Fair Exchange: Deliverables define positive brand, business future
by Erna George (@) Deliverables sound like an obvious and well-understood business term but some recent interactions have taught me otherwise.
First, in a team meeting on asking the team to share their output and deliverables, it took over 40 minutes to go around a circle of less than 10 people. A lot of words were squeezed in, with a strong focus on who they were in contact with and the steps they were taking, yet little emphasis on business impact. Secondly, a new junior member in the business was struggling to keep afloat and make progress, yet was working long hours. Lastly, a colleague’s agency had used 90% of its retainer hours within the first six months of the year and had only delivered four of the year’s 10 planned deliverables scoped out in the annual contract.
Everyone in these examples had put in many hours and done a significant amount with multiple outputs but the required focus on deliverables and meeting these set in the time period weren’t achieved. The world of business has shifted to deliverables being at the core of planning and measurement but behaviour needs to follow — quickly!
Like there are many paths to a destination, there are multiple ways to address a task, and there are many activities and outputs required to effect a deliverable. Activities are the ‘what’ gets done and each output is a step towards achieving the deliverable. Outputs are great but the deliverable is what we deploy to customers or consumers, from products to services to promotions.
Linked to business objectives
Deliverables are linked to business objectives. Deliverables are where the rubber hits the road, often made of tangible measurable elements and the more subjective. For example, it’s not about creating a presentation in support of a brand extension; PowerPoint slides are the output. It is about a high-quality presentation with strong insights for a compelling business case that help direct the business opportunity towards optimal growth and leads to investment in the innovation project. Quality may be subjective but with the right focus the investment level that determines your success and the promise of future impact.
Many things may keep you busy and you may confuse being busy with multiple tasks with the definitiveness and impact of delivering strong outcomes. This is where all three of my examples above went wrong. Between briefs, project team meetings, agency brief or feedback sessions and developing presentations, there is significant effort and it may feel as if you’ve done lots but think about what has been achieved? How effective or impactful have your actions been on brand growth or projects being delivered to market? Writing a brief is an activity and briefing the agency is a great milestone but the deliverable is only reached when the campaign is in market and is having an impact (positive, please).
Of course, all parts of the process are important to achieve the deliverable but, when one confuses where to focus, this brings challenges. An emphasis on deliverables may focus efforts and reduce wastage in the system. When you focus on the how or amount of output (more-stuff-must-equal-more mentality *SIGH*), you may get caught in sometimes unnecessary detail and lose time. Following a process doesn’t guarantee results. Getting all to focus beyond the steps means that they can be proactive and flexible, defining alternate ways to reach the same goal and possibly be more efficient, and reaching the outcome faster. Hours are no longer a meaningful way to define output — they count effort. I try hard not to manage my teams’ or agencies’ hours, especially if what we’ve agreed on is being delivered. It is each person’s responsibility to ensure effort and hours are spent on what makes a difference.
Takes a team
Shifting people from judging their day by effort spent, or describing the how to of their tasks, will be tough. The ‘how’ or journey of each team member’s tasks is not always critical for others to understand and it doesn’t always interest the next person. Despite this, it often takes a team to achieve positive deliverables. The trick is to move team members beyond a silo approach by changing language and measurement to deliverables. Whether you’re in the agency or marketing team, you all have your challenges and a focus on only your elements and work-stages for a launch may lead to a pity-party and give you a blinkered view. Seeing your outputs within the big picture helps showcase the impact you have on the project. Most senior execs or customers don’t care why a deliverable was missed, especially if there was no prior warning. With a focus on deliverables to pull everyone together, you’re more acutely aware of your impact on the project. This should lead to more personal accountability and, most likely, to a more-innate ‘early warning system’ for potential failure to drive proactive planning or identifying an alternate route to market.
Besides the move to less of a task perspective, focusing on the common ground of the deliverable brings together the unique strengths of each team member in equal weighting. Each person may determine their tasks in light of the teams’ task. This unites teams. With the focal point clear, all steer towards a single end goal in a manner that allows the all outputs to be generated in a way that fits together more easily — a more-cohesive and co-ordinated approach.
We’re not in business to be busy; we’re in business to reach goals that build towards brand presence or growth — something that has impact. We need to stop the focus on the tasks and timelines and focus on the deliverable at the start of a project, to track progress, measurement and recognition.
Points to consider
- Teams must still break deliverables into clear outputs. Having both in place ensures progress and clear accountability
- Ensure people have the mandate to shift behaviour to be rooted in deliverables and not processes
- Key to change language, targets and rewards systems across internal and external teams to be deliverable-focused (be specific and ensure measurability) and align fully behind this
This applies to launches, promotions, agency contracts, and team performance. Once the focus shifts, performance and impact can follow.
After starting at Unilever in a classical marketing role, Erna George (@) explored the agency side of life, first as a partner at Fountainhead Design, followed by the manic and inspiring world of consultancy at Added Value. She has returned to client-side, leading the marketing team in the Cereals, Accompaniments & Baking Division at Pioneer Foods. Her monthly “Fair Exchange” column on MarkLives concerns business relationships and partnerships in marketing and brandland.