Fortune 500 companies and government agencies have more in common than their bureaucratic processes and excessive management layers. These large organizations fail to deliver work that "wows" more often than they do anything remarkable. And that doesn't make sense. After all, they have more resources--people and money--to spend. They could do just about anything. But they don't.

Instead, these bigs spend months or years on a new product or service behind closed doors. At the flashy reveal, someone in charge gets up to make the announcement. Typically, the audience of customers, suppliers, and the public clap politely and then wander off to find bigger fish. These people who are supposed to benefit most from this new thing are wondering--that's it?

The issue isn't that the new thing doesn't work, it's just edgeless and disconnected. It's rooted in the trends and ideas of 18 months ago, when the development team started working on it. But, while consumers moved on to new things, the team turned its focus toward the project, shutting out all noise from outside the organization.

Big organizations lack the agility that small teams have in spades. When you have everything you need at your fingertips, no new ideas seep in. When you have a strong, prevailing company culture, no new perspectives are considered. All new projects are created inside your company bubble.

Small teams, on the other hand, are immersed in their markets. They live and work in the physical and online communities closest to their customers. They can't help but be connected to their changing needs because they need "stuff" like freelancers, short-term licenses, and month-to-month subscriptions to get their work done. These people are frequently consumers in the same markets that they're producing in, giving them an excellent perspective on what people want now.

So, how can big organizations avoid missing the boat when starting a new project?

They can designate a scout.

On every project team, there should be one individual tasked with keeping their head up and out, paying attention to what other people in their niche are doing. This scout should be constantly scanning the market, the competitors, the emerging technology, the consumer trends and whatever else they can find that should shape the end product along the way.

You might fairly argue that everyone should have a scouting role. This may be true, but the reality is that when people get busy, the first thing they drop off their list is anything that doesn't impact them today. In large organizations, when you show up at the project status meeting, no one asks about what else is going on the market. Instead, they ask about how much progress you made on your action item from last week. That's all.

The most effective scouts are embedded within their project teams but not influenced by them. The scout's job is to pay attention to the outside and bring back insights. The project team decides what they do with that information. Do they make an adjustment or stay the course? Do they incorporate the most recent consumer trends into their product design? This process could and should repeat itself hundreds of times over the course of a multi-year project.

The scout should be present at all major status meetings. They must know the product or service purpose and function intimately. They have to know the underlying technology and assumptions about the market, all while having up-to-date status information.

Big organizations frequently fail to deliver big impacts, and it's not because they don't try. On the contrary, they make significant investments of people's time and resources. Too often, however, they hyper-focus on the project at hand for too long. By the time they're ready to deliver, the market has shifted and customer needs have changed. The way to avoid this is to introduce the scout to the project team. By designating one person to keep their head out, new ideas, attitudes, trends, and technologies can be incorporated before it's too late.

Published on: Apr 24, 2017
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