Brands. Products have them. Services have them. Organizations have them. Even people have them (think Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey or Frank Gehry). And, we argue, the internal face of every company project needs one as well.
Broadly speaking, a brand can be defined as a unique value proposition expressed in a relevant and differentiated way such that it creates preference and loyalty among key audiences.
So why is project branding important? Because your project can suffer in the absence of a compelling brand.
Consider the project environment at innovation heavyweight 3M. CEO George Buckley recently described the uphill struggle he faces to rally teams and support for seemingly mundane projects not perceived to offer breakthrough potential. For example, there was the recent decision by the 108-year-old company to seek improvements in one of its oldest product lines — industrial-grade sandpaper. The project was strategically important to 3M’s organic growth goals, but employees shied away from it, preferring to put their efforts into more high-profile initiatives. Buckley lamented that projects that R&D teams do not find “sexy” often acquire second-tier status. He found himself propelling such projects forward by brute force, observing that his relentless emphasis on lower-profile projects in 3M labs “basically drove them crazy.”1
The situation at 3M is not unique. And although Buckley as CEO could commandeer project resources, most project managers do not wield that kind of clout. Many operate in authority vacuums where they have little or no formal control over the people on whom they must rely to achieve project goals. What’s more, project leaders, when they are able to rally teams, often focus too narrowly on the work to be done. In their preoccupation with task accomplishment, project leaders frequently overlook the importance of establishing, maintaining and communicating to key stakeholders a clear, consistent and compelling vision of project purpose, goals and benefits. Consequently, they miss important opportunities for gaining support and, in the worst cases, contribute to the untimely deaths of ill-branded projects.
1. D. Gates, “Boeing’s Jumbo-Jet Delays Worry Outside Engineering Experts,” Seattle Times, October 1, 2010.
2. S. Ray, S. “Boeing Aims to Reshape Culture Amid Woes,” Seattle Times, August 25, 2010.
3. T.M. Burton, “Flop Factor: By Learning from Failures, Lilly Keeps Drug Pipeline Full,” Wall Street Journal, April 21, 2004.