Terminal Decline Foresight

What happens when two cost-obsessed, investment-averse organisations embark upon the largest endeavour of its kind on the planet, where one has ownership transeferred during the project to a firm with no previous experience of that industry, and the other has repeatedly proven themselves as nothing more than an inept bus company with inflated ego?

It’s the national embrassment that is Heathrow’s £4.3bn Terminal 5.

What’s going on lately?  How did we invent democracy?  Industry? A default language?  Why is it that for every Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, there’s a Wembley-style debacle?  For every ground-breaking Eden Project, there’s a place that lies empty for over half-a-decade like the Dome.

And so the navel gazing gathers pace across the broadsheet media.  One such exchange featured bioengineering colossus Heinz Wolff.  He once came to my school, which must make him really old now.  He gave a couple of insights that are rather handy for reps that are either managing complex sales campaigns, or responsible for an after-sales delivery process.

He believes that there’s probably a “natural law of size”.  An enormity beyond which projects cannot successfully be complete.  So, if you’re involved in this kind of big job, then he offers two pointers:

Incremental Commissioning

This involves the kind of ‘soft-launch’ with which you dip your toe in the water gradually until everything’s all up and running.  In my original software days, we used to recommend this coupled with a degree of “parallel running”; where you run two systems together in tandem, each backing the other up, until you know all is good.  The problem with such approaches though, is one of time and cost.  Imagine trying to get someone that thinks they’re already over-stretched to do what they perceive as double the work for a while.  Or how much extra does it costs to have one person in two places?

Component Projects

The other pointer was to breakdown the large project into lots of smaller ones.  Do you need the same team talking to your client’s shop-floor resource as their bean counters for instance?  In reality, not.  The key to any such approach working though, is to focus on the interaction between each part.  It is the effectiveness of this communication that determines success.

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