The importance of evaluation

The control element is a vital stage in project management, occupying a core position in frameworks such as APIC (analysis, planning, implementation, control). Broadly, it covers two distinct elements – monitoring and evaluation. From my perspective, the latter of these has been grossly overlooked.

To some extent, monitoring is the easiest of the two as it focuses a project manager on visible outcomes that link to key performance indicators. At the basic level, assets (principally time and money) are monitored, and performance (output, sales etc) is assessed to ensure a project is on track, and that the iron triangle is in balance.

So far, so good.

A project evaluation should cover not only this but far more. Unfortunately, it seems that they rarely go beyond the additional measure of some outcomes or intangibles (satisfaction, brand reputation etc).

A proper evaluation should not only measure the what, but strive to understand the why.

Specifically, project managers need to go beyond the self-serving bias. A project manager shouldn’t take the credit for all the success, and attribute the blame externally in the case of failure.

A full project evaluation is crucial irrespective of the outcome, whether success, failure or indeterminable (and the latter shouldn’t exist).

If a project is a success, laurels shouldn’t be rested upon. The recent HBR article on Why Leaders don’t learn from success is fascinating in this regard. All aspects of a project should be critically assessed – was success down to luck, competitor failure/inaction, or were the critical success factors actually internal? Furthermore, a project will never be without issue – these should be identified and remedies to mitigate them reoccurring installed.

Likewise, failure shouldn’t be a blame game. A project is a rarely an unmitigated failure. As Seth Godin writes in Poke The Box, failure should be celebrated at some level – it’s better to attempt a risk than to do nothing. After all, you can only win the lottery by playing it.

Obviously, celebrating success is a morale booster and this should continue. But a bit of critical thinking is vital to long-term development. By learning as much from the past as we can, we can better reshape the future.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulk/5131407407

Criteria for agency selection

According to my CIM coursebook, the following criteria should be used to shortlist agencies

  1. Area of expertise
  2. Quality of existing clients
  3. Reputation of principals and experience of staff
  4. Agency fees and methods of charging/payment
  5. In-house resources
  6. Geographical cover

While the selection of the agency should be based upon

  1. Credentials – track record and feedback
  2. Creative techniques – evidence of creativity and innovation
  3. Staff – number, tenure and experience
  4. The agency – resources, objectives, service level agreements
  5. Specialism – focus
  6. Price – clear and reasonable structure
  7. Legal – methods to ensure compliance with regulations
  8. Pitch – whether it met the requirements of the brief

The list isn’t fully comprehensive, but it acts as a reasonable guide – assuming you want to ignore slightly shadier aspects like favouritism

It can act as a useful checklist when pitching for new business. Of course, this only considers absolute performance/measures. When in a competitive pitch, the relative strengths become most important as pitching agencies are traded off against one another.

With open pitch processes, comparative advantage can be identified and relative strengths can be focused upon. With closed/opaque bids, this isn’t possible. So an agency will need to estimate where its relative and absolute strengths lie.

A good agency will have the relevant market intelligence to make a decent stab at this. A bad agency won’t. (Though of course industry fragmentation and lack of market definiton makes the potential competition so broad that it may not be possible/efficient to undertake)

Incidentally, the book also lists five key roles for an account planner (derived from Yeshin).

  1. Defining the task and bringing together the key information
  2. Preparing the creative brief
  3. Creative development, including being the “custodian” of brand values
  4. Presenting to the clients to convey concepts and defent rationale
  5. Tracking performance

The focus of this can be adjusted so that it is also applicable to researchers – on the assumption that planners/researchers play a central role throughout the project or campaign. Some people might disagree about that.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mistersnappy/2282846520/

The perfect day

It’s wedding season at the moment. I’ve had the pleasure of attending two so far this summer, with another two over the coming month.

I love the fact that they are all different:

  • The first wedding was quite alternative, with Philip Glass as entrance music, pageboys dressed as dinosaurs and a cake based on Tatlin’s Tower
  • The second wedding was fairly traditional (though non-religious) and held in a beautiful country barn
  • The third wedding will include a Tamil ceremony

I’m not sure how the fourth wedding will proceed, but I’m pretty confident that it will be completely unique.

I’m also confident that the forthcoming ceremonies will proceed as perfectly as the first two did.

This is because a wedding is the perfect day for the happy couple and their families and friends. It is planned to precision with every detail accounted for. The day is utterly unique as every element is completely bespoke.

This requires a lot of trust in the agents and parties responsible for the individual elements. But the couple have their vision and by laying down the specific parameters they can be reassured that the day will proceed flawlessly.

The analogy is an obvious one but it is worth making.

Perfect execution needs perfect planning, which in turn requires a perfect briefing.

The wedding couple know exactly what they want to achieve. They communicate this to all involved, who then know precisely what they need to do. They use their expertise to make this happen.

Now our projects may not be as life-changing or as unique as a wedding, but if we want to achieve the best possible outcome, then putting as much thought and effort into the initial project briefing as possible will go a long way to achieving this.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/motodraconis/

Crowdsourcing needs confines

Last week I went on a media planning course. Once the introductions, overviews and drinking socialising was done with, we got down to business with developing a media strategy for a new value range of products. In an afternoon.

It was incredibly challenging (especially considering we were all researchers) but extremely rewarding. We eventually found the balance between inspiration and insight, and came up with a half-decent plan.

In effect, the brief we were working on was being crowdsourced.

I have some problems with crowdsourcing, which I have written about before. It can work, but needs certain circumstances. A major problem we faced was a problem many crowdsourced projects face – finding the right dynamic.

We were placed in small groups of peers, each from a different background (media agency/ research agency/ software company etc). We had little knowledge of one another, and by dint of being peers there was no natural leader. By my nature, I work in a fast scatter gun fashion. Others are slower but more methodical and thorough. Both are equally valid, but it can be difficult to get them to complement one another.

We essentially needed a project manager to direct us.

Crowdsourcing has many benefits. But for it to be effective it needs to be tightly structured with the constituent elements clearly demarcated. A leader needs to fashion a coherent and cohesive central vision by pulling the pieces together to ensure that the final product is greater than the sum of its parts.

Take brainstorming as an example. I love brainstorming (I try to avoid “thought showers”). It is a great way to create ideas and to bounce them off different people and thoughts. But it needs a facilitator to carefully select the participants, to steer discussion and to ultimately make sense of the outputs.

And projects need project managers. Impetus comes from ownership. A project manager doesn’t necessarily have to possess total authority, but that person needs to keep the cogs whirring/plates spinning/pick appropriate metaphor. They need to delegate tasks to the most appropriate individuals, identify the weak links, keep the project focused, and ensure the deadlines are in sight.

But while the project manager doesn’t need total authority, he or she does need some. The Apprentice neatly shows the problems a leader picked from a group of peers encounters, and that was the challenge we faced on our course (though thankfully we largely managed to keep it good-natured).

Newspapers need editors. Exhibitions need curators. And projects need managers. Crowds have power, but that power needs someone to harness it.

sk