Leadership in Project Land

By Rocky Maddex
May 31, 2016

What is Project Land you may ask? Is it an obscure reference to the movie Tomorrowland and its fantasy world? Is it a newly constituted country in Eastern Europe?

I first heard the term Project Land during a global rollout of technology I was leading a number of years ago. The person was referring to his belief that implementation projects of any size in technology are really more a fantastical or insulated world well removed from reality.

Anyone that’s been involved in a sizable project can relate to Project Land. This is especially true for people that are pulled in on a part-time basis and the work they do is an add-on activity given to them by their boss in addition to their regular duties. They don’t typically want to understand the project to the depth needed in terms of what impact it will have on the company.

So, what happens?

Survival instincts kick in and a person looks to the future to see what their performance review looks like. They say to themselves, “If I let something slide from my regular duties to perform at a stellar level for the project will I get my bonus?” We know the answer to this one.

A successful project that reflects a strategic initiative, costs a sizable amount of money, and can significantly impact the profitability of the company should be treated with a great deal of respect by employees and providers/contractors.

I’m typically an outsider to the company (a contractor) that will see the impact of the project ripple through many people’s lives, change the way the company does business, and improve processes along with bottom lines. I can relate the project to the company in a strategic way quite easily from my semi-objective viewpoint and experience. However, I’m often told by company employees, “Well, you just don’t understand our company and how it works. You’re in Project Land.”

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After leading quite a number of projects that made strategic impacts to client companies over more years than I’d like to mention I can tell you this is typically a combination of fear and misunderstanding talking. To realize the value of a pricing implementation you have to get a lot of people to change their points of view while getting work out of them. As a project leader, how do I do that?

There are tremendous amounts of moving parts to an implementation project of any size, including people, technologies, budgets, data, and a host of others. However, the biggest challenge and most productive impact I can have on a project is with the people.

I have to get people of every level—from executives down to sole contributors from various teams—to do work in a coordinated path and achieve a common goal in a definite time and budget constraint. At the same time, I have to keep them happy, or at least keep the arguing to a minimum.

A high level client executive asked me recently prior to project kickoff, “What is the most important part of what you do to make a pricing implementation successful?” I said it’s all about developing a team atmosphere quickly and handling issues immediately. I’m sure she was expecting me to talk about project plans, agile methodologies, P&L’s, technology, or almost anything but what my answer was.

I asked her immediately after to provide whatever support she could to developing and maintaining a team for our project and thankfully it happened. When we ran into some rough spots (as all projects do) it was easier to overcome with our team atmosphere. We delighted everyone by getting the project to Go Live where the company could realize value well before expected and with no cost over-runs despite some pretty significant issues to overcome.

One major key to moving a project through from conception to Go Live is to have a core leadership team on both the client and provider sides to shepherd the process. It’s this team that stays from kickoff through to Go Live and, in the case of the client team, beyond.

At a minimum this core team consists of:

Client Provider
 Executive Sponsor  Executive Sponsor
 Business Process Owner / Decision Maker  Program Manager / Engagement Leader
 Program Manager  Pricing Consultant (Business Process Owner)
 Subject Matter Experts on Business side (often BA’s)  Solution Architect
 Data Lead  Lead Data Engineer
 IT Lead

Other team members can come and go throughout the project and play supporting roles, but this key cast needs to stay firm and engaged throughout project. It may seem simplistic and obvious, but this truly is where unsuccessful projects fall apart. Without the core team in place to serve as the support system during tough times, the project has little to no chance of leaving Project Land and entering reality.

*Feature Photo Credit: Sam Howzit (Image Resized)
  • future , pricing project , project management , team

    Rocky Maddex

    Rocky has extensive experience in Program Management offices and technology services. As a Program Manager at Vendavo, Rocky is responsible for a customer's configuration and project success and serves as the main point of contact for all management and contracts. Prior to joining Vendavo, Rocky served as Director of Lead Generation at California Security Pro. He has further experience in professional services, strategy, and business development. Rocky is based near Heidelberg, Germany.