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When a Project Falters

I always enjoy working on a new project.

By

February 7, 2020

I always enjoy working on a new project.

Part of the excitement is talking to the client, understanding their vision, and then collaborating with the Brevo team to make it happen.

Sometimes, however, things don’t always go as planned.

The client might be erratic and change lanes halfway through. Or, as was the case with one particular client, we dropped the ball and fumbled our way to a favorable conclusion.

Our end-product didn’t match what we pitched the client. We managed to finish and deliver, but we had to settle for being content with less than stellar output.

It never happens, but it did.

I’d like to share with you some details of a project that faltered and the hard lessons we learned from the experience.

The Gig

The project was an extensive report for a reputable corporation. We won the project on the strength of our pitch which, we were told, was superior to our name-brand competitors.

We wowed the client with our concepts, unique visual approach, and the pedigree of our writing team. We won the project, got stuck in, and then things never quite went to plan.

By the time we crossed the finish line, nerves were frayed, the client was frazzled, and we were left wondering, “What happened?”

Here’s where we faltered.

1. No champion

The project had no champion. Which is silly, because we ALWAYS have a champion — someone to lead the project, start to finish. Instead, several voices were involved in the project, but with no clear leader as the project lead assigned was hindered by not being given the guidance they deserved.

This led to confusion and, when problems began to rise, team members assumed someone else would handle them. But no one stepped up. Consequently, things began falling through the cracks. In fact, the lack of a clear leader is what led to a myriad of other problems as the project progressed.

Next time we’ll clearly assign a project lead and let them lead. When several strong voices are involved in a project, it may initially be smooth sailing but with no clear leader, it runs the risk of becoming a ghost ship, tossed to and fro on the high seas.

2. Poor communication

No leader led to inconsistent communication — lots of voices and talk, but no one marshalling everything into a seamless whole.

What’s more, we only had one face-to-face meeting with the client — ONE. We normally meet clients on a weekly basis but found ourselves relying mainly on emails for primary communication.

This is not ideal, particularly when details are everything. The client was responsible for providing all the data but they faced their own internal challenges; it was our job to guide and make things easier for them. We failed.

The client deserves regular face-to-face attention, if not in person, at least via video conferencing and voice calls. By not meeting them regularly, we missed out on crucial interaction, deep dives, and sharing of information.

What we should have done is conducted regular meetings with the client. That would have helped with direction, clarity, and expedition of data/materials.

3. Imperfect time management

We had 8 weeks of dev time, which is tight but certainly doable if managed correctly. Unfortunately, the lack of project leadership meant that schedules weren’t managed properly, and endless revisions began to pile up.

Following a debrief with the client we were informed, they believed the revisions they were sending across were assisting us rather than hindering the design team.

They were happy with the output being produced but we were getting lost in what they actually wanted, leading to tighter deadlines which is never ideal for quality output.

It felt like a reservoir waiting to burst, cracking against the weight of multiple edits, updates, and adjustments. As the deadline tightened, we failed to adapt and found ourselves scrambling to plug holes in the dam.

Next time we’ll beorganised from the get-go.We have the tools, the skills, and the experience to handle complex projects. But we succumbed to disorganisation.

4. Poor people management

We had the manpower to handle the project but didn’t properly organize ourselves. Consequently, we ended up being unable to provide adequate creative staff to handle the work.

We eventually had to pull a freelancer on board to help us. This isn’t unheard of, of course. But because it was last minute, it led to a less-than-desired outcome: a report that didn’t feel like Brevo’s signature form.

Lesson learned: Organise yourself.

5. Lack of accountability

The lack of leadership, weak planning, and poor communication could have been solved if we had proper accountability in place.

As CEO, I had an opportunity to act on the red flags. I didn’t. I could have stepped in to troubleshoot the situation. I didn’t. We had a chance to meet our original vision but instead, we floundered.

Problems can go unnoticed in an environment where everyone trusts someone else to help when things get crazy. But in this case, no one was around to help. And i should have been more proactive in getting on top of the situation.

Personally, I will be more discerning of red flags and be a lot more present in situations that are going south.

Summary

The project was delivered to the client’s satisfaction. But not ours. We know we could have done better. We know we could have elevated the project. We certainly shouldn’t have let things run the way they did, somewhat haphazardly and without a rudder.

The silver lining lies in the important lessons learned along the way. I take more away from my failures over my successes. We will be more accountable, more attuned to the warnings of a project about to burst.

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