Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Project management: Do you really need to be No.1?

Some time ago, I attended a very crowded and unbelievable long meeting. It was a kind of mixture between a brainstorming session and a focus group. Suddenly, the discussion remained stuck around this point

"How can we be considered the No. 1 company in our industry?"

I felt quite uneasy about the direction the meeting had been taking, until one of the more experienced and seasoned participants (which I hold in high esteem), said something incredibly interesting. I am not able to report his exact words, so I will paraphrase them to give you just the bottom line. I will write them in cursive to remark the fact that they did not come from me.

Why struggle so hard to be considered No. 1?
Do you think our customers really care about that? Why should they?
People want to make business with other people they trust, not with people whose primary goal is to be considered No. 1.
Let us just focus on business, be proactive and supportive with our customers, create relationships based on trust, be consistent and put all of our energies into our products development.
If someone will consider us the No. 1...well...all the better…but that should not be our primary goal.

An example from industry

In the ‘60s, Hertz was the number one company in the US rental cart market. Avis was second but at a sensible distance. The market share was, more or less, 61% - 29%, and this was a well-known fact by all customers.
In 1962, Avis came out with a brand new advertising, which embraced and leveraged the Avis smaller market’s share and turned it into a point of strength.

The campaign’s bottom line was “When you are only No. 2, you try harder”.
This very simple message was attuned in many different ways in the next 50 years of advertising.
The tag lines changed, but the message remained the same
“Avis can’t afford not to be nice”, “Avis can’t afford to make you wait”, “Avis can’t afford dirty ashtrays” and the reason, they could not afford these things, was that they just were the No. 2 in the market.

The “Try harder” campaign had been incepted by William Bernbach of the Doyle Dan Bernbach agency and turned out to be an enormous success. By the end of 1966, the gap in the market share percentage of the two companies shrunk to 49% - 36%.

Naturally, not being the No. 1 will not automatically make a fighter out of anyone.
“Try harder” requires outstanding traits and attitudes, that one has to find inside himself/herself or to develop within his/her professionalism.
Nevertheless, I do like the “Try harder” message, and I can see a significant advice in the background, a warning to everyone.
If become No. 1 you reach a plateau, and if you are struggling to be No. 1, you are struggling to reach that plateau. What then? Settling down?

I believe that the correct attitude is to keep on running and always try to improve, without the false goal of an arrival point. The goal should be to offer a better service to anyone who trusts you.

Let us shift this approach from a company environment perspective and apply it to project management.
Do we really have to care about what other people think and say? Do we really have to fight against windmills, like modern Don Quixote?

We just need to stay focused on our stakeholders’ needs and expectations, taking care of our projects, keeping our promises, always be present and consistent. Then, if someone will consider us to the best project managers on earth…well…all the better.
We must go straight to the point and keep simple what is meant to be simple. There is no time to take care of what is just garnishment.
We may be not using the latest buzzwords or may be not implementing the last brand new indispensable and how-could-we-manage-projects-before process…but why should we, if there is no need to?

After all, a project manager is not a pure theoretical figure. He/she is an individual placed in the real world coping with an imperfect reality. Do you know what? I believe that the best project manager would be the one taking good care of my projects and showing that he/she does really care about my needs.

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