolio, or worse, have damaged a firm’s brand.  If you cannot find a connected customer ecosystem early, hit the brakes and find out why.

#5: You can’t find a sales guy to take you into an account

When you are an internal champion of a breakout project, you need to be able to win the sponsorship at the front lines.  Some of the most pragmatic and honest feedback lies in your own sales team.  It is a very big red flag if you approach a senior account leader and can’t make the case that it’s a good idea for you to meet with key influencers on the customer side.

There are always the usual pushbacks – it’s not in my commission plan, it takes me away from my day job, you are going to mess up my customer relationship with that early stage stuff, and so forth.  With careful work, you can always find someone who prides themselves on being on the leading edge, and bringing the latest and greatest to their client base.  When you have found a person that fits this profile, and they still don’t want to take you into an account, listen very carefully.  There is either a core distribution conflict, or more likely your value proposition is just insufficient to break over the risk reward boundary for sales.  It is much better to hear this early and get it fixed then to find out later you can’t break through the customer facing blockade.

There you are, five diagnostics for the internal growth leader to know that she’s on the right track.  If any of these issues are on the table for you and your team, I would suggest you take a step back and assemble the steering team to create some actionable tests and inquiries.  A nice tool for prompting you through this is the business model map here and here.

If you’d like to have a deeper discussion around any of these areas, or my right project, right team, right plan framework, please send me an email or call me at 847-651-1014.

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